New car wash on Beacon Avenue a zoning violation?

Sign in front of the new car wash. Photo by Jason.
Sign in front of the new car wash. Photo by Jason.
The building with the large garage door at 2507 Beacon Avenue South has long been a concern for neighborhood residents. Previously, it was being used as a warehouse, and caused problems for local pedestrians, and for cars and buses right in front of the business, with delivery trucks and forklifts blocking traffic and pedestrian walkways. More recently, the building was vacant and bore a large “For Commercial Space Lease… For: Light mfg., Retails, Office” sign. Month after month went by, graffiti appeared on the door, and there was no sign of anyone moving in.

Until now. A new business recently set up shop in the site, and the activity has picked up. That’s the good news. The bad news? The new business, a hand car wash, is a pretty blatant zoning violation. The site in question, right on the junction of Beacon and 15th, is zoned NC2P-40. (Here is the basic zoning information for the site.) NC2P-40 means Neighborhood Commercial 2, Pedestrian-Designated Zone, 40-foot height limit. (Here is a city document that describes the various commercial zones.)

Location of the car wash at 15th and Beacon. The driveways location is awkward. Photo by Jason.
Location of the car wash at 15th and Beacon. The driveway's location is awkward. Photo by Jason.
NC2, according to the city, is “A moderately-sized pedestrian-oriented shopping area that provides a full range of retail sales and services to the surrounding neighborhood,” such as a drug store, coffee shop, or a medium-sized grocery store.

The important thing here, though, is that this is an NC2P, not a plain NC2. The P indicates that it is a Pedestrian-Designated Zone. P zones have restrictions that other NC2 zones do not have. The intent of the P zone, says the city, is to preserve and encourage “an intensely pedestrian-oriented, retail shopping district where non-auto modes of transportation, both to and within the district, are strongly favored.” To that end, street level uses are limited to “pedestrian-oriented nonresidential uses that have the potential to animate the sidewalk environment, such as retail, entertainment, restaurants, and personal services. Drive-in or drive-thru businesses are prohibited.” A car wash would seem to be a “drive-in or drive-thru business” by definition, so this seems to be a straightforward zoning violation.

Photo by Jason.
Photo by Jason.
As of April 9, someone has filed a complaint about 2507 Beacon Avenue South with the Department of Planning and Development, citing “violation of the land use code.”

If the car wash gets shut down, the possibility exists that the 2507 site will be vacant for months again, and no one wants more vacancies in the North Beacon business district. The existence of an active business in that site is a positive thing for the neighborhood. However, a business that doesn’t enhance the neighborhood’s stated desires (in the neighborhood plan, the comments here on the blog, etc.) for a pedestrian-oriented business district is not necessarily a positive. Is it more important to have a business there — of any kind — than to have uses that match the neighborhood’s zoning? Please tell us what you think.

(And since it’s Friday, why not enjoy a musical interlude while you post your thoughts?)

56 thoughts on “New car wash on Beacon Avenue a zoning violation?”

  1. Shelley, what I remember most about the smell at the ABC Market was that it was accompanied by water leaking out the north side of the building causing mysterious algae blooms on the sidewalk. It was like that as far back to ’91 when I was living in Columbia City and by comparison Beacon Hill was a thriving commercial zone.

    In a number of ways things really are better than they used to be all over the south end. Still I remember the nightly gunfire on Rainier during the last big recession. We moved out of the south end for five years after finding a bullet hole in the window of our rental.

    I’m nervous that the improvements are fragile and anything that makes it tougher for legitimate entrepreneurs will help create a climate that reminds us why so many of our older neighbors have bars on their windows. The light rail station will make it easier for people to get to Beacon Hill to conduct all kinds of business, legitimate or not. It could be an upwards spiral, or it could be a downwards spiral.

  2. Brook said: “As I’ve been thinking about this, I have to say I’m wondering whether it’s practical to try to make this neighborhood a pedestrian-friendly zone. I’m not questioning whether it’s desirable, just whether it’s practical. The intersection of Beacon Ave. and 15th St. is a bottleneck. There’s no way to get off the hill to the west between Spokane St. and where Beacon Ave. drops down to Holgate St. Routes off the hill to the east are awkward with turns and doglegs.”

    Just a thought — this is actually a reason why the area could be well-suited for a pedestrian-friendly zone. It’s already somewhat car-unfriendly. Even our big arterials like Beacon are more pedestrian-friendly than many of the arterials in other neighborhoods, because we don’t have the same high-speed heavy traffic through-streets. (15th on the way down to McPherson’s, though — ugh. Too wide, too much speeding.) Once the light rail is here, if it becomes that much easier to get on or off the hill by train, than by taking Holgate through the Sodo traffic, well, pretty soon we have a ton of people who don’t need their cars as much at all, and those people will want more walkable amenities here on the Hill.

    Another thought — the neighborhood was developed as a walkable neighborhood, a streetcar neighborhood, originally. So there’s really no inherent reason it can’t be more of one again. It’s already so much more walkable than some of the places I’ve lived.

  3. Really, the neighborhood still is a streetcar neighborhood with the 36 and the 60 in the role of the streetcar.
    I do agree that it’s somewhat car-unfriendly. But as long as it’s the path of least resistance for cars going to certain locations, they’ll use it.

    What’s totally changed since the neighborhood was developed is where people travel to in their daily lives. As a practical matter, in the time I’ve lived on Beacon Hill, I’ve only been able to commute to work on transit during one six month period, and even then I could only do it some days because other days I had other complications like kid transportation to deal with. I’ve commuted from here to Kent, Bellevue, Redmond, and Interbay, as well as Downtown.

    The light rail isn’t going to solve all of that. I have to go where I get paid to be, and there’s a big hill full of people to the south of me that have the same issue.

    Like I said before, we’ll see how traffic changes with light rail. My guess is we won’t see it change that much during peak commute times unless it gets much more challenging to drive through, either because of more traffic lights or something.

    I’m remembering how when we were close to having our baby, I planned the route to Group Health up 23rd so I wouldn’t have to deal with things like forklifts in the street at 12th and Jackson. Maybe the return of the warehouse would deter cars from driving through the business district. 😉

  4. Yup, I was looking at that the other day and wondering why they are bothering when it’s a clear zoning violation. A change of use permit application is not going to change that.

    There is actually another violation of the law at that site that I haven’t posted about yet, but will soon.

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