Robert Ullman

Renee Staton had grown tired of the dilapidated Safeway near her house in North Seattle's Pinehurst neighborhood. She wanted a bigger store with better produce and, most importantly, a broader selection of tofu. Staton started working with Safeway to redevelop the property, and plans were made to build the first "green" store in Washington State. Staton got city council member—and Pinehurst resident—Peter Steinbrueck involved to help push the development through council. "I don't shop [at that Safeway]," Steinbrueck says. "It's dreadful and dreary."

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An environmentally friendly grocery store seems like a perfect fit for liberal, hybrid-driving Seattle. But in godless Seattle, there's one commandment that brings down fire and brimstone when broken: Thou shalt not get rid of single-family zoning.

Now, several North Seattle neighborhoods are attacking the project. Lawyers have been hired, letters have been fired off, and the city council has gotten involved.

For the last two years, Staton—a member of the Pinehurst Community Council—and her neighbors have been working to renovate their small, rundown Safeway on 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 123rd Street. Now, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development has signed off on the project and the city council unanimously agreed to allow Safeway to apply for a rezone. The new store would reclaim heat from its refrigeration units, use local materials for construction, and possibly rebuild the store's parking lot and sidewalks using permeable surfaces.

However, the transformation of the aging Safeway into a "green" store requires several adjacent residential, single-family-zoned properties—which Safeway has owned since 1998—to be rezoned for commercial use.

Not far from Pinehurst, in Maple Leaf, some neighbors are riled about the project. "Single-family neighborhoods are increasingly pressured to accept increased density, but we're not getting traffic or transportation improvements," says Maple Leaf Community Council (MLCC) President David Miller. "[This project] increases the chance that somebody living in a single-family home, which is already threatened, is going to end up living across the street from a nightmare project." Miller and members of the Haller Lake Community Club and the Seattle Community Council Federation hired an attorney and fired off letters to the city council, claiming the Safeway redevelopment and rezone will create "a wholly inappropriate precedent and incursion to... single-family [housing]." By the way, single-family housing makes up 65 to 70 percent of Seattle's residential zoning.

While Miller and the anti-Safeway coalition are worried the Safeway rezone would allow other developers to come in and wipe out single-family housing, Staton says that's just not true.

"This will not allow any other businesses in the neighborhood to apply for a rezone," Staton says. Staton, who refers to MLCC's opposition to the Safeway project as "paranoia-inspired NIMBYism," says development guidelines would allow the city to control any other developers looking at using the same rezone scheme, but she says she understands MLCC's resistance to the idea. "I think for them it's a line in the sand around single-family [zoning]," she says. "[But] we view it as a catalyst to a regeneration in our neighborhood."

In order to jump-start development and density in the neighborhood, Staton says she's willing to sacrifice the three houses.

Steinbrueck too sees the Safeway project as a catalyst for change in the neighborhood. "There is a viewpoint out there that nothing can change when it comes to single-family zoning. I don't take that view." recommended