Michael Harthorne
Designer Chris Libby explains the proposed layout of the new $77 million Greenwood Fred Meyer development at a July 9 community meeting while Fred Meyer representative Tom Gibbons and developer Bruce Lorig look on. CLICK IMAGE FOR PROJECT DESIGNS COURTESY OF GGLO.

Community concerned, optimistic about Fred Meyer design

A complex and expensive design for the new Greenwood Fred Meyer prompted some concerns, but also cautious optimism, from a packed community forum July 9 at the Phinney Neighborhood Center.

For more than a decade, Fred Meyer and the Greenwood community have been working together to come up with a satisfactory replacement for the 30-year-old Fred Meyer on Northwest 85th Street.

In that time, the project's design has morphed from a standard big box store to a mixed-use development – a Fred Meyer first – that incorporates housing and smaller retail with a mostly underground Fred Meyer store.

The project carries a price tag of $77 million.

Evan Burquard, chair of the Greater Greenwood Design and Development Advocacy Group formed in the past year by the Greenwood Community Council, said getting to this point in the design has been hugely positive, though the group still has some concerns.

The major concerns of the advocacy group – concerns echoed by neighbors at the July 10 meeting – are problems presented by the peat bog underneath the property, the size of the proposed Fred Meyer store, and a remaining lack of density and usable urban space.

The current design for the project features the Fred Meyer underground along 85th and, because of the change in grade, being above ground on the north side. On top of the store would be parking, the Fred Meyer garden center, and a line of retail and housing fronting 85th.

The site also features a three-story, 800-car parking garage on the northeast corner of the lot. The parking garage is seperated from the street by a row of two-story townhouses. And, on top of the garage will be another three stories of housing.

Morrow Lane would be a semi-private road through the property.

Overall, the project would include a 170,000 square foot Fred Meyer, 20,000 square feet of smaller retail space, and 200 to 300 housing units.

Chris Libby, a designer on the project, said it is a store like Fred Meyer has never done and a once in a lifetime opportunity for a designer.

"From a designer's standpoint, we love complicated, mixed-use projects," Libby said. "And, this is right up there."

Though a number of community members showed gratification, or at least relief, at where the design is at this point, there were still concerns.

Neighbors in the immediate vicinity of the project are worried about putting a development of this size on top of an unstable layer of peat. One resident said he was stuck paying for repairs after the construction of a nearby Safeway caused the peat to shift, damaging his home.

Fred Meyer representative Tom Gibbons said his company is committed to not repeating past mistakes in regards to developments causing the peat to sink.

Bruce Lorig, a developer on the project, said they are running tests on the soil and are working with the idea of using underground water tanks and diverting some water.

Some residents expressed concern about the size of the Fred Meyer, saying big box stores do not belong in the neighborhood and giant stores with huge parking garages will be obsolete in the near future.

"It's not our little urban village," said one resident. Another said it looked like a redo of a suburban shopping mall.

Gibbons warned neighbors against asking for too much, saying he is surprised that Fred Meyer's president is going along with the current design given its price tag.

"The business model of Fred Meyer is large stores," Lorig said. "That's what they do."

Many of the meeting's attendees rallied around the idea of removing the surface parking from the lid of the sunken Fred Meyer and replacing it with a European-style public plaza.

Libby said the parking is necessary because it will be shared by Fred Meyer, the smaller retail shops and the housing.

"Until we get a global rail system in the city, people are going to get to retail by cars," said Ted Panton, another of the project's designers.

Gibbons said Fred Meyer is open to hosting occasional events, such as farmers markets, in the surface parking lot and perhaps including a children's play structure in it.

According to Fred Meyer, construction on the project is set to start in fall 2011 and be completed in 2013.

A Northwest Design Review Hearing for the project is scheduled at 6:30 p.m., July 13 in the Ballard High School library.

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Too big stores!

We love the Greenwood Fred Meyer as is! We drive up there instead of to the closer Ballard store because we like the smaller size and the fact that they don't keep moving everything around.

That whole area is a peat basin and quite wet with a high water table. If you start pumping ground water out, the peat will shrink and who knows what will happen to the house foundations?

If you design the development as a huge, floating reinforced concrete barge, the displacement will affect the water table. It will take an exceptional engineer to accurately calculate the weight and displacement and water table control system to avoid all kinds of problems.

Good luck with making that sustainable.