How 23rd/Union could become Seattle’s ‘Little Amsterdam’

Screen shot 2013-01-31 at 2.08.12 PMWhen navigating murky waters, it’s good to have a map. One such chart of Seattle produced by the Department of Planning and Development as part of the process to figure just how, exactly, the state will regulate commercial cannabis in Seattle following I-502’s approval is making its way around inboxes and social networks. It shows just how restricted the Seattle’s “Cannabis Zoning Restrictions” could be. The interested and the entrepreneurial of First Hill, Capitol Hill and the Central District will also notice the area’s single zone of commercial marijuana opportunity — 23rd and Union.

“I was kinda hoping for Little Amsterdam,” real estate investor and business owner Ian Eisenberg tells CHS — only partly joking — about potential names for the business district that could take shape around the Central District’s 23rd and Union.

Eisenberg, who has emerged as a major landholder at the intersection and has plans for more development, said he hasn’t seriously started working on building a cannabis economy at the corner but he’s definitely been sharing the map around the neighborhood.

The city’s planning process around cannabis zoning started last year to deal with the growing effort around medical marijuana and hasn’t yet expanded to deal with the implications of a new commercial market for the drug.

“The City currently regulates medical cannabis the way we regulate any other business,” a DPD spokesperson tells us about the legislation currently being worked on. “We are proposing some clarifications to our current rules though to account for both medical and recreational cannabis operations.”

For DPD, this is mostly about limiting the size of the business in smaller commercial zones and historic areas of Seattle. But it also could be the groundwork used to implement I-502 on an operational basis in the city:

The City of Seattle is proposing to implement zoning restrictions pertaining to the growing, processing, and dispensing of cannabis in certain zones within the city for the purpose of limiting the impact of larger-scale cannabis-related activity.

The ordinance would limit the size of operations that grow, process, or dispense cannabis in zones with a predominately residential or historic character to a single collective garden. The zones include Single-Family, Multifamily, Pioneer Square Mixed, International District Mixed, International District Residential, Pike Place Mixed, Harborfront, and Neighborhood

Commercial 1. In these zones, the growing, processing, or dispensing of cannabis in any business establishment or dwelling unit would be limited to:

45 cannabis plants;

72 ounces of useable cannabis; and

an amount of cannabis product that could reasonably be produced with 72 ounces of useable cannabis.

The proposed ordinance would also implement a size limit for indoor agricultural operations in industrial areas and make a minor change to clarify the intent of existing allowances for certain agricultural uses in industrial areas.

City Council’s Sally Clark and Nick Licata who are in the midst of a road show around the city to meet with district councils about the proposals are quick to clarify that they are focusing only on medical marijuana even as DPD looks ahead.

Clark says her meeting with the Central District Council went very much like the rest of the sessions — “concern about security precautions, concern about whether medical dispensaries can be good neighbors, and concern about possible impacts from over-concentration in areas.”

“Passage of 502 made our community conversations more complex,” she writes. “We decided to keep moving forward with zoning regs for medical dispensaries and not wait to see how quickly the state moves on regs for growing, processing and recreational sale.”

Clark said that Licata and Council staff have met with Washington Liquor Control Board representatives to begin discussions on recreational sales regulations.

The DPD map shows how the pieces *could* fit together — a look at the way things could work without more significant changes by the state or City Council. The Stranger’s Dominic Holden first published the document last Friday.

Screen shot 2013-01-31 at 12.55.36 PMThe map overlays federal, state and city boundaries that planners believe would exclude the presence of liquor board-licensed commercial marijuana stores. Once the required buffers are placed around everything from schools and libraries to community centers and parks, central Seattle ends up mostly a commercial cannabis-free zone. The exception is 23rd and Union.

“I’m not opposed to it — I’d be very open to it,” Eisenberg said of the potential that commercial space in the neighborhood could be part of Seattle’s first forays into legal commercial pot. But, Eisenberg said, while he sees the potential opportunity in being one of the few places in the Seattle to buy legal marijuana, like others in the community he’s also worried that the constricted zoning could put too much pressure on an area like 23rd and Union though it’s possible that mobile services might relieve some of that pressure.

There is also some historical irony in the potential for a “drug market” to develop at 23rd and Union. Seattle Police spent years developing a “Drug Market Initiative” that targeted the area to eliminate illegal drug dealing from the neighborhood.

The zoning change legislative process is slated to play out early this year with City Council. For now, the DPD proposals are focused on restrictions around size and Clark and Licata are keeping the discussion limited to medical use. Whether there is stomach on the Council to take on a much heavier load of trying to expand Seattle’s commercial zones isn’t yet clear. The alternative will need to be concerted effort to protect the areas where the stores can exist.

In the meantime, it might be time to start thinking of non-legislative protections for the rare resource that 23rd and Union might represent. More development is coming to the area — Capitol Hill Housing is planning this mixed-use project for the area now. Eisenberg and others could find themselves in the peculiar place of trying to keep out anything that could jeopardize the zoning.

It could be a heavy burden.

“[If] we are to be the only designated retail marijuana area in Seattle, we have a responsibility to make sure it is handled in the most respectful manner possible,” Eisenberg writes. “Legal recreational marijuana is a new idea to Seattle, if not the world. If DPD’s analysis of legal areas is correct, the CD will have a major spotlight on how it deals with the situation. It could be a terrific opportunity for the CD to showcase itself to the city in a positive light.”

It could also be a major opportunity. If it works out, we know a bakery that might be looking for a home.

The Neighbor Lady opened its doors for the first time Sunday evening for a “soft opening.” Now, it is up and running at normal hours (4 p.m. until bar close every day), though it’s possible they will have some late openings for the first week or so.

The bar is themed after several European bars Mollmann visited years ago, and the name comes from a brothel-themed neighborhood bar in Amsterdam. The menu has sultry language (appetizers are labeled “foreplay”), and Mollmann says the joint is still working out its identity.

49 thoughts on “How 23rd/Union could become Seattle’s ‘Little Amsterdam’

  1. Having lived in this neighborhood for going on 15 years, I couldn’t agree more that “more eyeballs” means less crime. Is this the ideal plan for the CD? Probably not, but it’s certainly better than a series of vacant lots.

    If things are managed well, ideas like this could do that corner a lot of good. It’s walkable/bikeable from Cap Hill and there’s bus service going in all directions. The corner might gain enough gravity to attract other businesses and maybe even a bank. The more people spending time and money in our neighborhood the better!

    On the other hand, if the corner is nothing more than a stoner-magnet, then it’s hard to see any long term benefit to the area. I love the city of Amsterdam, but not because of the coffee shops. If 23rd and Union was home to a few marijuana-sellers, that’s great, but I’d hate to see a street lined with nothing but green bud flags, head shops and stores selling tie-dye and hacky sacks. If we’re going to build a Little A’dam, maybe we should pass the bong and consider how other business and organization might compliment/counter-balance the pot shops.

  2. p-patch, I agree that it might work if there were already good vitality there, but I would feel very cautious about it becoming anything close to an anchor business. I definitely welcome the Capitol Hill Housing project. I have to admit to being a little put-off by the name of the Neighbor Lady, although it appears to be otherwise a well run business. In order to be convinced that all potential areas have been identified and that commercial areas near other residential neighborhoods are equitably identified. I feel a little concerned that it seems to extend east and west along E. Union. I am not convinced that this really lays out good planning and that concentrating the businesses in any one area could be problematic.

    Zoning in Amsterdam has not always led to revitalizing the areas and did not necessarily create the desirable residential areas.

  3. I was trying to edit this sentence. In order to be convinced that all potential areas have been identified and that commercial areas near other residential neighborhoods are equitably identified, I would have to see the overlay for my self.

  4. I am shocked by how few yellow areas are identified on the map. How could this be the only commercial zone between 520 and I-90? I am not aware of many schools downtown, yet downtown appears devoid of yellow areas. It would be one thing if there were yellow areas all over the city but instead the yellow areas are concentrated in highly industrial areas with very little residential housing with the glaring exception of 23rd and Union, a pocket along Aurora, and a pocket along Lake City. Last time I checked, the area around 23rd and Union is mostly residential with 3 public schools less than half a mile away (TT Minor will soon be public again), Meany/Nova, and Garfield. I was never quite a believer in the “containment zone” theory but by looking at this map…it might be time for me to reconsider.

    • The criteria is: can’t be within 1,000 feet of the boundaries of: parks, schools, arcades, libraries, community centers, and transit centers (places the state assumes will have a high amount of minors). Seattle adds to this criteria, not allowing shops in single family zones.

      “less than half a mile away” is far enough, since half a mile is 2,640 feet.

      It’s a bit crazy to map it this way, but it’s a start. And it’s defensible against the “but the children!” fear. We can always loosen the rules after legalization proves to not be the end of the world. Of course, by then 23rd & Union might already be fixed in the public’s mind as a pot hub. I think the best strategy is to make this hub open, clean, and safe, and fix a positive idea of the corner in the public’s mind.

      • One of my concerns is that since the area around 23rd and E. Union is mainly residential, there must be other pockets of commercial areas in otherwise predominately residential areas that could be yellow. For instance 15th Avenue East north of E. John has some mixed use residential, which I thought was the vision for 23rd and E. Union. How are they different? How exactly is a transit center defined? Come to think of it we could actually use a park located more nearby.

      • “Williams Place” – that little grass area at 15th & John is a park itself. I’m not sure how many kids play there, but it probably counts under the law. And if it doesn’t count, there’s another little park at 16th & Howell, about 500 feet away.

        Keep in mind these rules can be changed in a few years. I believe after 2 years inititives can be changed by a simple vote in the state senate.

  5. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not 100% behind this idea. For example, I think a lot of details need to be work out concerning who can run one of these shops, how they can market their shops, how far then need to be from schools, playgrounds, churches, etc.. It could all go horribly wrong, but it could also be something the area can work with if done well.

    Until the state sorts out its end of the deal and establishes the various rules and legal framework, this city zoning stuff is still just a pipe dream. It’s interesting to consider, but I don’t see any of these changes happening anytime soon.

  6. It pays to have fewer parks?
    23rd and union is in luck- thankfully no do gooders have managed to put a public park near that intersection. If that liquor shop is worth as much as it auctioned for, Just imagine how much a cannibals shop would bring in- everybody in Capitol hill!

  7. What better place to do illegal business then the CD? Been going on for decades.
    Whats the unemployment rate??

  8. What about the YMCA and the daycare across the street–again I would have less of an issue with the City’s map if the business districts were sprinkled everywhere throughout the city not just a tiny pocket off of Aurora, a pocket or two off of Lake City and then 23rd and Union (ok…I know I am exaggerating slightly). The marijuana shops should be throughout the city (just like liquor stores) and not just a few isolated areas. The map speaks volumes….Harbor Island, the shipping terminals in Magnolia, the industrial part of the city (i.e. Sodo), a tiny party of Aurora, a tiny part of Lake City, and 23rd and Union? I am not trying to say NIMBY–what I am trying to say is in everybody’s backyard (IEBY).

  9. Completely agree. The CD is already viewed as a drug market. I want to rid our area of that label and this isn’t helping. I suspect if this plan comes to fruition 23rd in Union will have stores that sell marijuana and the streets surounding 23rd and Union will continue to be filled with illegal drug dealers, prostitutes and what not. I am betting the only business that will be willing to get into the new retail will be mini marts….which IMO we already have too many.

    I think Ian Eisenberg is showing his true colors. Owning Seattle’s Little Amsterdam will fit in well on his resume with his previous Internet gambling, 1-900 numbers, and other unsavory and illegal schemes. I don’t trust him.

    • I have mixed feelings on the whole pot+ thing. First of all, my work responsibilities require acute responsiveness to emergent variables in dangerous and highly regulated situations. Pot smoking dulls the needed attentiveness and is banned and tested for. So, I don’t care about at this time.

      I sometimes long for the old slacker days of smoking dope and being generally unaware of reality. With the days of arthritic pain and lightenned responsibilities that make the elderly so irrelevant and dim now in view, I imagine that I would want to begin using pot and opioids in a couple of decades. I might be nice to let the slacker culture develop so that there is a stable and segregated selection of pot and opium dens to frequent when I reach those times.

      Also, we should begin pushing for inclusion of medical therapy dens, that are really just bars with beer, dope, and opium but where we can use our medicare cards as payment under the guise that old folds getting out and getting wasted is better than having them rot in their stinking houses with the cat like they all do now.

      I hope for a better world for grumpy old people.

    • Flowers – don’t give me too much credit. I had nothing to do with i502, Internet gambling or illegal 900 #’s. I have been working hard to clean up my properties and will continue to strive to improve and develop the area. I dont know how anything i have done is showing my true colors or anything other than caring about the community. If you don’t trust me, please reach out to me directly to express and discuss your concerns. I am readily available.

      • Ian, I think your joke about Little Amsterdam might have hurt. I agree that so far you have worked to clean up your properties and things have improved.

      • Ian,
        I applaud and appreciate the effort you have put in to the neighborhood. The improvements to the car wash and the addition of Med Mix have definitely helped get things going in the right direction.

        In this article you sound pleased that your properties are in the middle of what could be Seattle’s “Little Amsterdam”. Word on the street, the internet, and “Dateline” is that in the past you made your money from phone porn, a deceptive check cashing scheme, and off-shore gambling. Based on your “Little Amsterdam” remark and your previous enterprises, it seems plausible that you would happily embrace the idea of making 23rd and Union the go to place for marijuana in this city. While this may be legal and could put lots of money in your pockets, it will not be good for this neighborhood. I am 100% certain that concentrating marijuana sales in this struggling neighborhood will only further the CDs issues with illegal drugs and all the unsavory stuff that comes with it. I hope you come to see that as well.

        BTW- I don’t give you credit for the passage of I-502. I voted for it. After reading this article, I wish I hadn’t.

      • Flowers – it is hard to comment on what you may have heard on street or grapevine. In case you haven’t noticed I do not have any vacant retail space for lease. Again, instead of being keyboard warrior just contact me if you have legitimate concerns or potentially useful positive ideas you want to discuss. Thx.

  10. AFRICATOWN-CENTRAL DISTRICT will not become “LITTLE AMSTERDAM”! You have taken your MANIFEST DESTINY liberties with all the rest of Seattle to make remake rename in the image of your European culture and values. People complain about “crack hos” (derogatory term dehumanizing black women like “welfare queen”) in the neighborhood and then turn right around and celebrate the opening of “Neighbor Lady” restaurant themed after European Brothel ( of prostitution). Stop the hypocrisy and respect people right to live, grow and be whole as individuals and communities. And when you disregard and disrespect, expect nothing less than discord and hostility.

    “The Neighbor Lady opened its doors for the first time Sunday evening for a “soft opening.”…The bar is themed after several European bars Mollmann visited years ago, and the name comes from a brothel-themed neighborhood bar in Amsterdam. The menu has sultry language (appetizers are labeled “foreplay”)…”

  11. I thought maybe I was reading an article in “The Onion” when I saw this post! The city can’t bring reasonable infrastructure for dsl/high speed Internet access to our part of the city; they somehow manage to create a city light rail plan that does NOT run a direct line through this “Central” part of the city; they cant increase police presence even when we see more daytime gun violence than any other neighborhood, but they CAN choose this as the only zoned cannibIs business section for miles? Seriously?
    Regardless of whether it represents a business opportunity for some – in the end, this is Seatttle – so you already know its not about to arrive on our doorstep/intersection with any accompanying small business grants or neighborhoods revitalization plans.
    I’m flabbergasted….

    • High speed Internet is coming!

      The way I understand the pot thing is that it has nothing to do with the city. It is state statute that was written in a way (1000 feet from schools, parks etc) to be as tolerable as possible to federal government. Liquor control board is writing the rule book, not the city government. The map that shows the yellow areas is just the DPD showing how that would apply to Seattle. I would imagine after 2 year initial period more areas would open up. I bet there is someone on here that has researched it thoroughly.

    • While DSL has distance limitations, cable internet doesn’t. Is there somewhere in the CD you can’t get Cable internet from either Millennium or Comcast?

      • Cable provider for large swath of CD is Wave Broadband. We have them with pretty good data speed.

      • I’m so last year. Or worse. Millennium changed to Broadstripe which changed to Wave. High-speed cable internet has been available in most of the CD or ages. Maybe not all. But a lot more places than you can get DSL.

  12. Historical irony, indeed!
    Drug sales have not been a benefit to our community. Do we really need to bring more customers to our streets?
    I notice there are no yellow zones in Laurelhurst, on Queen Anne, or down the road toward Broadmoor.
    We’ll just wait for their rich little Buffys and Skippys to bring the demand that creates the supply destroying our neighborhood.

  13. this is quite possibly the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. with all the machinations about cleaning up 23rd and union, the solution is to make it an epicenter of marijuana distribution? lordy. i’m not against the citing of these stores; i’m against putting a high concentration of them in one area, especially an area folks say needs diverse businesses. have you been to the red light district in Amsterdam lately? it’s not a pretty sight, especially after dark.

    let every neighborhood bear the burden of citing and distribution. i know very wealthy people in Madison park who voted for this. why shouldn’t they bear the burden of ensuring it’s safe, legitimate, and orderly?

  14. Jim S, I agree it is mystery to me how the CD does not have access to Comcast or Millennium (I don’t know much regarding the second company.) when all the other parts of Seattle do. What effect will the new high speed internet have on the MJ subject? And also since you mentioned it, will this new high speed DSL improve the cable situation?

    • Joanna, it has nothing to do with it. The previous comment from Judkins Park Neighbor lamented that “The city can’t bring reasonable infrastructure for dsl/high speed Internet access to our part of the city” but they have plans for a pot-selling zone. Or something like that.

      As info, DSL is usually provided using twisted copper wires (like a home phone line) by a local phone company (CenturyLink); and far away from their central office it won’t work. Much of the CD is provisioned from a CenturyLink switch near Trader Joes. That’s probably why the other end of the CD can’t get DSL. That’s not the city’s fault, it’s a limitation of DSL technology. Cable companies like Comcast and Millennium provision over fiber and coax. The new high-speed network is a fiber one, not DSL. I suppose the cable TV companies can lease access on it if they need to, but they have their own networks already. Apparently the cable companies have not built out their networks to all neighborhoods sufficiently well to provide high-speed internet to everyone in the CD who wants it. It’s possible this new fiber network might. But none of this has anything to do with pot selling zones.

      • In Leschi, Centurylink DSL is even worse. Way to far from the central office. they will only sell 1.5mg but in reality it is 600k. Comcast is even worse. It doesn’t pay for either company to upgrade for end of the line terminations. The new fiber/wireless will be awesome.

        BTW I just want to reiterate my understanding of the pot thing, The city/state did not plan the pot zone. It is what we all voted yea or neigh on. It was all part of the initiative but I think DPD was first to actually analyze what area fit the requirements in the initiative. No conspiracy here and, while I personally voted in favor of I502 I am certainly do not think it is a “good” thing for 23rd and Union to be only pot zone in Seattle. Smells of “green lining” and creating a new “green light district.” :) (joke stolen from CHS site.)

      • For the record, CLink is actually quite interested in expanding and improving their network, but they need some neighborhood cooperation to make it work. Message me at johns at if you want to know more.

      • You guys need to see the whole map. 23rd and Union is the only place in the CD for pot. There are many more places in other areas of the city. We would have to work hard to build out fast enough to become the new hip pot head center. And we will have to work on getting it added to our medicaid and medicare programs so that we can all have equal access to wasting our lives away while feeling smug and being parasites.

  15. It seems only fair that the remaining neighborhoods should have to travel all the way to our hood for their high since after all, we have to travel to theirs for restaurants and shopping. And we know that they will be very respectful to our neighborhood while here. They are humble to their good fortune that as consumers, they have enjoyed the privilege of decriminalization for years while the providers and those wwbb or wwbh who had some pot on them – the true criminals -they have justly been put away. This has left a great opportunity for a non felon, white entrepreneur to open shop where one or several already exist, but wrong owner(s). And of course understanding this injustice and irony, the “others” will not in any way support the additional purchasing opportunities presented to them by the “criminals” coincidentally loitering about who perceive they might be looking for more drugs. Dang. Here I was all selfish, thinking only about urban vitality for an area just 1.5 miles from the downtown central core. For a truly walkable neighborhood with diverse businesses and commercial space. But I forgot my place and should have remembered that we the whores to the needs “they” don’t want to admit to or deal with the consequences of. You don’t think the initiative was written BEFORE a review of the areas impacted was completed? Don’t buy it.

      • No. All MMJ purveyors are not white. But they do make up the majority of users: 71%. White dealers and users are just not arrested as often as members of other racial groups. In some jurisdictions the arrest ratio for blacks is 3 times as high (pun not intended). But I am sure you know that. I feel what this translates to is substantially lower opportunity for blacks to partake in this new industry – legally. Ironic since this is because the black neighborhoods have born the brunt of drug raids. Also although this neighborhood represents the actual customer base less than just about any other Seattle Neigborhood to our north (or east, west for that matter), you have to wonder why not open up the zoning to bring the product more closely to the end user. We are the guinea pigs.

      • Please don’t take the race-baiting, and spare us the cliche white guilt. The zoning restrictions do not take into account race at all. They apply all over the state, not just here. You can’t “open up the zoning restrictions” because the bill was voted on and passed with them in it. If you *could* monkey with them to loosen or lessen the restrictions about distance from schools, etc., it would just open up even MORE of the CD to available pot selling locations. Or did you envision some bizarre wording, such as “only if it’s a white neighborhood, these distance restrictions don’t apply…”? How would you suggest to do this?

  16. I agree that we can not just change the restriction at will, but plenty of laws have been modified after the consequences were better realized. Guilt is a waste of time, but accountability is necessary. I voted “Yes” on this initiative. And honestly, I was not too concerned about reading every word to assure it was fair to all communities as I felt an imperfect first step was better than no step. But now we are aware of how unequal the distribution of these businesses will be (at first, until they iron out all the kinks). So now, if I don’t take action then yeah, I will feel pretty crummy. I feel it was very easy to have manipulated the guidelines based on what officials wanted the map to look like and which voter pool’s interest they wanted to protect, hence the city’s addition of single family residences. You don’t have to mention race or color into laws or policies to achieve red lining. The one obvious exclusion to what would seem a logical addition to the distance barrier would have been State, local and/or contracted family services, especially since “drugs” are often listed as a cause for the need of so many of them. My action item is to write a petition requesting the addition of rehab centers and family services and removing the transit centers and parks not containing playing fields or play structures. I hope that would open up at least a few more opportunities within other communities and stop one residential neighborhood from taking all of the collateral damage – without needing the “white” word. I am open to suggestions.

    • I too voted in favor of this (not even being one who partakes, BTW), but neither do t think the CD needs to be the clearing house for Capitol Hill, First Hill, Madison Valley, and Beacon Hill pot purchases.

      Another idea– if someone were to establish a private school somewhere close to Union and 23rd, “there goes the neighborhood” –for pot sellers, right? Maybe one of the existing private schools in the CD needs to expand or move? Obviously we should not hold our collective breaths for interested landlords to go out of their way to rent to a school tenant, if a potentially lucrative pot-selling business is feasible.

  17. Lazara, you make a great point regarding that rehab and residential treatment centers and reentry programs should be added, along with family services, especially one that is serving the youth and families of Casey Family Pgorams or those that provide youth activities.

  18. Pingback: Zoning proposal could restrict Seattle marijuana sales in tourist areas, historical districts | Central District News