by Will Sweger
Thursday night, concerned citizens met at the West Hill Town Hall meeting to discuss the proposed expansion of Nevzat’s Espresso, a popular coffee establishment in Skyway.
Nevzat Cankaya, owner of the espresso stand, faces a legal hurdle in moving his business to a larger building across the street due to a zoning law passed in 1994.
King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, who represents the unincorporated area on the council, was on hand to address the crowd. Speaking to the issue, Gossett said, “It’s the West Hill Community Council that came up with these variances that they prioritized, that they voted on and said to their government that they wanted this to be your guidepost for the development in this area. That can be changed…by the department doing what it has to do to lay out the criteria for getting a variance.”
He likened the regulation once passed by the West Hill Community Council for the pedestrian-oriented Special District Overlay to the community’s desire to regulate the number of Cannabis stores in the area. The Councilmember faced admonition and heckling from the crowd as he attempted to make his remarks.
Responding to the question of how long it would take to amend the regulation, Gossett said, “I don’t think it has to take years.” Staff members from the King County Department of Planning and Environmental Review said the overlay could be amended as early as December with an early plan ready for public review in August.
Tamara Shoemaker, identifying herself as a business owner, said “I drive through Skyway every day. The reason I go there is to go to Nevzat’s Coffee Shop. That’s the only reason. Otherwise, what’s the point? I don’t drink, I’m not a churchgoer, I don’t smoke weed, so there’s no other reason for me to go to Skyway right?…Oh chicken. Chicken,” in reference to the neighborhood’s Ezell’s Chicken restaurant.
Her remarks were met with applause and cheers from the mostly-white audience. Other speakers disparaged the churches for occupying empty storefronts in the Skyway business district.
Councilmember Gossett responded to the room, saying “This negativity toward the small churches out here kind of bothers me and comes across as being kind of biased because all these churches are small African-American…” before he was cut off by jeers from the crowd.
Gossett, a graduate of the University of Washington and one of the founders of its Black Student Union, went on to become involved in civil disobedience actions for the rights of King County’s communities of color, including the occupation of abandoned Beacon Hill Elementary School in 1972 that would become the community service organization El Centro de la Raza.
Other residents expressed a desire for a coffee shop as an opportunity for a family-friendly gathering place in Skyway, something currently in short supply. One local, who identified himself as a walker, pointed out the new expanded coffee shop would give pedestrians a place to sit and enjoy their purchased coffee, a luxury unavailable at Nevzat’s current location.
The gymnasium fell silent as the final member of the public to speak, Hamdi Abdullah directly addressed Councilmember Gossett. “I am standing here to support a coffee shop,” she said. “I don’t understand a community that is looking for revival, life and peace and hope and it cannot expedite these simple steps to make that a reality.” Addressing Gossett, she said, “This is your homework, this is your task.”
In his closing remarks Gossett simply stated, “Like the other government leaders, I have heard you. I have no problem making a commitment to working closely with you all as quickly as possible to do the variance review.”
Nevzat Cankaya was also in attendance on the night. He expressed his appreciation for the supportive community members while maintaining hope for legislative action.
Will Sweger is a freelance journalist living in South Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood
Featured image by Will Sweger