… the discussions never approached the level of a potential deal. At one point the state did include a swap of our property for the mostly useless land under the 520 in one of its drawings. We immediately informed the state that we had no interest in such a swap; the relative values of these properties are not comparable and useless land under a freeway is of no value to us.
We are disappointed in the state’s most recent vision for the west side of the 520 because its short-sightedness evinces a profound lack of vision. Our property is a significant undeveloped green space that could carry wonderful benefits for the community and support alternative means of transportation through incorporation of the bike spur…
We appreciated the state’s candor and clear communication that it has no interest in our property and the uses we had proposed. Our plan is to now go back to where we were before our informal discussions with the state; we are exploring potential uses for our Delmar property.
While it seems strange for WSDOT to design a whole “Portage Bay Underbridge Area Option B” for uninterested partners, the upside of doing so was raising the land conservation issue through the Community Design Process. It is now clear that no one party wants full responsibility for the land — and a public deal will likely have to include other mutually interested groups: Seattle Parks, Friends of Interlaken Park, and neighboring community councils and clubs. Forterra has been mentioned as a possible partner.
The Seattle Parks Opportunity Fund may also be a possibility – but this is intended for land acquisition – development and maintenance costs will need other funding sources and partners.
The property is a missing link for pedestrian mobility between North Capitol hill, the future Roanoke Lid, and the future Montlake Waterfront Trail. This trail plans to connect Everett Ave near Boyer — and the downhill side of the unused Prep property — with Montlake Playfield, the Bill Dawson Trail and future Montlake Lid.
The property issue also sits right in the middle of Seattle’s green space versus urban development debates. Seattle Prep estimates the land use code would allow 16-24 residential units, should a developer be interested in the steep slope site (with minimal existing utilities). Green space conservation advocates argue the property is a critical corridor between the Olmsted Interlaken Park and the Portage Bay wetland waterfront.
Despite WSDOT turning down acquiring the property, its role in developing it is still needed for making the adjacent underbridge area something other than unintended social housing policy. Last year, capitolhillseattle.com posted a Seattle Police report describing a similar space under I-5:
This area is below street level and any activities or incidents would be completely out of view. This area is a no man’s land populated by the homeless, mental cases, drug addicts and sundry criminals. The area is littered with garbage, feces, narcotics paraphernalia, grafitti and slumbering drunks.
This description will sound familiar to anyone who has ventured under 52o above Boyer. WSDOT’s attempt to give the area volleyball courts in their latest community design drawings was a less-than-convincing solution. The best way to put “eyes in the park”, increase safety and increase use is to expand their ADA pedestrian-bike path into the open green space of the Prep property. WSDOT needs to return to the negotiating table as part of a solution so as to not create another generation of urban freeway blight.
Originally published July 30, 2012