Viretta Driveway OK But Decoration Must Go

Seattle Parks Superintendent Holly Miller decided yesterday that a driveway built across a corner of Viretta Park can stay but that much of the decoration surrounding it must be removed.

The dispute centered on whether Howard Schultz, president of the Starbucks Coffee Co., and his wife, Sheri, encroached on public land by improving an overgrown asphalt track into a crushed-limestone driveway. That sparked protests from a group, Neighbors and Friends of Viretta Park.

The Parks Department permitted the Schultzes to improve the 175-foot driveway, but records show the construction totaling more than $91,000 was glitzier than the Parks Department thought they had OK'd. In making yesterday's decision, Miller said she agreed with many of the Schultzes' suggestions for compromise.

"My decision came down to what was in the best long-term interest of the public," Miller said. "These changes will result in minimizing the driveway's impact on Viretta Park and maximizing the public nature of the space."

Miller called for:

-- Eliminating a 3-foot-high concrete retaining wall

-- Narrowing the crushed-limestone gravel driveway

-- Removing curbing, plants and crushed rock so the driveway is less intrusive in the park

-- Removing and relocating the hedge and trees on top of the retaining wall

-- Regrading and seeding the slope east of the driveway

-- Taking down a fence along the north end of the Schultzes'

property, which lies on a small portion of the park, or applying for permission from the city to keep the fence in place.

The Schultzes also will be required to reimburse the city $29,400 for using a portion of the park as a staging area while their $1.4 million home in the Denny-Blaine neighborhood was being built. The fee can be paid outright or through park improvements.

The time in which these changes must occur will be discussed at an upcoming meeting between Miller and the Schultzes.

But yesterday's decision did not placate Jim Webster, who represents Neighbors and Friends of Viretta Park, who described Miller's decision as inadequate.

"It is an abandonment of her responsibility to protect the park from private encroachment and not to give away the use of the city's property," he said. "It's a halfway measure."

His group is suing the Schultzes, Miller and the city of Seattle for building the driveway and retaining wall across a corner of the park at 39th Avenue East and East John Street, despite a city Law Department opinion that access to the Schultzes' property through the park goes back to the turn of the century.

Recently, a judge ruled that the estate of deceased singer Kurt Cobain must be named a defendant in the suit because the driveway to the Cobain house on the north side of Viretta Park is partly on park land. A new lawsuit could be introduced as early as next week, and a judge's decision could change what Miller decided yesterday.

Judy Runstad, a lawyer representing the Schultzes, said she disagreed with calling the changes her clients made "unauthorized."

Runstad said the Schultzes are relieved that the superintendent has made a decision and "look forward to the time when this ordeal is behind them."