Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stormwater project: operational at last

It must have been with a gigantic sigh of relief that Madison Valley merchants learned yesterday that Phase II construction of the seemingly never-ending Madison Valley Stormwater Project is now officially complete. An email from the Seattle Department of Public Utilities (SPU) on Monday reported that the project is now operational and the related improvements to the stormwater drainage system along E. Madison Street are also in place. Construction ended last week.

The project, which began in the winter of 2009, has been a long, drawn-out affair--one that has been much more disruptive to the area than local merchants say they were led to believe before construction got underway.  Indeed, Phase II of the project is actually still not completed, since there will be additional work in the spring of 2012 to create landscaping at Washington Park in the area of the new 2.2 million gallon stormwater tank. That work had been scheduled for completion this year, but delays in construction of the pipeline meant it was too late in the season for landscaping work to be practical.  The decision was made by SPU not to work during the holiday season in order to leave Madison Street free from all construction-related activity. 

That decision is just fine with the merchants along Madison Street, for which the two-plus years of construction have been something of an endurance test.  The lack of parking and the disruption to traffic along Madison have definitely resulted in economic hardship for several of the businesses in Madison Valley. According to SPU spokesperson Elaine Yeung, Madison Street should not see much impact during the landscaping phase of the project next spring.  She estimates that the work cannot get underway until at least April, and even then bad weather could cause further delays.  It will take several weeks to carry out the landscaping scheme, including at least two weeks of dry weather, she told us.

Workers are currently securing the site for winter, according to Yeung, but there should be no further activity in the area for the next four months.  Restoration work at Washington Park will include repairs to at least some of the sidewalk along the north side of E. Madison Street, she noted.  At this point it is not known if any of the sidewalk, other than that at the entrance to the construction site, will be replaced; but the Parks Department has apparently requested that this happen.  

The rock facing on the watertank has been installed, though a close-up view will not be possible until next year.  This is what it should look like when the landscaping and railing have been installed:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Short takes No. 11

Bank of America almost back to normal

Following the presumed arson fire at the BofA ATM earlier this month, the Bank needed to scramble to ensure customer service in Madison Park.  The branch itself was out of commission for about seven business days following the fire, finally reopening last Monday.  With the replacement ATM successfully installed and operating by Friday, the temporary mobile ATM--which had served a useful purpose during the interim--was driven away by Bank personnel on Saturday.

Bof A Manager Caitlin Bouroncle told us last week that while the branch is back to full service, there may still be a bit of contractor work going on for awhile.  When we went by earlier today, it appeared that the place was almost pristine.

An air of entitlement in Madison Park?

It's time for us to give a belated nod to an interesting piece posted on the Crosscut website earlier this month by Madison Park's resident journalistic gadfly, Knute Berger: "If fences make good neighbors, what happens when you take one down?"  Berger (aka "Mossback") dissects the current controversy over "access" to Lake Washington at Swingset Park, while ruminating on the nature of Madison Park and its denizens.

Calling the neighborhood "almost too good to be true" in some ways, Berger recites some of the blessings of living here, concluding that Madison Park "feels like a wealthy village that can afford to have the old neighborhood amenities that all neighborhoods used to have."  But he sees a darker side as well. "There's also a lot of entitlement in the air," he states, noting that "some people also believe they have a right to a sense of exclusivity here."   That attitude, he believes, permeates the debate over the fence, though he admits that not everyone living here shares that exclusivist position.  As for himself, he comes down strongly in the anti-exclusivist camp: "Madison Park, tear down that wall."

Those interested in reading the piece might also want to peruse the reader comments for some other perspectives on the neighborhood.

MPC makes the cut

The Madison Park Conservatory, which has consistently received good press since it opened exactly a year ago today, got another culinary send up last week when Seattle Times food critic, Providence Cicero, placed MPC on her list of the favorite Seattle restaurants she's reviewed in 2011.  The Conservatory is one of ten eateries making the list, which is available, along with her commentary, here.

A milestone

By way of self-congratulation, we note that over the Thanksgiving holiday the Madison Park Blogger signed up its 400th subscriber. This is in addition to the 200 users who, on average, now visit MPB each day. This all adds up to a readership of between 400 and 600 people for most of our postings, according to statistics from Google Analytics.

We've come a long way in the less-than-three-year history of the Blog, mostly as the result of word of mouth.

We appreciate the support of our readers and, as always, invite comments, criticisms, story ideas--and subscriptions.  Those interested in subscribing may easily to do by following the directions under "Subscribe to Feed" or "Subscribe via Email" in the right-hand column of this site.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Police Blotter 11/15/11

House break in leads to arrests

We're certainly not complaining about our neighborhood's lack of notoriety, but since the Seattle Police Department began its own blog last year, we've noticed only two postings concerning crimes occurring in Madison Park.  The first such story was the one last week reporting the early-morning arson fire at the Bank of America ATM.  This week, coincidentally, there was another Madison Park crime story on the blog, this one with a much happier outcome:

Occupied Burglary in Madison Park, Suspect Apprehended
Posted by Detective Jeff Kappel

On November 23rd at approximately 3:00 a.m. officers responded to a report of an occupied burglary in progress in the 3400 block of East Valley Street.  Upon the officers’ arrival one suspect was still on scene and was taken into custody.  The victims told officers they saw another suspect in the back of the house.  Officers were unable to locate the second suspect and subsequently called a canine unit to the scene.  The victim’s residence was searched using the dog and no other suspects were located.  Officers then conducted an area search utilizing the dog. However, the second suspect remains at large.  

Preliminary investigation indicates that the suspects entered the house through an unlocked, but closed, front door.  The female homeowner found the first suspect seated on a chair in the living room.  She yelled at him and tried to get him to leave, but he was not immediately responsive.  The other family members were upstairs and came down to see what was going on.  Fortunately, there was no violence inside the home, and it does not appear that the suspect had time to take anything. 

The suspect appeared to be very intoxicated, under the influence of narcotics, or both.  It is unknown why he chose to enter this particular home. 

The 31-year-old male suspect was arrested and booked into the King County Jail for Investigation of Burglary. 

[We understand from neighborhood sources that the second suspect was later apprehended. A word to the wise: It appears that the perpetrators entered the house using a hide-a-key.]

Stealing with a smile

The map above shows crimes that occurred in the neighborhood during the month since our last Police Blotter on October 15.  Unusually, there were few car prowls during the period (one on the 200 block of E. Galer on 11/10 and one on the 3800 block of E. Garfield on 11/13) and only one vehicle theft (a truck stolen from the 1500 block of 38th Avenue E. on 11/5).  There were, however, a lot of thefts reported during the month, running the gamut from stolen dirt to high-end watches.

Detective Kappel (the writer of the SPD blog posting) playfully suggested the headline we've used above, which aptly sums up one of the heists that was reported this month.  It seems that on October 17, a resident of the 1800 block of McGilvra Boulevard E. looked out her window and saw a man in the act of lifting several of her bags of potting soil into his truck.  Seeing the homeowner watching him, he smiled at her before jumping into the vehicle and driving off "at high rate of speed."

Five days later there was another theft in the neighborhood, one which had a greater economic downside.  On October 27, a homeowner on the 2300 block of 43rd Avenue E. reported that her $15,000 gold, silver, and aluminum watch had been removed from the premises by person or persons unknown.   That same day, a resident on E. McGilvra Boulevard at 42nd Avenue E. reported that his bag, which contained a laptop and charger, had been ripped off.   And on October 30, a yard contractor working on the 600 block of 34th Avenue E. reported that a leaf blower had been stolen from his truck while he worked at the site.

The only other home break in reported during the period happened on the night of October 17 on the 2000 block of E. McGilvra Boulevard. In that incident, the suspects climbed over a secured back fence, broke into the house by forcing a door, stole a large-screen TV and a significant number of other items (the list of which, for some reason, was redacted in the police report), and then fled the scene. Fingerprints were recovered.

[The map above shows crimes in Madison Park during the period October 16 through November 15. The dollar sign icons on the map represent cases of fraud (identity theft and stolen bankcards), the dollar-bill icons represent cases of theft, the spray-paint can represents a case of property damage, and the star-burst icon represents a case of a home break in.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Those good news/bad news assessments

Values down 5.9% on average

That old adage about the certainty of death and taxes has a corollary for property owners:  the inevitability of tax assessments, which for those of us in King County is an annual ritual.  Last year, as you may recall, our area of town (known to the King County Assessor as Area 14) was subjected to a physical inspection by the Assessor’s staff, a process that resulted in changes to the valuation of area properties that were definitely not uniform.  Overall, however, the decline in assessed values for properties in Area 14 (Madison Park, Madrona and Leschi) was 1.3%.  Last year was the second year in a row that the assessments had been adjusted downward.  This is the third year.

Everyone should have long ago received their 2011 property assessments for taxes to be billed in 2012 (they were mailed out in August); and assuming that no improvements were made to your property over the past year, the “official property value notice” should show your property declining in value by about 5% (5.08% to be exact).   This “standard area adjustment” applies to 97% of the homes in our area.  The exception this year is for waterfront properties, which were uniformly decreased in value by 12.19%. Such a large adjustment in the assessment of these 100 very expensive waterfront homes had an outsized impact on the average decline for the 3393 total properties in Madison Park, Madrona and Leschi combined.  As a result, the neighborhoods registered a 5.9% average decline in property value year over year:

2010 Average Value:  $1,136,300
2011 Average Value:  $1,069,400

The average land value, according to the Assessor, is now $631,200 and the average value of the improvements is $438,200.   The valuations were based on sales occurring in Area 14 during the period from January 1, 2008 through January 1, 2011, giving progressively higher weighted value to most-recent sales.

Area 14, showing the various subunits

A decline in the tax-assessed value might be considered a good thing if it automatically meant a decrease in taxes.  Unfortunately, as we’ve noted many times, assessing the tax value of properties and setting the annual tax rate are two separate and distinct processes.  The government’s need for revenues in 2012, as determined by the votes of our elected officials and the passage of tax levies by the voters, will not be known for certain until early next year.  Once that aggregate tax-revenue number is established, the tax rate will be determined based on the total assessed value of all the properties to be taxed.

Even though our neighborhoods’ assessed values declined by 1.3% last year, the annual tax rate rose by almost 7%.  So for 2011, the impact of an average decline in property values was more than offset by an increase in the overall tax obligation, meaning higher taxes. That will probably happen to us again in the coming year due to the fact that Seattle voters just passed a $232 million school levy that almost doubles the existing school levy amount.

There’s something of a silver lining, however.  By our count, of 27 Assessment Areas located in Seattle, only nine of them suffered a larger decline than Madison Park/Madrona/Leschi.  The Georgetown/South Park area showed the biggest decrease (down 7.37%), while three areas actually showed increased values:  Green Lake (up .78%), Phinney Ridge/Fremont (up 1.47%) and Wallingford (up 2.52%).  While property owners in those last three neighborhoods have the satisfaction of enjoying escalating property values (at least in the opinion of the government), the positive glow from that accomplishment may be offset by the greater likelihood of their having to pay higher taxes next year.  Those of us living in Madison Park (or, certainly, Georgetown) will be paying a diminishing portion of the total tax obligation relative to most of the other Seattle neighborhoods. That’s the good news portion of what is otherwise a bad news “2011 Residential Revalue” report by the Assessor.

Here’s how the tax revaluations have played out for Area 14 over the past seven years (based on the standard area adjustment, except for 2010, where the average adjustment for all properties is used):

So, as you can see, the Assessor believes that over the last three years the market has just about wiped out all of the increased property value that accrued to our part of town during the previous three.  Of course, if you don’t believe that the Assessor can accurately use property sales data to track changes in values for properties that didn’t change hands (like most of ours), you may ignore all of these statistics as meaningless bureaucratic static.  Just so long as you pay your tax bill, that is.  You’ll know exactly what that is come February.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Come down and see the firehouse

Anyone reading this blog over the last couple years knows what fans we are of our neighborhood fire team. The Seattle Fire Department's Fire Station 34 is holding an open house this Saturday, so everyone will have the opportunity to meet the firefighters and sit in Engine 34, shown above.

In one form or another this firehouse (located at 633 32nd Avenue E.) has been protecting the neighborhood for a long time.  We culled this picture from the Seattle Fire Department's website:

It shows the Fire Station as it looked in about 1921.  Although the current firehouse is considered to be in "generally fair condition," it does not meet current seismic standards.  As a result, it is scheduled for a structural upgrade, a project which will take three years and include an expansion of the work space.  The design of the new station will be on display during the open house, which will be held from 1 to 3 pm on Saturday, November 19.

Found at 41st & E. Galer

This skinny but "super sweet" dog was discovered last evening by Louisa and Georgia, the daughters of Wendy Skerritt, who brought the dog home with them to be safe. (Rescuing lost dogs seems to be a specialty for these girls, who performed an earlier intervention this year).

The dog carries a tag identifying it as being from Moab, Utah.  If you know anything about this lost female canine, which appears to be a wire-haired pointer/retriever, please let us know.

Afternoon Update:  We're happy to report that as a result of our morning posting, Ugnes has been returned to her owner, Chad Beyer, who earlier this month moved from Utah to Madison Park with his German Wirehaired Pointer. Ugnes, whose name we understand is Lithuanian for "fire", is apparently able to perform escapes using each of these tricks: jumping an invisible fence, unlocking and opening a sliding door, and removing an insert from a dog door.  This was not Ugnes' first escape since arriving in the neighborhood.

For Ugnes' safe return, Chad can thank Wendy Skerritt and her daughters who took the dog in and alerted the neighborhood.  After seeing the story on the blog, Shirley Wilson (who has her own wire hair dog) recognized Ugnes from the photo and made the connection.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Madison Park: wealthy as charged

The proposal to take down the fence at so-called (by the City and no one else) Madison Park North Beach has drawn an unusual amount of media attention to our fair neighborhood in recent weeks. KING-TV, KOMO-TV and KIRO-TV have each run news stories on the subject, as have other news purveyors. Some of the coverage in the major media and blogosphere has focused on the apparent class conflict between those "upscale" Madison Parkers who wish to preserve the waterfront park as it is and certain out-of-the-neighborhood members of the public who say they want direct access to the water at 43rd Avenue E. and E. Lynn Street.

In its coverage of the issue, SeattlePI.com referred to Madison Park as "tidy and affluent," while the Seattle Times settled on "wealthy" as its descriptor for the neighborhood. We were intrigued by the fact that The Times was able to quantify the wealth aspect, noting that "Madison Park is one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, with an average income of $161,000, according to census data."

We decided to check into this.  For one thing, is the number for real? And if accurate, is it meaningful?  After all, average income is probably not the best way to look at a neighborhood's affluence. Here's a simplistic example that helps explain why: suppose ten minimum-wage workers live on a residential block, along with one multi-millionaire. This combination would presumably result in a pretty high average income for that block, since you would divide the sum of the annual incomes of everyone on the block by eleven to get the average--which would be high, even though most of the block's population actually lived in poverty.

This is not a third-world neighborhood, so income disparities for Madison Park would hardly be in line with our example. But it is well known that we have quite a few millionaires (and perhaps a billionaire) living in our midst, and these high-income individuals could certainly throw off the average income calculation for the community as a whole.  Having looked into the matter, we can report that while the neighborhood is definitely wealthy, the situation is more nuanced than was evident in the Seattle Times story.

First, to give the paper its due, its average income calculation for Madison Park is essentially correct (there appears to be a typo, however).  The U.S. Census reports that Census Tract 63 (Madison Park, including its Broadmoor and Washington Park enclaves) has average income of $151,000, based on surveys undertaken for the period 2005-2009.

The U.S. Census also reports, however, that the median income for the 2,871 households in Madison Park is only $76,042.  We'd argue that this is a more representative way of looking at the affluence of the community.  The median income number is the halfway point between the bottom 50% of households and the top 50%.  The City's demographer, Diana Canzoneri, agrees that median income is the typical approach used when looking at income levels across population units.

Here's a look at how income is distributed in Madison Park, according to the Census estimates:

Almost one third of Madison Park households earns less than $50,000 per year while another third earns $125,000 or more.  This is a much broader variation in income levels than might be suspected if one simply looks at the $151,000 average income number for the Park, which is obviously skewed by some very high income earners.  Even so, it presents a much different picture from than that of Seattle as a whole:

A Madison Park household is almost twice as likely to have annual income of $125,000 or more than a Seattle household is.  And when you get to the $200,000 income level and above (which is the highest category surveyed), the difference is even more striking:

That's right, more than one fifth of Madison Park households, according to the U.S. Census, have annual income at or above $200,000.

So yes, whatever way you look at it, Madison Park is definitely wealthy. But by no means is everyone who lives here in that category.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fall color at the Japanese Garden

One of the great things about living in Madison Park is our proximity to the Washington Park Arboretum, with its 230 acres of lush and varied habitat. A little gem within the Arboretum, of course, is the now half-century-old Japanese Garden.  While many of us may not think to visit the Garden at this time of year, these recently-shot pictures by photographer Dennis Valente illustrate the spectacular show that awaits those who do.

The Japanese Garden is open through this weekend (10:00 am until 4:00 pm each day), so this is your last opportunity to see the fabulous fall color the Garden displays.

Admission is $6 for adults, with discounts for seniors, youths, college students, and the disabled.  Kids five and under get in free.

The Japanese Garden, which covers three and a half acres of the Arboretum, was designed and constructed under the supervision of world-renowned Japanese garden designer Juki Iida in 1960.

We did a little story on the Garden's 50th Anniversary last year. Information on the Japanese Garden is available here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Extreme cash withdrawal or anti-bank protest?

This was the scene at the Bank of America branch in Madison Park this morning as police and fire crews investigated what appears to have been a deliberately set fire using accelerants.  Whether this was some form of anti-Big Bank protest or simply a misguided attempt to extract money from BofA's ATM machine is not obvious.  According to the Seattle Police Blotter, the fire was reported at 2:00 am this morning by Seattle Police officers responding to a bank alarm.  The ATM was heavily in flames by that point, and the fire had spread into the building, including the attic.  It took about 40 minutes for the fire to be put out, according to the Seattle Fire Department blog.  The SPD also reported that Henry, the accelerant-sniffing dog, is responsible for determining that this was probably an arson fire.

This, courtesy of KING-TV, is what the building looked like after the fire had been doused:

We joked earlier this week that Madison Park is not the kind of neighborhood where residents are likely to toss bricks through the windows of a bank branch.  But how about burning down a bank branch?  Naw.  Must be an out-of-area hit.  Perhaps some kind of political Occupy Madison Park movement?  If so, no one has apparently claimed credit.

KING-TV reported that cash in the ATM was definitely burned in the fire.  The BofA branch, given the extent of the damage, is closed at least for the day.  Multiple fire-clean-up crews and glass repair workers are active on site, but no word on when the branch will reopen for business. We understand that there was little fire damage to the public space in the branch but that significant water and smoke damage occurred in the room housing the Bank's servers. The fire department broke the glass doors on both sides of the branch in order gain entrance.  Repair work was also underway today at Ewing & Clark, which shares the building with both BofA and a "pop-up" antique store.

[The Bank of America Branch is located at 4100 E. Madison Street.  KING-TV's report is here.]

Monday, November 7, 2011

Parsing the fence debate

Madison Park as cul-de-sac

Commentary by Bryan Tagas

You'd probably have to live in Madison Park for a few years to truly appreciate the quiet, steady rhythm of life down here at the end of the road. We sit conveniently removed from much of the wear and tear of typical urban living, having little serious criminal activity in the neighborhood and not much in the way of social discontent.  Our socio-economic circumstance and relative isolation make us, perhaps, a bit more insular than other Seattle neighborhoods. We're hardly likely, for example, to follow the lead of those Capital Hill anti-Big Bank protesters who last week threw bricks through the windows of their local Chase Bank branch. And, as longtime resident Ed Clark puts it, it would be surprising to see Madison Park generate a big turnout for a meeting to discuss something really serious, like homelessness. But we are able to get 100 people to a hearing across town to discuss the removal of a neighborhood fence.

The Commissioners meet

It was standing room only last Thursday evening when the Park Commissioners convened in Denny Park to consider the staff proposal to take down the fence at the "Madison Park North Beach." Let's cut to the news first:  the Commissioners will not be making a recommendation to the Parks Superintendent at least until they discuss the matter at their December meeting.  And while it's true that the staff recommendation to remove the fence was pretty definitive, Acting Parks Superintendent, Christopher Williams, told those assembled, "We don't have a decision made. We are looking to hear creative solutions."

The Commissioners then got an earful from what was mostly an audience composed of Madison Parkers opposed to fence removal, though not everyone from the neighborhood spoke against the proposition.  In addition to Mr. Clark, who said he felt the "safety" issue was being overblown, there were two or three other residents who spoke in favor of fence removal.  Everyone else was either opposed to the idea, opposed to the process used by the Parks Department, or both.

David Graves, Senior Project Planner, presents his recommendation

For most in attendance, the principal issue was the safety of children and others using the park.  It was noted that the fence was installed for what was originally considered to be a good purpose: protecting kids playing near the water.  Not only is the rip-rap dangerous, many argued, but the water is treacherous at that point as well.  Some were a bit heavy handed in their commentary, one claiming the the Commissioners themselves would be personally liable for any injuries or deaths resulting from their decision.  Others focused on the change in usage of the park that would result from the fence removal.  Without the protection of the fence, for example, little kids will probably no longer be able to use the field for soccer practice.

Sam Smith makes his point

One of the most cogent non-safety arguments made by those testifying concerned the fact that there's already significant public access to the water in Madison Park.  This park at E. Lynn St. provides a different kind of recreational opportunity and different potential uses from what is available at the other public spaces in the neighborhood. It is more of a "passive" park, as opposed to "active" Madison Park and its beach just down the road. Removing the fence at the Swingset Park just to get direct access to Lake Washington accomplishes no worthwhile purpose, they maintained.  No one will want to swim there (especially if aware of the 48" sewer overflow pipe at that location), and launching kayaks from the rip rap (and later getting them out of the water) would be problematic at best.

It had been rumored that the guy behind the whole fence-removal idea, Patrick Doherty, is an avid kayaker intent on using the park for that purpose. But when he spoke at the hearing about "access" at the park, he said his concern was primarily about the "visual access" to the Lake that the fence and its overgrown blackberry bushes were impeding. He said he'd like to see the Lake become "perceptually accessible" at that site.  Many agreed with him about the blight caused by the overgrown fence, asking that the Parks Department simply remove the vegetation or do both that and replace the existing fence with a less-imposing one.

Parking and traffic congestion were also introduced as concerns, with one resident noting the potential negative impact on area property values if the "North Beach" is opened to additional public uses.  A political note was made by another resident who reminded the Commissioners that Madison Parkers vote and that when the next bond levy occurs, "the Parks Department is going to need all the friends it can get."

When the session ended after about two hours it could not be said that the views of Madison Park, or at least of those neighborhood residents who cared enough to give them, had not been heard.  The impact of all this may be evident in December when the Board of Parks Commissioners meets again to debate the issue.  In the meantime, those who still wish to give their input may do so through December 2 (details here).

All in all, in my opinion, Madison Parkers presented themselves before the Commissioners as an articulate and concerned citizenry, legitimately upset about a process that began with a staff recommendation rather than through a dialog with the neighborhood. The legitimate concerns about safety, parking, congestion, and appropriate park usage were perhaps more persuasive when raised by people who did not have personal property interests as their principal motivation.

More than one resident stated that the neighborhood understands that this park belongs to the City and not to the neighborhood. But there was also a clear pattern of NIMBYism under the surface of much of the testimony, a perhaps inevitable reaction to the fear that more of the madding crowd will be coming down here to enjoy the public spaces in our midst.

But if "access" really just means the removal of visual blight, it seems that a reasonable compromise could easily be worked out, assuming that the Department of Parks and Recreation has any funds with which to implement it.  Here's the recipe: Remove the vegetation and build a lower fence, keep the park for its current uses, save the children.

[Hearing photos from SeattleChannel.org.  The complete videos of the hearing are available here.]

Friday, November 4, 2011

Another weekend closure for 520

Fortunately, given that the Huskies are playing Oregon in an evening football game on Saturday, the eastbound lanes of SR-520 will not be closing temporarily until 1:00 am on Sunday morning, though the westbound lanes will be closing three hours earlier, at 10:00 pm on Saturday.  This is another in a series of planned bridge closings to accomodate Eastside construction on 520.  This weekend, 22 concrete girders will be installed to support a new lidded overpass at Evergreen Point Road in Medina.  This is a graphic of what the lid should look like when completed:

The highway will reopen at 5 am on Monday morning in both directions.  Additional closures are in the cards for the foreseeable future, as there are other overpasses and lids that will be installed on the Eastside as 520 is widened to accomodate additional lanes.  More information is available here.

[Photo and graphic courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation.]

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is this fence coming down?

Decision could come quickly

Tonight's the night when the staff of the Parks Department makes its recommendation to the Board of Park Commissioners that the fence at "Madison Park North Beach" be removed and public access to Lake Washington restored. Background on the site, known to most of us as either the Dog Park or Swingset Park, is contained in a briefing memo posted online last Friday. The memo also provides the rationale for the recommended change: "Removing the fence at North Beach would expand the opportunities available to the surrounding neighborhood  to access the Lake Washington shoreline consistent with State and local policies."

Those residents of the "surrounding neighborhood" who live closest to Swingset Park, however, are the adjacent condo owners; and they don't seem to be particularly happy about the new "opportunities" that the fence removal might create for them. Apart from the safety-of-children issue, their apparent principal concerns are parking disruption and the noise and crowding that may result from increased park usage.  It is rumored (and was reported today as a fact by The Seattle Times) that residents have chartered a bus to bring Madison Parkers to tonight's hearing.  Local opposition to the fence's removal has been successful in the past, according to the briefing memo, which states that in 2003 a proposal to take the fence down was "shelved due to the volume of negative comments received."

Since the Parks Department staff acknowledges that the reason for the fence when erected was the safety of children, we asked what has changed since that time.  According to spokesperson Dewey Potter, what's different now is a change in public attitudes. "Public awareness and interest in public spaces being open to the public is not the same as it was in 1945," she told us.  The policy of providing maximum access to the the Lake Washington shoreline is what's driving the process this time.

Critics and proponents will have an opportunity to weigh in at tonight's meeting, which is being held in Park Board Room of the Parks Administration Building at Dexter Park (100 Dexter Avenue N.).  The meeting begins at 7 pm.  Information is available here.

Although the briefing memo states that the Parks Board will again deliberate the issue at a meeting in December, Potter told us that the Board could vote in favor at tonight's meeting.  In that case, the Acting Superintendent, Christopher Williams, could agree to the recommendation and order that the fence be removed immediately, she says.