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Published in The Seattle Times online on Nov. 17, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Nov. 20, 2022
Longtime ‘sanctuary’ nursery to be uprooted by six-floor complex
By Clay Eals
On Thanksgiving, many of us will gather with family and friends to share a cornucopia of cuisine, including garden greens and other symbols of nature’s bounty.
Now instead of the food, envision a mammoth building dropped onto the table. With this unwieldy centerpiece, you couldn’t see or talk with many of your fellow guests. You might even be shocked enough to wonder why you pulled up a chair in the first place.
That’s how some locals feel about a retail-residential project slated at 2939 E. Madison St. in the Madison Valley. The new structure — six floors, 87 market-rate apartments and 140 parking stalls with a ground-level supermarket — would end the site’s seven-decade run as a single-floor hub that plant fans deem an oasis crucial to Seattle’s psyche.
The lowland setting is near Washington Park Arboretum and Broadmoor Golf Club and its gated community. Clifton’s Nursery and Garden Store (owner Hubert Clifton) operated at the site starting in 1951, succeeded by Lynn’s Garden Center (owner Lynn Meyer) in 1981. City People’s Garden Center took over in 1988.
Alison Greene, City People’s owner, says garden lovers converge there from all over Seattle and out of town. “It’s like a park, it’s filled with beauty, and it’s inspiring,” she says. “One customer told me, ‘This is my church, my safe place.’ In this crazy world we live in, it’s a sanctuary.”
“Gardening brings people a lot of joy. It’s not like buying a washing machine,” adds Steve Magley, City People’s owner from 1990 to 2016. “Plants bring people satisfaction on a different level.”
Velmeir Companies, the developer, hasn’t responded to requests for comment on the project. But directly across the busy arterial, City People’s already faces the four-floor Madison Lofts, built in 2008, which only furthers fears of a concrete canyon.
The symbolism of losing a growing, nurturing, life-giving enterprise is not lost on Save Madison Valley, a nonprofit that opposed the project for years and is dismayed that Seattle approved a master-use permit for it in June. Tony Hacker, on the group’s board, laments the pending demise of a neighborhood cornerstone.
Greene has searched in vain for a new site within the city. She anticipates having to shut down at year’s end, with her annual Christmas-tree sale a bittersweet finale, but she hopes for an extension.
“Where is the soul of Seattle going?” she asks. “Current zoning doesn’t take into account a business like ours that creates community, and we seem to be forgotten in the name of maximizing profit. It would be really tragic if this had to close forever.”
Special thanks to Alison Greene for her help with this installment!
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
Below are 10 additional photos and 24 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.