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Eastlake Community Council sends letter to the city to fix Fairview Ave. flooding

The ducks love it, but flooding on Fairview Avenue isn’t much fun for anyone else. The water is dirty and nearly two feet deep in some places, and it’s taking away scarce Eastlake parking, wearing away infrastructure, and forcing pedestrians off the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop pathway onto the roadway with cars, according to a February 2, Eastlake Community Council  letter sent to the mayor, city representatives, and city councilmember, Rob Johnson.

The four-page letter outlines the history of the three-year-old problem and requests something be done before it gets worse and costs the city more money to fix.

The ECC also notes that adjacent, local business, United States Seafoods, has used their own resources to pump the water from the street, but it’s not their responsibility, and the flooding may be damaging their property.

But challenges represent opportunities to paraphrase a Chinese proverb. Fixing Fairview is a good opportunity to enact some of those planned for Cheshiahud Loop improvements, the letter points out. The 2009 Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop Master Plan has several “general recommendations” (see page 51) for the stretch from East Blaine Street to Terry Pettus Park (the flooding is happening between there, from E. Blaine to E. Newton streets). They are:

  • Create a wider pedestrian walkway with uniform grading and special paving on the west side of Fairview.
  • Enhance path/driveway crossings to enhance visibility and awareness.
  • Prune and/or enhance vegetation to provide visual interest along pathway and visibility of path from street.

Will the city respond to the ECC letter? Stay tuned.

 

2014 pumping out Fairview Ave.

2014 pumping out Fairview Ave.

2014 parking lot flooding view from on high.

2014 parking lot flooding view from on high.

2015 water over walkway forces pedestrians onto roadway.

2015 water over walkway forces pedestrians onto roadway.

Three pumps run for six hours to drain Fairview Ave. but flooding returns the next day.

Three pumps run for six hours to drain Fairview Ave. but flooding returns the next day.

Should bike lanes replace parking on Eastlake Ave.? Plus Fairview Bridge Replacement update

If you attended SDOTs open houses on Roosevelt to Downtown High Capacity Transit Study on December 9 or 10 and on Fairview Avenue North Bridge Replacement on November 10, then you didn’t miss much at the January 12 public meeting, as information from the open houses is largely unchanged. The city is still collecting comments on the Roosevelt to downtown design that can be submitted on line.

What you did miss was a lively conversation about neighborhood concerns chiefly involving the removal of parking along Eastlake to make way for dedicated bike lanes but also about several other issues connected with both projects.

The question is should bike facilities, i.e. lanes, replace most or all of the parking on Eastlake Avenue? A representative from the Cascade Bike Club said a November survey on a rainy evening commute counted 500 bicyclists using Eastlake Avenue and that the avenue, while definitely not safe for bicyclists, was the most convenient corridor. Eastlake is also the street called out in the Bike Master Plan. Many voiced concerns about losing parking on Eastlake predicting that it would kill local businesses. Others argued that making the neighborhood more bicycle and pedestrian friendly would help local businesses. Finally Alison Townsend, the SDOT staff member presenting, suggested a show of hands. Eight people were in favor of losing parking for bicycle lanes. Eleven were in favor of keeping parking. (Others choose not to vote.) The split seemed to come down to generational lines, with the younger generation in favor of the bike lanes and the older generation in favor of parking.

Dec. 9 last half hour at Open House at TOPS; not comment in colorful post-it notes on the board with question below.

Dec. 9, last half hour at Open House at TOPS; note comments in colorful post-it notes on the board with question below:

The topic of January 12 ECC Public Meeting at TOPS.

The topic of January 12 ECC Public Meeting at TOPS.

But in the end everyone agreed that they cared about local businesses and safe bicycling and wasn’t there some kind of solution? One audience member suggested using business parking lots when they’re not in use for weekend and evening public parking. Liability issues could be a challenge, said Ms. Townsend. Another person said that was the best suggestion all evening. A formal private parking inventory of Eastlake has not been done, said Ms. Townsend, suggesting that might be a start. There was also a suggestion to create more short-term parking zones in the neighborhoods, to ensure parking turnover for local businesses.

Full BRT shows parking disappearing on Eastlake Avenue.

Full BRT shows parking disappearing on Eastlake Avenue.

Targeted BRT investment shows parking available off peak and two views -- bike lanes on either side or two-way bike facility on one side.

Targeted BRT investment shows parking available off peak and two views — bike lanes on either side or two-way bike facility on one side.

No one seemed opposed to losing the local bus service for a more frequent bus rapid transit (BRT) along the lines of Metro’s new Rapid Ride. It will mean fewer stops on Eastlake but faster service. The goal is to have 72% of Eastlakers within a 10 minute walk of a bus stop and with the stop having ten minute or better bus service. Proposed bus stops are at Garfield, Lynn, Hamlin, and Furman. One audience member questioned the ability to meet the 10 minute walkshed as, for many people, the stops will be uphill.

Why the need for BRT?  As Ms. Townsend told the group, Link light rail will connect downtown to Capitol Hill, U District, (and eventually Northgate and beyond) but there is no good transit connection to South Lake Union from the north, and 36% of Seattle jobs are in the Roosevelt to downtown corridor.

Worst case scenario is that Eastlake Avenue will become even more of a transit freeway than it already is and nobody wants that.

A chief concern posed by the Eastlake Community Council is losing the center left turn lanes and center median strips. (A comprehensive look at the difficult trade offs for the corridor can be found on the ECC website.) The center lane has many benefits, said ECC President, Chris Leman, and was fought for years ago by the neighbor as a traffic improvement. The center lane keeps traffic flowing by allowing for safe left hand turns into neighborhood streets and businesses. It also services as a temporary quick loading zone for many businesses and as a refuge for pedestrians crossing Eastlake. SDOT noted that the last two purposes were not the intended use and suggested that better design could address those issues.

A couple of people mentioned that they don’t envy SDOT’s task of trying to sort out the various uses for Eastlake Avenue and keep everyone happy and they thanked the city representatives for their efforts.

The second half of the meeting was devoted to the Fairview Avenue North Bridge Replacement and what came out of that was something that will make many people happy. The SDOT presenter for that project was very optimistic about the floating sidewalk being rebuilt. There are permitting concerns with the Department of Ecology among others, but she said the city has definitely heard the neighborhood’s desire for bringing back the floating sidewalk.

Work on the Fairview Bridge will be at 90% design by spring 2016 with pre construction activity starting in the summer and full construction beginning in 2017. The bridge will be closed for 15 months with detours likely happening at Aloha. The bridge will be “widened” by absorbing the middle buffer lane, with sidewalks and bike lanes on either side and two 12-foot wide lanes to support BRT and one general purpose 11-foot lane going north.  The bridge will be seismically sound and able to support a street car should the street car be extended (rail could be added to the bridge along with new surfacing), but right now BRT is the plan.

 

 

 

South Lake Union: Making an urban sustainability model (second of a two part series)
By Patrick Mazza

As the new century dawned, major changes were in store for South Lake Union. The low-slung light industrial district occupied by warehouses, supply shops and auto dealerships was set to become the epicenter of Seattle’s development boom.

In anticipation, the district’s major landowner and lead developer, Vulcan, commissioned the Urban Environment Institute and veteran green architect Bert Gregory to develop a framework and handbook that would make SLU a world-class green development model. The seminal sustainability plan published in 2002, Resource Guide for Sustainable Development in and Urban Area: A case study in South Lake Union, offered strategies for everything from water and energy efficiency to materials use. It was soup to nuts for limiting the impacts of buildings on local and global environments, and for making a compact urban district that would provide an alternative to suburban sprawl.

This is where solving the climate crisis comes home. The kind of sustainable urban development envisioned in the SLU study is central to reducing climate disrupting carbon emissions. Buildings alone are responsible for 45% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, while transportation emits another 34%. Creating compact, walkable urban districts served by transit and composed of efficient buildings is one of the most potent of climate solutions.

I visited with Bert at the Mithun architectural firm’s waterfront pier offices in downtown Seattle earlier this year. He is chair of the firm, one of the nation’s leading design firms and an innovator in the green building revolution that has broken out since he did the SLU handbook. With the emergence of a new downtown in the area, I wanted to find out now whether Bert thought SLU had lived up to the promise he saw when he was pulling together the document in 2001 and 2002. For the most part, in Bert’s view, SLU has fulfilled his vision, with one important exception that I will deal with later.

Bert noted his study focused on what can be done within the constraints of the market. SLU both reflects and has helped spur a major market transformation, he said. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system “was still in its infancy” when he did the study. The certification standard sets criteria to limit environmental impacts and create buildings that are healthy for the people living and working in them. Today, “The market is transformed.”

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Patient House at 207 Pontius Ave. North is a LEED Gold Building that offers 80 units of housing as well as amenities, offices and retail. It has won numerous awards including American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region 2011 Honor Award, and a 2010 Gold Medal from The Building of America Network, 2010

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Patient House at 207 Pontius Ave. North is a LEED Gold Building that offers 80 units of housing as well as amenities, offices and retail. It has won numerous awards including American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region 2011 Honor Award, and a 2010 Gold Medal from The Building of America Network, 2010

Seattle was an early green building leader, he said. Now, “Green is the price of entry.” In SLU, “Almost every building is gold.” That is the second-highest rating. “There is an ambition for platinum.” That is the highest. “It is a pretty remarkable collection of green buildings in one neighborhood. Overall when you look at buildings in SLU all are pretty sophisticated in terms of ambition for green strategies.” This includes features such as green roofs to cut energy use and to capture and reuse of stormwater.

“There’s been a revolution in the investment community,” he added. “It’s a revolution in where they want to make their investments. Many investors require green building. It’s less risky. Every building we’re doing has some kind of certification. It’s very different from the old days. The excitement is the market has changed.”

The move is away from suburbs and back into cities. “Its responding to demographic and workplace living styles. It is driven by lower risk, higher value and market demands. You look at Amazon. What a fundamental decision for a corporation to decide to stay in the city! It is driven by competitive advantage to attract talent.”

Distinguished by its unusual window design, the tall building at 400 Fairview North is also a standout for green architecture beneath the skin. The Skanska building aims at the top green building rank, LEED Platinum. Compared to a comparable, conventional building, 400 Fairview is designed for reductions of at least 25% in energy use and 40% reduction in potable water use. It employs beams for heating and cooling that are quieter and more comfortable than the standard HVAC systems and use 30% less energy. The building captures and reuses storm water.

Distinguished by its unusual window design, the tall building at 400 Fairview North is also a standout for green architecture beneath the skin. The Skanska building aims at the top green building rank, LEED Platinum. Compared to a comparable, conventional building, 400 Fairview is designed for reductions of at least 25% in energy use and 40% reduction in potable water use. It employs beams for heating and cooling that are quieter and more comfortable than the standard HVAC systems and use 30% less energy. The building captures and reuses storm water.

SLU “reflects good long-term work by people to create place, to do all the things needed to keep sprawl from happening.”

Bert pointed out one way SLU is a cutting-edge sprawl buster. Also board chair of Forterra, a local nonprofit devoted to landscape preservation and urban sustainability, he noted that SLU is using a system promoted by Forterra and implemented by King County. That is Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). Forest and farm lands on the urban fringe are preserved when development rights are sold. Purchasers are urban developers. TDR lets them build taller buildings, and so make more money on a parcel of land.

“King County at leading edge,” Bert says. “Ultimately the rest of the US needs to be as forward thinking about urban development, placing people in walkable neighborhoods close to transit, rather than low-density development. Get population in urban centers. “

“We look at a couple of million more people coming here by 2040. We need a whole bunch of SLUs throughout our region that are green and walkable. Places like Lynnwood, Federal Way and Puyallup can learn a lot of good lessons from SLU.”

The SLU study not only looked at buildings, but at district systems that tie them together. District systems operate on a scale beyond individual buildings. They can provide services such as heat, cooling and electricity.  For example, a heating plant can serve several buildings, as can a chilled water system or an electricity microgrid. A goal was to “enter into dialogue on systems beyond the individual building,” to line out opportunities for district-based solutions in energy, water and transportation. That is where success has been more mixed.

In terms of transportation, “The investment in the street car is really the key part, continuation of the street car downtown, and then slowly, linked across the city.”

SLU’s growth has come with increased traffic congestion, always a problem in an area long noted for the “Mercer mess.”

“SLU, like a lot of Seattle, is in the transportation ‘teenage years,” Bert notes. “We’re transitioning into a compact, global city that must have a convenient and enjoyable mass transit, biking, and walking system to get around.  Using the car will never be convenient in Seattle again with our new long peak hours, especially as more cars are added to the system.”

And that is as it should be. Making car use less convenient may have its irritations. But for a sustainable planet it is necessary.

The SLU report also envisioned district energy systems powered by technologies such as solar, fuel cells and microturbines, as well as chilled water systems linking buildings. That is the element of the vision that has not played out.

The Amazon Phase VI building at 515 Westlake Ave. North and 500 9th Ave. North is a LEED Gold building that exemplifies a high performance, energy-saving skin, cross block/mid-block connections, public people spaces and a high quality of landscape architecture.

The Amazon Phase VI building at 515 Westlake Ave. North and 500 9th Ave. North is a LEED Gold building that exemplifies a high performance, energy-saving skin, cross block/mid-block connections, public people spaces and a high quality of landscape architecture.

“This is a very challenging situation for a wide variety of reasons. District energy is still an emerging topic, fraught with unbelievable complexities, such as infrastructure in public streets, property lines, and risk for investors,” Bert says. The region’s mild climate and cheap hydropower also militated against district energy.” SLU was “way too early for district systems.”

But technologies and systems are improving. “The exciting thing there is an emerging revolution in district-based systems. The policy and economics profile is significantly different than in 2001. There is greater viability. It is a topic in all projects of higher density.”

The SLU study pointed the way for the district. But, Bert noted, “its greatest success was its widespread impact beyond Seattle. We have received requests all over the world for copies. It is used in university curricula. Fundamentally the impact is much broader than SLU because it is a case study.”

Bert since has gone on to do other similar studies, including a more detailed plan for the Lloyd Crossing area in Portland that “took this to a different level.”

In Bert’s eyes, SLU has overall lived up to the sustainability concepts he lined out in 2002.

“These are things that takes vision, partnerships and 20 years of efforts,” he said. “Now we as a region have to be thinking about what’s next for 2040, for 2100.”

More people are coming to our region. How we grow will make all the difference for our region, our planet and our climate. Compact urban districts that are built green and served by transit are the way to go, and SLU provides an important model to guide growth throughout the region, nation and world.

In Defense of South Lake Union (first of a two part series)
by Patrick Mazza

I had to think long and hard about this story.

I started out many months ago with a simple concept. I would interview Bert Gregory of the Mithun architectural firm about a seminal sustainability plan he did for South Lake Union back in 2001 in anticipation of the building boom. Bert Gregory is one of the pioneering green architects, and was well positioned to create a plan that would make SLU a global sustainability model.

In early 2015 I visited Bert to ask him how well he thought the plan had been carried out. I’ll report on Bert’s comments in the second part of this series. But before I could write the story, I realized I had to flesh out my own thoughts about SLU, figure out what I really think about the neighborhood that is now a representation of Seattle’s explosive growth. Among Seattleites, there are a mix of feelings, always inevitable with such major transformations. Knute Berger captured this in a May Crosscut piece:

On the plus side, SLU is ground zero for Seattle’s job growth, boasts major institutional support (Amazon) and comes as close as anything in modern times to a planned urban neighborhood with parks, museums, traffic projects and street cars . . . On the downside, the neighborhood is a poster child for corporate welfare, receiving more attention and public benefits than some needier areas of the city. Its rapid development has displaced established businesses and overwhelmed older enclaves like Cascade . . . for many, the architecture of the neighborhood is cookie-cutter, view-blocking, phony (those facades) and often sterile – a little bit o’ Bellevue.

Tough stuff. And as an Eastlake resident I have my own mix of feelings. In 2012 I spent most of the year living and working in Portland. When I returned to work in downtown Seattle in early 2013, suddenly I found what had been my well-used but moderately filled 70 bus suddenly stretched to capacity, like a New York City subway at rush hour. Mystified, I asked what happened. “Amazon,” the bus driver told me. While I now work out of my home, I still catch the 70 for downtown meetings. The stuffing only seems to have worsened.

I also looked at the blocks of buildings and, while I’m not as down as the Berger quote, I found the district very much a 21st century neighborhood, very functional, but lacking the warmth of older urban districts.  I needed to dig deeper. So I took walks around and through the neighborhood to further explore its new feel. What did the street life feel like? What is the potential for SLU taking on a more organic feel as it settles in?

Of course, the youthfulness of the street crowds is one of the first and most striking impressions. Young Amazon geeks and their equivalents in other firms. There is some effort to create a face to the street, with many restaurants, outdoor café patios, street furniture and trees.   It isn’t Paris, but maybe it’s a start to a warmer urbanity.

There is some effort to vary the buildings and provide some interesting features. Nothing like the decorative ornamentation one finds on older buildings in downtown, or on some postmodern buildings. But something.

While the impression from beyond the neighborhood is a somewhat uniform block, for example looking at it from South Lake Union Park, when you delve into it a surprising number of the older buildings still stand, offering a needed variety. As Berger points out, it is important to save some of the old neighborhood.

A walking tour of South Lake Union is an eye-opener: It is far more than throw-away light industrial warehouses. A remarkable variety of architectural styles exist there, from 19th century row houses to turn-of-the-century bungalows, from mid-century modern commercial buildings to Deco structures, even some interesting Brutalist brutes.

SLU and its new downtown are facts on the ground. We live in a new Seattle that might discomfort us with change. But my conclusion is that, in a world of change, SLU is necessary. In part 2 of this series, I will delve into specifics about the district’s green buildings, and how they do indeed reflect the sustainable development envisioned by Gregory. For now, I will say that in terms of overall development patterns, we need SLU.

Ultimately, my conclusion about SLU is shaped by the work I do. For most of the last 17 years my work has focused on the massive challenges of global warming and resulting climate disruption. This is seen in our own state in the form of record drought and wildfires, huge and sometimes unseasonal storms, deadly landslides, massive salmon run deaths in overheated rivers and shellfish-industry killing ocean acidification. The greatest source of planetary heating and all its impacts is carbon pollution from fossil fuels including petroleum that runs almost all of our transportation system. In Washington state with its clean hydropower, transportation plays a disproportionate role in climate-twisting carbon emissions, 45% of the total.

Thus, while densification and growth come with some discomfort, and my Eastlake neighborhood is seeing its own share, if we are going to have growth, this is the way to do it. SLU’s creation of a dense, modern urban neighborhood is the kind of model we need. We cannot reduce auto dependence without moving to land use patterns that make car use less necessary – Neighborhoods that place work, shopping and residences close together. Amazon’s rapid expansion has its drawbacks, and one wishes rocket-ship-subsidizing billionaire owner Jeff Bezos might consider a greater contribution to ground transit. But for the climate and sustainability in general, the Amazon development is infinitely superior to Microsoft’s 1980s vintage campus in auto-centric Redmond.

We can quibble about the details of development. But overall, global sustainability requires dense, walkable urban development that can be served by transit. SLU meets that test.

In the next part, Bert Gregory tells us which pieces of his sustainable development model SLU fulfills, and which it doesn’t.

Image of South Lake Union is a combination of photograph and rendering of a potential future condition of the neighborhood.  Courtesy: Studio216

An After Thanksgiving Walk Around Lake Union

UFO sightings, new geological formations, signs of the times, and holiday cheer; walking is when you really see things, despite the boring stretches (as one of our party complained).

Or maybe because of them.

Here are a few photos of things that caught our eye the day after Thanksgiving:

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union  though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

Sign of the times: "Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President." (This place always has intriguing signs.)

Sign of the times: “Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President.” (This place always has intriguing signs.)

And artwork -- more signs of the times.

And artwork — more signs of the times.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

And another temporary geological formation -- the Seattle canyon.

And another temporary geological formation — the Seattle canyon.

 

Modern bridge to replace Fairview Avenue trestle

Seattle Department of Transportation held an open house last night about plans to replace the 65-year-old  Fairview Trestle that runs beside the historic Lake Union Steam Plant building with a modern bridge. Construction of the new bridge is planned for spring 2017, and that’s when the detours would start.

SDOT had hoped to leave at least one lane open on the old bridge during construction, but that would have prolonged the project by at least six months, so they are opting for a quicker construction schedule of 15 to 18 months as opposed to 24. Quicker construction reduces costs and might be less inconvenient all around.

The most likely detour, said a SDOT representative, will be Aloha Street to Eastlake Avenune (but SDOT is also looking at Republican Street). If Aloha is chosen, the street will be resigned to allow for better traffic flow, signal priority and a left turn lane back onto Fairview south of construction site, where one is not currently allowed.

Fairview Detour edit

(Photos are of a few of the design boards from the Open House.)

There is a stairway just north of Silver Could Inn that could be improved for pedestrian access, the SDOT official added.

The new bridge will exactly replace the old bridge in size, 65 feet wide, but will have wider car lanes and a two-way bicycle track, along with sidewalks on either side. To allow for the seeming expansions, the seven foot buffer lane is disappearing.

The floating walkway beside the bridge will also be removed and may be replaced if permitting allows. There are design plans for it.

Rendering of new Fairview Avenue Bridge.

Rendering of new Fairview Avenue Bridge.

The new bridge will have three lookout points and lots of new native plant vegetation and hardscaping (stones and pathways) on either end leading up to it.

Fairview Plants

Improved landscaping will bookend the bridge.

It will be strong enough to hold a streetcar should the streetcar be extended to Eastlake and up Roosevelt, but that is not the reason for the trestle replacement. At 65 the trestle has outlived its useful life and is not earthquake sound.

For more information and to comment go to SDOT website.

Cautionary Land Use Tales: The Battle of Roanoke Reef

It’s Halloween and it seems like an appropriate time to put up our first article in an on-going series of “Cautionary Land Use Tales.” Because it’s a little scary to think of what might have been… 

It is the Seattle land use fight by which all others are judged. Thirteen years, from 1967 to 1980, dozens of public hearings, and file cabinets of lawsuits concluded in victory for the neighborhoods of Lake Union.

Since 1962, neighborhood activists had warned that zoning loopholes could allow massive office and residential buildings along the shorelines and above the waters of Lake Union – replacing houseboats and water-dependent businesses.  State and city governments lent a deaf ear to the threat.

In 1967, neighborhood fears were realized when a building permit application for a seven-story condominium was filed for the foot of East Roanoke Street. Existing were pleasure craft moorages– some covered, some not – spread out around the Riviera Marina that housed Bill Boeing’s weathered 1916 Seaplane Station. The proposed “Roanoke Reef Condominium” was to be built on a 480’ x 100’ concrete platform located just north of East Roanoke Street – just above the waters of Lake Union. The application read: one story of concrete parking garage, then six stories of wood frame with stucco face and tinted-bronze glass.  It boasted a heated pool, glass enclosed lanais, television security system, three elevators and 168 luxury units.

Houseboaters and upland neighbors rallied against the proposed project and won outright.  The 1967 building permit for the Roanoke Reef Condominium was denied. But the battle of Roanoke Reef wasn’t over; in fact it had only just begun.

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In 1969, Fairview Boat Works just north of the foot of East Lynn Street was demolished and construction began on a five story, 98-unit over-the-water apartment house (now the 48-unit Union Harbor Condo). Union Harbor was permitted and built before neighbors could organize meaningful opposition.  Within months, five more proposals to build mega-unit over-the-water apartment houses along Fairview Avenue East were announced.  A speculative feeding frenzy had begun, and Roanoke Reef re-surfaced as a five story, 112-unit condo proposal.

The newly formed citywide citizens group CHECC (Choose an Effective City Council) prodded state and local government to address the problem of Lake Union’s inadequate zoning, and zoning loopholes were eventually closed in such a way as to discourage four of the five over-the-water development plans. One permit was issued, however, to Roanoke Reef. The permit application was submitted to the Seattle Building Department on May 7, 1969.  It was “conditionally issued” the next day.  Building permits were either approved or denied, so to neighbors the permit spread a strong stench of impropriety.

In the end the battle of Roanoke Reef centered on what would turn out to be an illegally issued building permit.

Proposed 112-unit over the water structure aka "Roanoke Reef"

Proposed 112-unit over the water structure aka “Roanoke Reef”

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Since individual plaintiffs could be held personally liable for construction delays while officers of non-profit corporations were protected, a first legal strategy was the creation of a non-profit community organization for upland residents. The Eastlake Community Council (ECC) was formed in 1971. Among its official purposes was (and still is) “to maximize public use and enjoyment of the inland waters and shorelines adjoining the Eastlake community.”  ECC worked with the Floating Homes Association (FHA, founded in 1962) to fight the vested permit. But each time the building permit was set to expire, the City renewed it.

Enactment of the 1971 Shoreline Management Act should have ended the project outright.  But “construction” on Roanoke Reef began March 15, just weeks before the SMA’s June 1 effective date, with workers driving 10 concrete pilings into the lakebed.

Although community scuba divers proved the pilings were haphazardly placed and certainly only symbolic, the city again renewed the building permit.

In a June 23, 1971 letter to the Eastlake Community Council’s co-founder Phyllis Boyker, then-Mayor Wes Uhlman wrote, “I dislike the destruction of a valuable natural resource like this section of Lake Union for purely business interests. Unfortunately, however, there seems to be nothing which can done to halt the project. No building or zoning codes have been violated and no laws have been broken.”

In July, real construction began. Existing moorages were torn out along with the March 15 pilings. The old Riviera Marina that included the original Boeing Company hangar was torn down, and 250 concrete pilings were driven into the lakebed.

With the start of that construction, the community took legal action.  Harold H. “Hal” Green of the firm MacDonald, Hoague and Bayless offered his legal services “at cost.” By summer’s end $11,500 had been raised toward a legal fund. On September 15, 1971, a lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court on behalf of ECC, FHA, and Phyllis Boyker, who formed the lead as a directly affected upland resident.

Among the suit’s charges were 1) the city had issued an illegal building permit in 1969, 2) the City had repeatedly renewed the illegal permit, and 3) the developers were not in compliance with the Shoreline Management Act.

The developers, represented by Robert Ratcliffe of Diamond and Sylvester, (the law firm of Joe Diamond, parking lot magnet) quickly brought a counter-suit against Phyllis Boyker. Under the threat of financial ruin, Ms. Boyker was forced to withdraw. The developers then contended that FHA and ECC were not directly impacted by the proposal and thus had no right to sue.  The State Department of Ecology joined ECC and FHA as a co-plaintiff on February 10, 1972.  The trial began four days later.  After nine days of testimony, the introduction of 137 exhibits, and ten minutes of consideration following final arguments, Superior Court Judge W.R. Cole ruled against the community on every count – including the very right to bring the lawsuit.

The ECC and FHA were exhausted, debt-ridden, and facing an appeal deadline to the State Supreme Court. They needed an additional $8,000 for transcripts and court-ordered bonds. They raised money though dances, rummage sales, spaghetti dinners, boat outings, door-to-door solicitations, and mailings.  On April 19, 1972, in a meeting with representatives for the Attorney General’s office, (the AG at that time was Slade Gorton, a charter member of CHECC.)  the earlier promise of state help was negotiated into meaningful support.  That evening, the votes were won to commit ECC and FHA to appeal to the State Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, back at the Reef, construction continued.  A fully furnished model unit stocked with sales brochures opened at the adjacent construction staging area.  A Roanoke Reef advertising billboard appeared in South Lake Union at the corner of Fairview Avenue N. and Valley Street.

On September 6, 1972, the Attorney General filed papers with the State Supreme Court to halt construction of Roanoke Reef.   When work stopped, a significant portion of the cinder block parking structure had been completed.  Oral arguments were heard on November 13, 1972 before the State Supreme Court.  Joe Diamond, himself, argued for the developers; Harold Green and Francis Hoague (a local liberal legend) for the community.   On July 18, 1973, the State Supreme Court ruled for the community.  The City was stuck with a nearly $3 million bill for illegally issuing the permit.  What’s more, the Court ruled that ECC and FHA did have standing to sue—an important early precedent for public interest litigation that spread throughout the country.

 

Roanoke Reef July 20, 1973 two days after the State Supreme Court ruled permits were illegally issued. This Seattle Times photo portrays the moment of community victory. Note the upland construction shack and model unit where the gracious 49-65 East Roanoke townhomes now reside. (photo credit: Seattle Times)

Roanoke Reef July 20, 1973 two days after the State Supreme Court ruled permits were illegally issued. This Seattle Times photo portrays the moment of community victory. Note the upland construction shack and model unit where the gracious 49-65 East Roanoke townhomes now reside. (photo credit: Seattle Times)

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But victory in a land use battle does not simply come with a “permit denied” ruling, and developers do not just go away.  In this case, the verdict did not include an order to remove the illegally permitted concrete platform.  Within four days, the developers submitted a new building permit application.  The proposal had been reduced to 81 units, but remained 57 feet high.  And in November 1973, the developers filed a $7,000,000 damage suit against the City of Seattle.

Although the developers eventually won a $2,896,534 judgment against the city (check written July 3, 1976), they made little headway in securing permits for their condominium. The tide of the Battle of Roanoke Reef clearly had turned to favor the community. Just before Christmas 1974, the city denied a final new building permit. The Roanoke Reef over-water condominium project was dead. During the next three years, occasional rumors circulated that a new condo building permit was soon to be submitted but the rumors always proved to be negotiation posturing or unfounded speculation.

Between 1975 and 1978, the Battle of Roanoke Reef was a miserable, tedious stalemate.  The community was unyielding in seeking removal of the illegal platform. Removal was completely unacceptable to the developers. Sketchbook entrepreneurs offered ideas for a public park, marina or restaurant to settle the celebrated dispute. Each scheme rested atop the illegal concrete slab. Most met with initial public approval. All required vigorous repudiation by the community.

In 1976, ’77 and ’78, the developers submitted land use applications to establish marinas beside the platform.  In each instance, the developers refused to state that further development would not occur. Two of the three proposals met with initial government approval. An attitude of “let’s approve it and move on to another issue” seemed to prevail.  But for the community, the platform continued to be illegal and developers refused to disclaim thoughts of future high-rise development.  Each marina proposal initiated another round of public hearings.  Each marina proposal was eventually defeated.

 

Construction of the Roanoke Reef platform. The illegal platform would remain for years.

Construction of the Roanoke Reef platform. The illegal platform would remain in place for years.

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Like weeds through the sidewalk, life slowly began to infest the Reef’s concrete slab. An impromptu marine engine repair shop located there.  Fishing boats tied up for off-season moorage.  Some live-aboards took advantage of the $1 per foot moorage fees. Kids dove off the slab and canoes cruised under it.

In 1978, the Roanoke Reef stalemate was broken and a temporary truce was declared.  It was agreed that a City-hired consultant conduct a study of the legal, economic and environmental ramifications of the concrete slab. The community supported the study only after demolition was included as an option.

Soon after the consultant’s report, Lucile Flanagan (later the benevolent owner of the Crest Theater) quietly emerged with a viable Roanoke Reef plan. Ms. Flanagan would purchase the property for $500,000, demolish the concrete slab, construct and sell 20 condo houseboat moorages, plus nine townhouses at the site of the former construction staging area. The sale was finalized in the summer of 1979 and the Environmental Impact Statement completed during the first months of 1980.

No single individual led the community’s efforts. Only houseboater Terry Pettis (FHA Executive Director) and uplander Victor Steinbrueck (an ECC board member) were intimately involved from beginning to end, but they thought it proper that the Battle of Roanoke Reef be spearheaded by the ordinary folks of  the FHA and the ECC. Nine ECC presidents served during those years. The long casualty list of cancelled vacations, lost career opportunities and strained family relationships explains the rapid turnover.

1980 demolition party invite

1980 demolition party invite

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On a sunny Saturday – July 26, 1980 – the Battle of Roanoke Reef officially ended with a neighborhood party on the concrete platform.  Food, music, beverages, skydivers, politicians and speeches accompanied this latest of innumerable fundraisers for the ECC Legal Defense Fund, with one and all invited to start the demolition of the slab at one-dollar-a-whack.

A submerged reef of concrete is located somewhere off Blake Island where the remains of the platform were finally hauled to rest, but not before a few souvenir chunks were given out.  For many years thereafter (it may be there still), on a shelf in the Director’s reception area for Seattle’s Department of Construction and Land Use there was a chunk with an engraved red aluminum label reading, “Roanoke Reef, 1971-1980.”

(Note this is a classic piece that was first published in 1987 and more recently ran in the Summer 2014 Eastlake News. It was written by Jules James.)

Sink or swim? Nov. 3 hearing for Ride the Ducks

The fate of Ride the Ducks is in the hands of Olympia right now and a hearing at the state capitol will provide more information on whether the ducks will be allowed to sink or paddle back to shore.

The Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) is holding a status conference, open to the public, Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 9:30 a.m. on their investigation into the safety operations of Ride the Ducks. People can either attend in person at the UTC hearing room or request to be conferenced in prior to the meeting. For conference line availability call 360-664-1234.

“At the meeting, UTC motor carrier safety staff will provide the judge with preliminary findings from their ongoing investigation,” wrote a state representative after a request for information.

Much hangs in the balance. Will the Ducks be permanently sunk as many hope or will the state toss them a lifesaver and allow some form of operations to resume?

The state suspended the Ducks operations four days after the horrific and tragic accident that occurred on the Aurora Bridge September 24. Since that time the state has been looking into the safety practices and maintenance records of the two types of vehicles Ride the Ducks operates for its tourism business, “Truck Duck” and “Stretch Duck” vehicles. The “Stretch Duck” vehicle is under the most scrutiny as it was the type involved in the Sept 24 accident.

In a Joint Stipulation filed Oct. 1, 2015, both the state and Ride the Ducks have the objective of returning the “Truck Duck” vehicles to service within 30 days if they pass “regulatory inspections” and the “Stretch Duck” vehicles “within a reasonable period of time.”

But returning the Ducks to service is not what everyone wants.

Over the past three years Eastlakers have actively fought a proposed private Ride the Ducks boat ramp adjacent to Terry Pettus Park citing safety and noise concerns. The ramp would have as many as 18 amphibious Duck vehicles an hour during peak season crossing the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop trail and entering the lake in close proximity to the local houseboat community.

The Eastlake Community Council, the Log Foundation (a cooperative of three houseboat docks adjacent to Terry Pettus Park) and the Floating Homes Association in February 2015  filed a legal appeal with the Washington State Shoreline Board countering the city’s decision to permit the Ducks. Finally on the advice of their attorneys when it appeared the appeal would not be successful, the three groups reached a settlement agreement with Ride the Ducks in June 2015 for significant noise abatement through the proposed ramp area among other things.

Now, Ride the Duck opponents of the Eastlake ramp site, with enough public support, see the hearing in Olympia as an opportunity to sink the Ducks.

image from www.stoptheducks.com

image from www.stoptheducks.com

Beach House on Lake Union won’t last long but that’s OK

It stands out on South Lake Union Park like some strange temporary construction structure, which it is, but it’s also an art installation that contains and recalls a time before there was any construction on the shores of Lake Union.

As its plaque explains, “Beach House is inspired by early Native American dwellings cross-pollinated by today’s frame-construction houses. The interior structure is made from sticks collected over the last eight years from a Puget Sound beach near my home. Its shadows cast upon the interior walls form negatives, like blueprints or x-rays of the sourced material’s origins.”

Although a Beach House seems perfect here, the lake was not its original site, wrote artist David W. Simpson in an email. “This piece was transported from Westlake Square (now one of the Pronto Bike locations) across from the Westin Hotel about a year ago.” It was intended as a temporary piece, he adds, for one or two months, but surprisingly has not been vandalized in the year or so it’s been at SLU, until recently when a small tag of graffiti appeared. But that may be expected as the house decays.

Says Simpson, “I intended for this to be an ephemeral project, and thus the natural decay of the interior walls (once a bright blue) and the decline of the stick structure inside seem quite appropriate.”

Below are some photos of its construction and installment at Westlake Square. There’s also a slideshow on the artist’s website and a nice write-up in The Seattle Weekly.

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Amazon’s New Digs will be Biospheres

While Amazon is known for occupying a good part of the territory in South Lake Union, its corporate campus is expanding to the edge of downtown (Sixth and Blanchard to be exact). Check out GeekWire for the latest bird’s eye view of its construction.