"'Re-Doogal's' clears first review hurdleA split vote sent the project on, with a reduced buffer next to the ravine."

"A divided planning commission Thursday gave its blessing to the so-called Re-Doogal's mixed-use project, after being told that additional buffer space along the adjacent ravine could rule out underground parking.By a 3-1 vote with two abstentions, commissioners recommended the project be approved as proposed. In so doing, they rejected a planning staff recommendation that called for 10 feet more space between the ravine and the project than the applicants sought.Ten feet means five fewer spaces in the parking garage, which means 2,000 less feet of retail space, project manager Bror Elmquist told the commission.That reduction makes the underground parking garage uneconomical, which means we would have to develop with ground-level parking.The recommendation to approve the project now goes to city Planning Director Stephanie Warren for a decision. Her ruling could be appealed to the city hearing examiner, then to district court.The Magnano family of Seattle and Bainbridge Island has proposed a development combining residential, retail and office space for the northeast corner of Winslow Way and Ericksen Avenue, former site of the now-demolished Doogal's restaurant and bar. The plan clusters buildings around a central courtyard, with parking underground. Commissioners all praised the design of the project. The debate has involved the required setback from the ravine, which borders the property on the east. City ordinances require a combined buffer and setback of 65 feet, but allow a reduction to 40 feet, which the applicants had sought. The planning staff had recommended a 50-foot buffer, while the Friends of the Ravine organization had sought a buffer totaling 55 feet.The existing parking lot, built before the setback requirements were instituted, extends to within five feet of the ravine. So as Elmquist framed the issue from the applicant's point of view, it was not how much encroachment there would be, but how much asphalt would be removed.If the full width-reduction were not granted, Elmquist said, the underground parking called for in the present plan would have to be scrapped. And if surface parking were substituted, he asserted that the applicants would use their grandfathered right to continue to park to within five feet of the ravine.Underground parking garages and landscaped plazas above them are expensive, he said. If the project has to be scaled back, the economics of those features don't work.Planning staffer Bob Katai recommended a 50-foot buffer, but not for environmental reasons - his report stated that the impact on the ravine of a 40-foot margin would be no different than a 50-foot margin. But he said the applicant did not satisfy the other criteria necessary to grant a variance, which deal generally with the need for a variance, and whether it would constitute preferential treatment.Thursday, Katai said he could not point to any specific facts on which he based his conclusions.These are judgment calls, he said.DisagreementCommissioners Peter Brachvogel and Sean Parker, both architects, took sharp issue with Katai. Pointing out that the average buffer width on the Ericksen side of the ravine is 36 feet, they said a variance is appropriate to allow a project to conform to the existing neighborhood rather than the ordinances.There is no reason environmentally not to do it. The only hang-up is the code, Parker said.Commissioner Deborah Vancil, a city council candidate, disagreed, arguing that the integrity of the city code overrode the arguments for a variance. She proposed instead that the city surrender its request for a five-foot right-of-way along Ericksen Avenue and put sidewalks only on the west side of the street, which would allow the project to stay the same size but move farther from the ravine.Project architect Charles Wenzlau said he could not see this project without sidewalks. And city Public Works Director Randy Witt opposed the idea, calling the intersection a choke point for Ericksen traffic.By a 3-1 vote, commissioners recommended substituting the 40-foot buffer for the 50-foot buffer in the staff report. Parker, Brachvogel and new commissioner Peter Luria sided with the applicant, while Vancil voted to sustain the staff recommendation. Commission chair Evelyn Klinckmann and Darlene Kordonowy, a mayoral candidate, abstained.After that, the commission voted 5-0, with Kordonowy again abstaining, to recommend approval of the project.I'm disappointed with the vote on the buffer, but aside from that, I like the project, Vancil said.I'm impressed with the openness and the greenery. "

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