Concerns over size, scope of Garfield Exchange plans

Around 50 people were on hand a public meeting last Tuesday evening at the Queen Anne Community Center on the future of the Garfield Exchange Building at 1529 4th Ave. W., and plans to add a fourth floor to the historic building.

The Proposal

The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) hosted the meeting, on the proposal from the developer that the Garfield Exchange Building be converted from its current use as a warehouse for the Seattle Public Library into 27 new multi-family apartment units. Parking will be available for 14 vehicles beneath the building. The project will also involve energy code upgrades and earthquake-proofing.

The project is led by developer Chris Faul, who is most famous for his work on Capitol Hill’s Bullitt Center.

The History of the Garfield Exchange Building

From the late 1800s through the 1950s, every phone line ran through an exchange building, where incoming and outgoing calls were manually connected. The Garfield Exchange Building was originally constructed in 1921 for this purpose, and in 1976 it was donated to the Seattle Public Library for storage use.

The Garfield Exchange Building is located on the southwest corner of the intersection of 4th Avenue West and West Garfield Street, across the street from the Queen Anne Public Library.

Other neighboring buildings include the Masonic Hall, Bethany Presbyterian Church and John Hay Elementary School.

Project Requirements

The project will require several approvals before moving forward, including: Administrative Conditional Use, which allows for the conversion of a nonconforming historic landmark building into multi-family use in a single-family zone; Special Exception, which allows for there to be less off-street parking than initially required in a single-family zone; and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), which states that the environmental impacts of certain development proposals must first be assessed by the City of Seattle.

Public Comment

The majority of speakers at the meeting expressed disapproval for the SDCI project, with concerns that adding a fourth floor might make the building too tall, and that parking will not be adequate for the number of people expected to move to the neighborhood in the near future.

“Parking won’t come close to being able to accommodate all of the cars coming,” said one commenter, referring to the notion that there would be 14 parking spots available for 27 units.

“It would be nice if everyone could walk to the library, but that isn’t possible. This project will have a detrimental impact on the neighborhood.”

Several other commenters expressed concern that the usage of surrounding places like the Masonic Hall or Bethany Presbyterian Church will be largely dependent upon the parking situation that results from the project.

“We should not allow this project to go through,” said Charles Paxton, who has lived in Queen Anne for four decades. He pointed out that there are already too many cars in the neighborhood as it stands.

Several other long-time Queen Anne residents are concerned that the added height on the Garfield Exchange Building will lead to a loss of privacy for existing residents who live in the immediate vicinity.

Sheila Callahan, a resident who lives right next to the Garfield Exchange Building, expressed her concern that the project would demolish the courtyard, which constitutes as the historic part of the building.

Martin Kaplan, an architect and chair of the Queen Anne Community Council (QACC), pointed out that developers generally have an ongoing dialogue with the QACC about upcoming projects. With this project, however, the developers didn’t inform the council of anything for months.

“[The project] is a great use for the building but it’s got a lot of impacts,” said Kaplan, who also feels that the developers have been dishonest about how many cars will realistically be able to fit into the building. “That’s not the way our community works.”

On the contrary, Dennis Reddinger, who has been in charge of the sale of the Garfield Exchange Building, expressed his opinion that converting the building into apartment units will be the best use of the space. He also pointed out that the surrounding area is specifically designed for walking.

One commenter echoed a similar sentiment, mentioning that millennials, who have been flocking to the city for the vast economic opportunities, aren’t driving as much as past generations, and that perhaps others should follow suit.

Another commenter, who identified as having lived in Seattle for the majority of his life, said, “look at [Chris Faul’s] resume and ask yourself, ‘is he not the best person for the job?’”

Michael Sofie, a Queen Anne developer himself with no financial interest in the project, expressed that the project would be “a spectacular use of the building.”

SDCI is currently reviewing the proposed development, along with all public comments, and will publish a decision once all reviews are complete. A two-week period for appeals will follow the decision.

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Correction (Oct. 20): An earlier version of this story stated that the Garfield Exchange Building was donated to the Seattle Public Library for storage use in 1967. It was donated in 1976.