Eastlake

Robin’s Nest will be built at old Red Robin site

Last month the Daily Journal of Commerce reported that development of the old Red Robin site was moving forward with a 61-union residential structure containing space for a restaurant or pub on the ground level and 21 underground parking spaces. The new construction will play homage to the old site calling itself Robin’s Nest — quite a nest it will be too with rooftop decks all around. However, neighboring residents are appealing some of the projects design — one being that street access have a sidewalk and enough room for vehicle turn-around and garbage collection.

DJC article pdf

photo: b9 Architecture

Second Notice: New York Times highlights Eastlake real estate

The New York Times seems to have discovered Eastlake. For the second time in less than a month another Eastlake property, this time an Italian hillside villa condo, part of the Siena Del Lago complex, with shared greenhouse lap pool and views of Lake Union, was featured in the Times’ real estate section last Sunday under the column “What You Get.” The asking price? Around $1,150,000. Just a few weeks ago it was “What You Get — $950,000” and a Lake Union floating home.

And the status of the Eastlake condo? Don’t even think about it. Like the floating home, it had a pending sale within a week of the Times’ spread.

Also like the floating home it was photographed by Eastlake resident, New York Times photographer, Ruth Fremson. She travels all around the Northwest for work but in the last month has gotten a couple of serendipitous local assignments she could walk to.

Siena Del Lago

Siena Del Lago condominums

 

Lake Union Floating Home Featured in the New York Times

A Lake Union floating home in Eastlake was featured in Last Sunday’s New York Times Business/Real Estate section column What you get – $950,000.

As it turns out there’s a front door and a back door to this story.

First through  the front door – “It was quite exciting” says Melissa Ahlers the broker for the property and an Eastlake resident of 16 years, “to get that call from the New York Times.”

The column picks a price point and researches what kind of homes you can find around the country, so the one bath, two bedroom floating home on the lake for $925,000 was contrasted with a home practically in the desert – a three bedroom, three and a half bath stucco in Santa Fe, NM, for $895,000, and with a seaming mansion – a six bedroom, six bath Greek Revival in Asheville, NC, for $930,000.

The floating home had been on the market for about two months when the feature appeared. “People don’t think of a floating home right away when they’re thinking of residences,” says Ahlers. It takes the right buyer, she added, and that buyer has turned up. There’s a pending sale on the property now.

floating-home-sign

And through the back door – The New York Times photographer for the feature, Ruth Fremson, lives in Eastlake.

Her assignments come from all sections of the paper, and she works with NYT Seattle correspondent Kirk Johnson on Pacific Northwest stories. While she’ll also generate stories, she didn’t have anything to do with this one. It was assigned.

Just like a fateful assignment she had in 2015 for a cross country road trip that was chronicled in the NYT and ended with a planned three-month sojourn in Seattle.

But she liked it here so much she stayed.

“We felt very lucky that we found a place in Eastlake,” she wrote in a Facebook message from Alaska where she was on assignment. “I only wish I had more time to meet our neighbors and get involved with the community.”

So do we!

From Parking Lot to Public Park: City Awards the East Howe Steps Plaza Project a $100k Construction Grant

Although you may not be able to tell right now, a new public plaza is taking shape in Eastlake. It will be on a triangular piece of public land that has been used as parking by businesses over the years, east of Fairview Ave. and where Howe St. might have been had it continued west across Eastlake Ave. That bit of Howe Street right of way is opening up with the private development that is happening there and will connect with the new public plaza.

The plaza will be the base of what will form a grand stairway up Howe St., connecting Lake Union to the historic East Howe St. staircases that run through the I-5 Colonnade Park and up Capitol Hill along the Streissguth Gardens.

The project has been in the works for over ten years and just last week got a huge boost with a $100k construction grant. Last Saturday morning the project steering committee, made up of Mary Hansen, Ron Endlich, Linda Furney, Leslie Silverman, Ariah Kidder, Judy Jopling, and Tom Kipp, hosted an impromptu celebration with coffee, pastries, information and tours on site.

East Howe Street Plaza Steering Committee from left: Mary Hansen, Ron Endlich, Linda Furney, Ariah Kidder, Judy Jopling, Tom Kipp and Leslie Silverman.

“It feels like we’re suddenly lurching forward as opposed to inching along,” said Tom Kipp.

The grant provided the group with a new momentum. The project had leapt forward in late 2014 and early 2015 with three public open houses at TOPS to gather community input on design concepts. But final design work on the winning public choice,  “Front Porch” concept, took a longer than expected.

That design will feature trees, plants, seating and open space and (like stepping out to a front porch) will be a place to stretch, sit, reflect and hang out, wrote Mary Hansen in an email . The plaza will fan out to a stretch of the Cheshiahud Loop, connecting with the trail there.

Ron Endlich, another committee member, who was key to securing the $100k construction grant explained that the project had received a $25k planning grant (funding the open houses), a $25k site survey grant and a $50k design grant.  All those grants also had to be matched 50 percent by the neighborhood, and a lot of the match was made through volunteer hours with some cash fund raising.

But now the stakes are a bit higher. The $100k construction grant will require a 100 percent project match with a good portion of it needing to be in cash. “It needs to be secure funding,” Ron explained, for construction. While volunteer hours will also count, the steering committee will be looking toward neighborhood businesses to help make this match. Construction could start as early as next spring with the first phase completed by next fall.

Daly Partnership construction on Eastlake Ave. of East Howe Steps

Daly Partnership construction on Eastlake Ave. of East Howe Steps

In the meantime Daly Partnership, a private developer, is constructing a project on Eastlake at East Howe St., known as the East Howe Steps. That project is well underway and will add two apartment buildings with retail on the ground level. The two buildings will border, south and north, the pedestrian thoroughfare linking East Howe St. and Eastlake Ave. with the plaza.

For more information visit:

http://easthowestepsplaza.com/

https://www.seattleparksfoundation.org/2014-pages/step-up/east-howe-steps

Looking west from Eastlake Ave. toward steps under I-5 Colonnade Park

Looking west from Eastlake Ave. toward steps under I-5 Colonnade Park

The parking lot where future plaza will be.

The parking lot where future plaza will be.

And another view of the triangular lot.

Lake Union Mail changes carriers; so what’s on the horizon for the former owner?

On July 2 Jules James quietly delivered Lake Union Mail to a new owner. He had owned the small storefront shop that packed and shipped boxes, sold stamps and rented out some 500 private mailboxes on Louisa St. behind Louisa’s Café in Eastlake since 1989. The news came as a shock to the neighborhood.

Jules too was still reeling a few weeks later when I talked to him about the sale and his plans one beautiful Sunday morning on the deck of his home on Franklin Ave. The deck had a window view between two tall lush green trees of not only the business’s namesake but also a central focus of Jules’ life – Lake Union.

The sale transition had been an extremely stressful time, of keeping up a normal front, while dealing with changes behind the scenes, such as training a new manager, and keeping it all secret, which he felt was necessary for the sake of the business. He was running the gamut of emotions — both elated and whatever its opposite is. But he didn’t have any doubt that it was the right thing for himself, the business, and Eastlake.

Why sell? Because “the way the world is thinking I’m not thinking,” he says.

He’s a shoot from the hip type person, he admits, and he announced the news on the business’s Facebook page that way writing, “Approximately every six months since a decade ago, Joe Davis (PMB 339) has said: ‘If you are ever ready to sell Lake Union Mail, I’m ready to buy.’”

Then he fired, “Joe Davis is the new owner of Lake Union Mail. Amy Sjoberg is the new boss.”

“I understand crumpled cash and multi-page hand-written personal letters. I’ll never comprehend buying toothpaste on-line,” he added.

“It’s an analog business with digital on top of that,” Jules says. The mail business needs to change to keep up with the times. He speculates on what that might be, apps telling you when a piece of mail has arrived…, but he no longer needs to try to figure it out. That’s up to the new owner.

While we spoke a seaplane flew overhead in a low northeast direction.  I had to stop the conversation because my hearing is shot and wait for the plane to pass.  “That’s Yvette,” he said.

“You know who flies the planes?” I asked.  He nodded. He could tell by the time of day and the way the plane was being flown.  He could write a book about seaplanes and their history on Lake Union, in fact he has been ever since his son Alex was two, he’s now 21; maybe he’d finish it, he said with a smile and a shrug.

*

Over a quarter of a century is a long enough time to start a business, become stable enough to get married and have a son, have that marriage not work out, find love again and marry and gain a blended family, watch your kids grow and cut their teeth on the family business, watch neighborhood kids grow and give them their first job. My daughter for instance, on her own initiative, asked Jules for a job, during that difficult Catch 22 time when you need experience to have a job, but can’t get experience without a job; he gave her that break. He’s given many a similar break. Lake Union Mail has employed about 100 people over the years. He knows mail clerk is not a dream job for most, but it’s a job that can help build a dream. “Money is essential but not important,” he says. With that in mind he tried to schedule work around his employee’s priorities.

But as owner that meant working pretty much all the time; even when he was not working he was thinking about work, he says.  It was a six day a week job, and even Sunday his day off, today, he’s still fussing about a $10 package that is reported lost because even though he sold the store he’s still on as consultant, turning over all that institutional knowledge, but if he were an employee he wouldn’t be thinking about that package, he notes with a laugh; it would be something he’d deal with in twenty minutes on Monday.

*

Lake Union Mail was born of a letter, a newsletter, as Jules tells it on the business’s website. He was looking for another small business to start while he grew his recycling business in the 1980s. At the same time he was on the board of the Eastlake Community Council, which was trying to encourage good development in the neighborhood. The ECC ran a survey in The Eastlake News asking residents what type of businesses were needed.

One of the top three suggestions was a post office. And one of the first things Jules did when he opened Lake Union Mail was donate mail box #1 to the ECC for perpetuity.  Then the city took on recycling as part of its waste management program. Almost overnight recyclers were out of business. The recycling store front that also sold stamps and shipped items suddenly flipped priorities. “Your grand plan is not always what you do,” says Jules. Fortunately a post office is just what the neighborhood needed (so much so it could over the years support two). Besides Jules who had also been a building manager says just about all his jobs ended with him sorting mail.

Sketch of Lake Union Mail, Jules James and Scout by Karen Berry

Sketch of Lake Union Mail, Jules James and Scout by Karen Berry

Lake Union Mail became known for building community and for its old fashioned customer service, earning it a feature in the Seattle Times 2008 Small Business Scene. Although we didn’t talk about specifics of the sale, keeping the customer service spirit of LUM was undoubtedly part of the deal; keeping that first mailbox for the ECC definitely was.

All the same, there will be changes. “I told Joe during closing, ‘you need to disrespect the old owner.’” It’s necessary for the business to evolve, he says. Of course when the new owner actually takes the advice, it’s a bit jarring. Some of the changes have already taken Jules by surprise, he admits but shrugs it off. LUM may even have to move, he adds, which seems almost unthinkable.

*

For a history major Jules appears to have stumbled on a perfect line of work, one that’s historical in its own right. The post office was once where everyone came to get their mail before there was home delivery; it was a central spot for communication. And Jules has been like an old time postmaster.

Working at LUM felt like being inside an encyclopedia, says Jules. Five hundred experts coming through the door to collect their mail. Conversations that got started, cut short, and picked up a few days later.

The store’s location too was just up the hill and a few blocks away from where Bill Boeing launched his first plane, a seaplane, off the end of Roanoke St. A historian didn’t have to travel far for a vein to mine.

In between licking stamps, Jules would sometimes send his employees off to do historical research. “That was definitely one of my favorite parts of that job,” wrote former employee Kitty Gibson in a Facebook comments exchange. (Kitty assisted Jules in writing about the history of street cars on Eastlake Avenue for the Eastlake News.)

Neighbors have dubbed him the mayor of Eastlake thanks to his local activism. But then again, Eastlake has had no shortage of neighborhood activists. One, Susan Kaufman, owner of Serafina and Cicchetti restaurants, had just passed away a few days before we talked, sending another shock wave through the neighborhood. I mentioned her. Jules nodded, “Whenever any issue came up, I would march right down to Serafina’s to talk to Susan about it, and we would brainstorm what to do.”

Over the years there have been many fights with city hall over countless neighborhood land use battles. From saving the Lake Union Steam Plant building that now houses ZymoGenetics, to halting the construction of large buildings over the lake, to establishing basic standards for micro housing, Jules has had a leadership role in them all.

But he’s tired of fighting city hall, especially when it comes to small business issues; however, there is one battle he’s eyeing because it’s fighting for something rather than against and that’s restoring the floating sidewalk along the Fairview Bridge. He doesn’t fully trust that the city will replace the unique walkway when they tear it and the bridge out for a new bridge in 2017.

He’ll be keeping tabs on that and on another unique feature of Lake Union, the historic Virginia V, the last operating vessel of the Mosquito Fleet, a fleet of steam ships that ferried goods and people around Puget Sound during the 1920s and 30s. He has done every volunteer position there is from crew hand to bartender and regularly give history talks as the vessel tours Lake Union. “In this neighborhood people do not understand what we have on this lake,” Jules says.

But for now, he and Scout, his faithful dog who has accompanied him to work every day, are taking a breather.

What about starting a new business? Nah, he says, although he does keep a file of “semi-bad business ideas” for every time the thought comes up.

He’s thinking actually he might like to be an employee. He might start looking for a job at the beginning of January. The grass is always greener.

He’s looking forward to doing everything he wasn’t able to do while working – getting to the Saturday Farmers Market in the U. District; he was planning to go out for his first Duck Dodge on a customer’s boat that week; and travel, who knows where, now that there’s time.

The sale at the beginning weekend of July couldn’t have been more fittingly planned to mark Jules’ newfound freedom. By the time the ink was dry on the closing documents that Saturday, Lake Union Mail had changed hands, and Lake Union itself would raise a toast. Monday was a holiday with the crowds descending around the lake for that annual celebration of independence where the evening fireworks explode and light up the sky.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

*

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”

*

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)

*

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.)