The tour with Mike and others started near the Skylark Café where a nearby eyesore likely harbored the thieves who held up the bar late one night recently. We then looked at three other houses moving south through the neighborhood. All had a slightly different story. In a couple of cases, people bought the houses when they were already falling down apparently thinking they could resurrect them and "flip" them. That clearly hasn’t panned out. In one case, the owner lives in Seattle in what might be called an "upscale" neighborhood, but leaves the Delridge house falling down and attracting trash. At the last house we found the front door kicked in and trash strewn throughout the house. The owner is currently hospitalized with apparently no nearby next of kin.
DPD tracks abandoned buildings and when necessary tracks down absentee owners to hold accountable. DPD can force someone to make a structure safe and to clean it up to certain standards, but they can’t force them to make it lived in. If you know of a problem property, report it here.
As a result of the neighborhood’s advocacy we will be looking at a change in the land use code to allow quicker demolition of a single family house. Right now you can’t demolish unless you have a plan and permit to rebuild. This concept makes sense in protecting housing stock and should be retained for multi-family areas. In single-family zones the requirement prevents owners who want to do the right thing from removing derelict homes. It’s not a perfect solution. I would rather see these houses reclaimed and lived in, but for some neighbors the wait for the perfect solution has already been too long. Watch for PLUNC to take up this idea this summer. If you’d like more information or have feedback about the idea of allowing demolition of single-family homes without a new building permit in hand, please contact me.
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Dilapidated and Vacant Homes
Sally and Councilmember Tim Burgess joined with residents of Delridge neighborhood to observe dilapidated and vacant homes. As foreclosures go up, so will the number of vacant homes. It’s important for neighborhoods that homes stay squatter-free, so we’re drafting legislation to help address the issue.
Planning and Land Use
For years people have wondered what should happen to the old Kingdome north parking lot. It’s well-used on game days and by commuters, but is it the best use of premium space in Pioneer Square? Residents and business-owners in Pioneer Square have dreamed of more housing, shops and even a grocery store there.
The City of Seattle and King County have both supported something along those lines, but, of course, it’s complicated with many interested players. King County owns the land. Part of it is contaminated with creosote and gasoline, so the Department of Ecology insists (rightfully) that it has to be cleaned up before new structures can be built (that costs money).
The Seahawks and the Public Stadium Authority have concerns about parking capacity and preserving views for fans. Pioneer Square residents and businesses want more people living there and they want them in buildings that respect the literally historic heart of Seattle.
In order to pay the bills a developer would need to max out every available inch of development capacity both in height and width. Under current zoning (Pioneer Square Seattle Mixed 85-120), the community could get a couple of bulky, boxy buildings that everyone would hate.
That’s where the magic of legislation comes in. There’s a proposal from DPD coming before the Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee (PLUNC), which I chair, to allow for more height and building capacity on the land. This could solve a number of the problems by providing more housing (helping to meet growth management goals through transit-oriented development next to the King Street Station and generating more money to pay for environmental clean-up), as well as creating a more attractive, albeit taller, set of structures that leaves room for an open area mimicking Second Avenue south of King Street.
This great vision comes with some risk. In this challenging economy there’s always the chance that the developer, Daniels Development Co., might not be able to pull it off. If they can’t and someone else without their track-record of making community-oriented developments steps in, we could end up without great design and without the 100 units of low-income housing Daniels Development Co. has committed to include.
This is our chance to make huge improvement to an asphalt desert and to the greater Pioneer Square community, but we’ll need to ensure any development is done right. We’ll get a briefing about the proposal at the May 27 PLUNC. If you have an opinion about the project, I hope you’ll let me know.
For a taste of frustration in Pioneer Square check out Danny Westneat’s April 13 column from The Seattle Times.
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Rainier Valley Food Bank
Sally and Clark office staff spent the morning of April 15 volunteering at the Rainier Valley Food Bank. Because of the demand, the line was out the door the entire time. Seattleites' generous food donations are truly appreciated by the people who need it.
Sobering Thoughts on Jails
I’m not sure if what follows really constitutes sobering thoughts on jails, but I liked the title and it does knit together two subjects, one of which makes it easier to think about the other.
A couple of weeks ago I took an hour and visited the Dutch Shisler Service Center, otherwise known as the sobering center. Located in the Boren/Denny area of Downtown, Dutch Shisler is the soft place chronic street alcoholics and addicts land when they get picked up by Seattle Police, medics or by the Dutch Shisler van. The center, funded jointly by Seattle and King County, can accommodate 60 people at a time. People "sleep it off" on a mat on the floor or maybe in a cell-like room if there are conflicts. Staff, trained as emergency medical technicians, check vital signs when clients arrive and check on them hourly while they’re there. Outreach staff and counselors attempt to connect clients with treatment and other opportunities to change their lives. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it takes a very long time to break through chemical issues and mental health problems. Sometimes it never happens.
Dutch Shisler is a tough place to visit. The staff soldier through under difficult circumstances, at best. And they are doing exactly the kind of work that we need to continue and expand if we’re going to successfully get out of building a brand spanking new jail for Seattle. A chronic street alcoholic picked up for being drunk shouldn’t be in jail if only because it’s too expensive. In the spirit of the MasterCard commercial - taxpayer cost for a night in the sobering center, $60 per client; taxpayer cost for a night in the King County jail $336; keeping someone in safe, supported housing, so they don’t wander homeless Downtown or in the U-District or in Ballard or in… priceless.
Recently, I joined with the rest of my colleagues in calling on King County to extend Seattle’s contract for misdemeanant jail beds for another 10 years. This is a little like a renter asking for a lease extension from a landlord. We have a jail now. We in the city don’t see it because we write a check to King County every year to run it for us.
I’m hoping we get a contract extension so we don’t have to build our own jail, but it doesn’t erase the need to do everything we can to diminish Seattle’s felony and misdemeanant population. That means renewed dedication to top quality public schools, meaningful after-school options, training that leads to living wage jobs and for the people who spend days or nights at the sobering center, a soft place to land that can lead to treatment and supportive housing.
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Random Thoughts Bonus: Sampling of Recent"Seattle is the Best" Awards
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