4/9/14

DISCOVERY PARK + THE SALE OF THE HISTORIC HOUSES + DPD PERMITS TO SUBDIVIDE

 

THE PROPERTIES:

1.  The historic houses on Officers Row (big yellow houses along the bluff next to the FAA “golf ball”) and Montana Circle (smaller houses to the north across Discovery Park Blvd) are all PRIVATELY OWNED.  They sit on 11.5 acres of land surrounded by Discovery Park, but they and the 11.5 acres are not part of the Park.  The Master Plan applies to Discovery Park (City property) ONLY.

2.  The houses and the grounds are within the Fort Lawton Landmark District, and as such they come under the jurisdiction of the Landmarks Preservation Board and the Fort Lawton Landmark District Guidelines.  The exteriors of the buildings themselves are well protected by the Guidelines and cannot be altered without a Certificate of Approval from the LPB.

3.  Forest City currently owns these historic houses and 3 parcels of land (the 11.5 acres):  Officers Row North, Officers Row South, and Montana Circle.

4.  Forest City has found a Canadian buyer for these 3 parcels with the houses.  The sale agreement is contingent on Forest City obtaining permits from the City (Department of Planning and Development aka DPD) to subdivide the 3 parcels into 22 separate lots.  Forest City has applied for the permits to do this.  Once DPD issues the permits to subdivide, the sale will be finalized very quickly.

5. If you want to read the applications for the permits, you can go to the DPD web site and look them up.  The Project #’s are: 3016939, 3016941, 3016942.  

THE PROPOSED 22 LOTS:

1.  Currently there are 12 duplexes and 2 single houses (26 individual homes) sitting on 11.5 acres of land.  The proposal is for the 11.5 acres to be subdivided so that each home gets it’s own piece of dirt and legal description.

2.  On Officers Row, there are 6 duplexes and 1 single house for a total of 13 homes.  Each half of each duplex (and the 1 single house) will each get it’s own lot = 13 individual lots for Officers Row (one to go with each existing home.)

3.  On Montana Circle, there are 6 duplexes and 1 single house for a total of 13 homes.  Each half of the 2 brick duplexes (and the 1 single house) will each get it’s own lot, but the smaller yellow duplexes will each get 1 lot per duplex = 9 individual lots for Montana Circle.

4.  13 + 9 = 22

5.  NO NEW HOUSES are being constructed with these permits - instead of having “common grounds” for all 26 homes, the proposed subdivision will mean that 22 EXISTING homes will each have their own piece of dirt with a legal description.

SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH THIS:

1.  We forget how lucky we have been to have the Navy as neighbors.  The Navy had (and enforced) a code of conduct to respect and protect the historic heritage of the houses, and also the peace and tranquility of the Park.  We never noticed those tenants because they were neat, tidy, quiet, and respectful of the Park.

2.  Since Forest City took over, things have changed for the worse.  We have had repeated violations of the Landmark District Guidelines, and numerous encroachments onto Park property.  (Last summer 1 tenant actually roto-tilled up a large piece of the Park and planted their own private vegetable garden - then fought for 6 MONTHS to keep it, even threatening lawsuits !)  The good news was that with all these infractions, the City had only one entity they had to deal with - the landlord aka Forest City (Forest City was then responsible for getting their tenants to comply.)

3.  With the sale of 22 separate lots to 22 individual owners, every issue will have to be confronted with each owner individually.  One can only imagine the time, effort, and cost to pursue the infractions and encroachments that will occur over and over again.  The Department of Neighborhoods (responsible for the Landmark District Guidelines) and the Park Department (responsible for encroachments) have already declined the confrontational task of pursuing many of the past violations - they do not have the time or the inclination or the persistence to follow through to protect the public interest :( :( :(  And with 22 owners to deal with, their efforts will certainly decline even further.

4.  Without any “code of conduct” for living in these houses, the following activities could easily detract from and degrade the Discovery Park Experience for the visiting public (none of which occurred while the Navy managed the homes):

Loud music blasting over the Parade Ground = legal

Noisy parties late into the night = legal

BBQ odors and smoke wafting and settling over the meadows = legal

A solid row of political signs facing the Park across the front of the houses = legal

Large inflatable Halloween spiders and X-mas Snoopy Dogs bobbing on the front lawns = legal

Trash, clutter, and just “stuff” in the front yards = legal

Barking dogs tethered to trees or running the fence line every time someone passes by in the Park = legal

Cats roaming into the heart of the Park hunting native birds and mammals = legal

Pigs, goats, chickens, free-flying pigeons = all legal

etc.

THE SOLUTION:

1.  Friends of Discovery Park has long held that the best way, if not the only way, is through SINGLE OWNERSHIP i.e. one landlord.  And that landlord MUST have the interests of the PARK at heart - as the Navy did in the past.

2.  That is why FoDP originally made an offer to purchase the property from American Eagle and then Forest City, and why we support non-profit, fee simple City ownership in some way e.g. with Historic Seattle as owner/manager. (Please review the history of this in our letter to the Mayor.)

3.  Unfortunately at this late point in time, the only hope now is for DPD to refuse the applications for subdivision of the 3 parcels, AND for the Mayor to move to acquire ownership for the citizens of Seattle.  Money could be borrowed, the houses could provide collateral for the loan, and the income from the houses could service the loan.

4. The houses could then be residential or low-impact business rentals. The rentals would come with enforceable restrictions in the lease agreements that promote a code of conduct that is compatible with the Primary Function-Central Purpose of Discovery Park.

5.  We see no other solution to avoiding the catastrophe that lays before us:  Discovery Park becoming the private estate for 22 private homeowners.

Unfortunately that is not the path we are on.  Our elected officials for the most part have been unresponsive.  The buyer claims they will construct a private Home Owners Association, but nothing they draft is likely to go beyond what already exist as restrictions in the City’s Landmark District Guidelines.  And just as it is now with the Guidelines, there will be no way for the public to require any meaningful enforcement of private community HOA rules when they are violated, or there is encroachment on the Park.