Today I got a call back from Alan Justad, spokesman for the Seattle Development & Planning Department, to give some of the details behind the denied permitting of the proposed restaurant at 25th & Union.
According to Mr. Justad, the permit wasn’t officially denied. What was rejected was the classification of the business as a restaurant. Instead, department planners had decided that it was a “liquor establishment” that bumped it into a different level of permitting, requiring a separate conditional-use permit that would set additional approval steps such as an additional layer of community comment and stipulations surrounding things like noise levels, maximum size, etc. The requirement for conditional-use permits applies to liquor establishments in NC1 and NC2 zoned areas, but not NC3 (24th & Union is on the eastern edge of a NC2-40 zone).
In an email response, Bottleneck owner Erin Nestor says that they take exception with the city’s classification, saying that they had presented a restaurant concept with a full menu and had consulted with chefs to confirm it was feasible at that location. Their position is that the conditional-use permits should only apply to businesses that are just bars, not restaurants that include liquor on their menus.
It’s not clear right now why the additional permitting steps killed the project, but one can imagine that the cost and time of a separate permitting process would be difficult for a small establishment that had a limited window to make a deal on the real estate and get an operation going.
I’m sure the regulations were designed to prevent the worst case scenarios, such as a new Deano’s suddenly opening up next door to your or my house. But it seems like there should be some way to more easily accommodate applications for neighborhood businesses that have the wide-ranging community support that this one clearly had. But for now, it seems like a lost opportunity.
Scott says: “(b)ut it seems like there should be some way to more easily accommodate applications for neighborhood businesses that have the wide-ranging community support that this one clearly had.”
If the criticism is that the process for demonstrating protection of neighborhood interests should be easier, it would be good to know the degree of difficulty of the current system. The devil is in the details.
Not to be an apologist for DPD, but they are caught in the middle here. Many of the same people who might have been supporters of the Bottleneck might have been opponents of other establishments. DPD can’t make a decision based on a show of hands, and might be trying to apply objective standards in an even-handed way.
The only question to that comment, Bill, IMO, is whether or not the same application in Wallingford or Crown Hill would have had the same response.
If they really are applying those standards even-handedly, I have no complaints, even if I’m not sure I agree with the decision.
It does seem to me that Erin has a good point: how does DPD draw the line between “restaurant” and “bar”?
The community generally supports this project, especially with the owners resident as the site, which I find reassuing. We seems to be dealing with a bureaucracy. The rules are made by humans and those humans can change their minds or be made to see things differently. I hope that the would-be owners will have the tenacity to push back to make it happen.
Is there a number that community residents can call to indicate support? If so, is there a project number to be cited? Thanks
I was told that the definitions are based on some sort of food to booze ratio.
I still believe that the other tenants of the space are the most important consideration. I personally don’t have enough information regarding this.
Until recently any place in Seattle had to be a restaurant in order to sell hard liquor and the requirement on the ration of food to booze was quite strict. At some point the law allowed bars to sell cocktails without that requirement, but still to be a restaurant a ratio exists. I have forgotten what it is.
Scott’s explanation (above) seems to indicate that DPD concluded that the proposed business would fit within the definition of a “drinking establishment” rather than a “restaurant”. Restaurants are permitted in this zone, but drinking establishments are permitted conditionally. There may be more that we don’t know, but the decision may hinge on a judgment about what is “accessory” to what.
From the definition section of the Land Use Code (Seattle Municipal Code — SMC):
” ‘Eating and drinking establishment’ means a retail sales and service
use in which food and/or beverages are prepared and sold at retail for
1. ‘Restaurant’ means an establishment in which food and/or beverage
preparation and service is provided for individual consumption either
on- or off-premise. A restaurant may feature the service of alcoholic
beverages accessory to the service of food.
2. ‘Drinking establishment’ means a licensed enterprise in which
alcoholic beverages may be purchased and consumed on premise; which
limits patronage to adults of legal age for the consumption of
alcohol; and in which limited food service may be accessory to the
service of alcoholic beverages. Drinking establishments may include
taverns, saloons, brewpubs, bars, pubs, or cocktail lounges associated
This is the section that talks about conditional uses:
“SMC 23.47A.006 Conditional uses.
A. All conditional uses are subject to the procedures described in
Chapter 23.76, Master Use Permits and Council Land Use Decisions, and
must not be materially detrimental to the public welfare or injurious
to property in the zone or vicinity in which the property is located.
In authorizing a conditional use, the Director or City Council may
require that adverse impacts be mitigated by imposing any conditions
to protect other properties in the zone or vicinity, to compensate for
impacts, and to protect the public interest. The Director shall deny
or recommend denial of a conditional use if the Director determines
that adverse impacts cannot be mitigated satisfactorily.
B. The following uses, where identified as administrative conditional
uses on Chart A of Section 23.47A.004, or other features of
development identified in this Section, may be permitted by the
Director when the provisions of subsection A are met, subject to the
further provisions below in this subsection:
1. Drinking establishments. Drinking establishments in NC1 and NC2
zones may be permitted as a conditional use subject to the following
conditions or criteria:
a. The size of the drinking establishment, design of the structure,
signing and illumination must be compatible with the character of the
commercial area and other structures in the vicinity, particularly in
areas where a distinct and definite pattern or style has been
b. The location, access and design of parking must be compatible with
adjacent residential zones.
c. Special consideration will be given to the location and design of
the doors and windows of drinking establishments to help ensure that
noise standards will not be exceeded. The Director may require
additional setbacks and/or restrict openings where the drinking
establishment is located on a lot that abuts or is across from a
d. Drinking establishments must not generate traffic that creates
traffic congestion or further worsens spillover parking on residential
Thanks for adding that research Bill –
I think the key phrase is “which limits patronage to adults of legal age for the consumption of alcohol”
I just went back over my notes from my conversation with DPD and found a reference to “21 & older” being a part of their criteria. To have a mixed-age crowd and still serve liquor, I think there would have to be a specific no-minors area of the restaurant. That’s a small space that couldn’t really be subdivided like that, so the 21 & up part was probably not optional.
If true, we may have an issue of the regulations being too narrowly defined to accommodate small, “cozy” establishments.