Monday, December 31, 2012

The Assessor does his thing

A 0% increase for Madison Park properties

Most Madison Park homeowners were probably shocked to receive their “Official Property Value Notice” from the King County Assessor late this summer and discover that their property’s assessed value had not changed by even one cent year over year. The Assessor’s staff concluded that Assessment Area 14 (which in addition to Madison Park, includes Madrona and Leschi) had experienced no appreciation in housing values for the period ending January 2012, the relevant end point for purposes of the 2012 valuation process.

Even though this doesn’t mean that taxes will stay static next year for Madison Park residents, the 0% change in the “Standard Area Adjustment” for our part of town is in some respects good news. It’s an official confirmation that, at least in the opinion of the Assessor, the downward trend in property values here has been staunched.  The last time the Assessor determined that property values were not declining in Madison Park was in 2008.  Zero percent looks pretty good in comparison to what we’ve been experiencing:

Our examination of the Area Reports for the various Seattle neighborhoods shows that our area is almost unique this year among communities “south of the ship canal.”  While many Seattle neighborhoods to the north also rose to the level of zero growth in values, we could detect only one other area to the south that met that very low standard: the Central District. Some areas actually showed significant declines (Georgetown was down 9.79%, while Beacon Hill was down 11.15% and Rainier Valley was down 11.85%).

Meanwhile, only a few assessment areas in North Seattle showed significant declines (Lake City was one exception), while no fewer than seven (Green Lake, Ravenna, Wallingford, Blue Ridge/Shilshole, Maple Leaf, Fremont/Phinney Ridge, and West Ballard) had no decline.

In any given year, only a few assessment areas in the County are subject to an actual physical inspection of all residential properties by the Assessor’s staff.  This more comprehensive and intensive analysis must occur in each area every six years. Madison Park and the other neighborhoods in Area 14 last went through this rigorous process in 2010. In non-inspection years, the Assessor’s staff looks at actual sales of properties within the subject area and determines a median increase or decrease (the “Standard Area Adjustment”) which the Assessor then applies to all residential properties in the area that have not had improvements or other changes since the last assessment period.  

Assessment Area 14, including Madrona and Leschi

Interestingly, our immediate neighbor across the ship canal, Laurelhurst, went through a physical inspection this year that resulted in an upward assessment of 6% on average for those “lucky” homeowners. It’s somewhat of a mixed blessing to have confirmation that property values in your area are on the rise when your tax bill is then ratcheted up as a result.

And speaking of taxes, this is the point where we remind readers that the Assessor simply sets the property values and does not determine tax rates.  Approximately half of what we pay in property taxes is the result of decisions made by government officials.  The other half is the direct result of citizen votes, such as on school levies. The amount we pay in property taxes takes into account what the government needs to raise in order to fund public services and what the total value is of taxable property. The annual tax rate is determined after both of these factors have been determined.

The 2013 property tax bills will be mailed on February 14. Our zero percent change in property values for 2012 will certainly ensure that the average absolute tax levels in Madison Park show a lower rate of increase next year than that of, say, Laurelhurst.  But it probably won’t mean no tax increase. The number crunchers are still figuring what the new rate for Seattle will be.  We should know what that number is in January.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Foodie news

Stepping it up at Bing's

It's certainly not obvious from the outside (although that may be about to change) but on the inside it's pretty clear that that there's something different about Bing's, which since its inception a dozen years ago has nicely filled the "neighborhood restaurant" niche in Madison Park. A major revamp of the interior space is in progress, and the menu has definitely moved in a new direction.

Owner George Marshall---who with his wife, Kylie, bought Bing's a little more than a year ago---tells us that in addition to changing the restaurant's vibe with an updated look, he's intent on creating a "simplified, chef-driven menu" emphasizing a changing array of seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. "Rustic comfort food," is how he describes the new, re-sized menu. In the past month the new Fresh Sheet at Bing's has included quite a lot of fare that would probably not have been served at the old Bing's.  Specials this week include pan-roasted airline chicken breast, crudo, and braised ox-tail fettucini.

As for the new interior, it emphasizes fir tabletops, big chalk boards for specials and wine selections, and more-subdued lighting.  "The goal is to bring a little bit of Capitol HIll down here to Madison Park while still being approachable," says George. "Our plan is to keep things fresh and exciting," he adds.

Apart from completion of the remodel, are there any other changes in the works, perhaps even a name change?  George's response:  "Stay tuned."

Northwest Catering expands to Lake Union

When the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) inaugurates its new space tomorrow, Madison Park's The Famous Northwest Catering Company will be more than just on hand to celebrate.  Northwest Catering was chosen earlier this year to run the food concession at MOHAI and will be opening Compass Restaurant simultaneous with the museum's grand re-opening.

The 700 sq. ft. cafe, which is housed in an excellent view location in the Museum's northwest corner, will serve "grilled-to-order sandwiches, fresh salads, soups, hot entrees, small plates, and desserts, all made fresh daily with seasonal ingredients," as well as coffee and other beverages.  Sounds much like the great fare served at Northwest Catering's Arboretum Court location.

More information is available on the blog, Lake Union Beat.

New sign presages Madison Kitchen opening

They hoisted a new awning into place at Madison Kitchen earlier this week, but when we peeked inside to see the progress of the major remodel underway, it was clear that it will still be a bit of a wait before the cafe/coffee shop/take-out purveyor holds its grand opening. As we reported in the fall, new owner Jim Goodall is planning something much more involved than what the previous tenant, Park Place Deli, offered the neighborhood. The workers on site say that it's just a matter of weeks, at most, before we'll get to see the new concept first hand.

[Bing's is located at 4200 E Madison St., The Famous Northwest Catering Company is located at 3131 E. Madison Street, and Madison Kitchen will be located at 4122 E. Madison St.]

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Ship flotilla returns Saturday

Holiday Bash timed for peak shopping weekend

There will be music, both on land and on the water, as well as holiday goodies and lots of Christmas cheer as the Christmas Ship(s) make their reappearance off Madison Park beach Saturday evening at about 4:55 pm.

The live on-board music will be provided by the Dickens Carolers.  There will also be a live band performing at the bathhouse from 3:30 until 4:45 pm, sponsored by the Madison Park Community Council and the Madison Park Business Association, which will also be providing the refreshments.

Construction delays on SR 520 today

Drawspan to be opened this evening

WSDOT announced yesterday that drivers on the floating bridge will face periodic stoppages tonight as the bridge is opened at 7:30, 8:30 and 9:30 pm for construction-barge traffic.  There will also be a full 520 highway closure during the night.

The planned drawspan openings may take up to thirty minutes each. Complete closure of 520 between Montlake Boulevard on the westside and Bellevue Way on the eastside will begin at 11:00 pm tonight and continue until 5:00 am tomorrow morning.  The purpose of the closure is to allow highway crews to replace temporary lane stripping, reflective buttons and barrier reflectors on the roadway.

Information concerning 520 closures is available here.  By the way, here's something to look forward to:  the new floating bridge will have no drawspan.

[Photo courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).]

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Still standing after all these years

The Original Children's Shop turns 60

Back in the day when Madison Park was a destination shopping neighborhood (or at least more of one that it is today), there were multiple clothing stores in the neighborhood’s business district.  Among them were Nubia’s, The Yankee Peddler, and Ropa Bella.  Today there is just one apparel-shop survivor in The Village:  The Original Children’s Shop, which this year celebrated its 60th anniversary and next year will celebrate twenty years in Madison Park.

In 1952, Vivian Kennedy founded The Original Children’s Shop in Laurelhurst, moving the business during the 1970’s into the University Village. One of her first customers was Karol Kennedy Kucher, a born and bred Seattleite, who clothed all six of her children in apparel purchased at the shop.

Karol herself was a local celebrity, having been one half of the sister/brother championship ice skating team, The Kennedy Kids, which won five consecutive U.S. championships in the late 40’s and early 50’s (Karol’s skates and trophies are on display in the store).

Seattle, being the small world that it is, reunited Karol with the shop when her daughter, Kathryn Kucher Etherington, bought the store in 1989.  Karol was once quoted she “would rather help at the shop than chase Kathryn’s three wild indians”, so work at the shop she did.  And in 1992 when Kathryn and her family moved east of the mountains, Karol bought the store and moved it to Madison Park.  The initial location here was in the building owned by Constance Gillespie, in space that’s today occupied by Spa Jolie (4114 E. Madison St.).

The shop has always been a family affair.  Karol and her youngest daughter, Heidi Pray, ran the store together until Karol’s passing in 2004.  When Karol died, her granddaughter, Kate Etherington, took over management of the store, later joined by sister Kellie Etherington (“the back office”), with mom Kathryn returning to ownership. Prior to her grandmother’s death, Kate had been working full-time at the store--and Kellie had had her own stints there while working through college.

Kellie and Kate perpetuate the legacy

One of the major changes that the family made a few years later, with urging from the late Martha Harris, was to move the store a block down the street to the space Laurel Gifts vacated.  The 2005 move allowed the development of new services including a hair salon, the children’s play area and the introduction of women’s clothing into the apparel lineup.

By all appearances The Original Children’s Shop has been thriving in its bright and cheerful new space.  We asked what differentiates the store and causes it to be a survivor when so many others have fallen by the wayside.  Kellie tells us that the secret is that for a certain kind of customer “face to face shopping” experience, “even in the Age of the Internet.”  Selection and service mean a lot, and that may particularly be true for clothing, especially at the upper end.

“We are definitely upscale,” Kate says, “but it’s the kind of clothing that you wore as a kid.”  She characterizes this as “traditional” and gives some examples: smocked dresses, cardigans, and sweater vests.   Even with the traditional element, she notes, “We have evolved as people’s tastes have evolved.”   Among the major lines for children carried by the shop are Petit Bateau, Tea Collection, Florence Eiseman, Splendid and Charlie Rocket.  And on the women’s apparel side: Lilly Pulitzer and Petit Bateau.  In addition to the clothing, the store has a selection of stuffed animals and baby dolls (by Corolle), as well as books by Denny Blaine author/artist Alexandra Day.

But true to the original concept, TOCS is still primarily about the clothes: “High quality, long-lasting pieces that can be passed on from kid to kid to kid,” says Kellie.  And it’s also about the service: “We like it to be about the experience of purchasing something special.  This is very much a special occasion kind of shop, with lots of exceptional merchandise for Christmas, Easter, and christenings.”  One noteworthy touch is the ribbon tying on gift boxes, she adds, “since our grandmother wouldn’t allow anything less.”

While it may be a matter of dispute whether Madison Park has lost its touch as a destination shopping district, The Original Children’s Shop is definitely not hurting on that account, with regular customers coming or calling from as far away as New York or Hawaii to get what they want.  “We’re still here,” says Kate, “keeping the tradition alive, as long as people continue to support small, local shops like ours.”

The TOCS was recently nominated Best Children’s Cut and Best Children’s Clothing in the KING-TV Best of Western Washington voting.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Rautureau pulls the plug on Rover's

In an email to his loyal fans, "Chef in the Hat!!!" Thierry Rautureau confirmed today that the 25-year run of Madison Valley's premier French restaurant, Rover's, will end in April. "We are not putting Rover’s up for sale," he reported, "we are turning the lights off."

No reasons were given for this move, though the timing of the announcement was apparently prompted by the fact that the Rover's location has been listed either for sale or lease. The story was picked up and reported today by  Rautureau told the foodie website that he will be moving on to new opportunities, which he did not specify. His email was only slightly more forthcoming: "Yes, we are working on a new project we cannot talk about at this moment."  He promises an announcement at some future date.

Although Rover's will soon be history, Rautureau's second French offering down the street, the popular (and less-upscale) Luc, will not be directly impacted by the move---except to the extent that the chef/proprietor winds up spending more time there.

[Rover's is located at 2808 E. Madison St. and Luc is located at 2800 E. Madison St. Photos from the Rover's website.]

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How we voted 2012

Madison Park: reliably blue and socially liberal

The 3,000 or so Madison Park residents who voted in the recent General Election overwhelmingly supported the major winning statewide ballot issues and all of the major candidates who won their races in Washington, including the President. Our analysis of the recently released vote totals for the Madison Park precincts showed that the neighborhood's voters were far more Democratic and intensely liberal than the voters of the State as a whole. This outcome is typical of Madison Park's voting pattern in past elections.

Like the rest of the State, Madison Parkers were solidly behind the Obama/Biden ticket, delivering two thirds of their votes to the Democrats.  This is well in excess of the landslide 56% vote total the President received statewide:

The same pattern held true for the Gubernatorial election, where Democrat Jay Inslee bested  Republican Rob McKenna here by a 54% to 46% margin, while carrying the state by only 4%:

The other major race, the contest for Attorney General between Democrat Bob Ferguson and Republican Reagan Dunn, also showed an outsized Democratic vote, with Ferguson winning 60% of Madison Parkers while carrying only 53% of the statewide vote.

It's perhaps surprising how strongly voters here supported the three major ballot initiatives that also won statewide.  Referendum 1240, which approved Charter Schools in Washington, barely won passage by the State's voters but carried Madison Park with a stunning 80% vote.

Madison Parkers were also heavily in favor of Gay Marriage, which also achieved an 80% approval level here while carrying the State with only a 4% margin:

The third controversial ballot measure, Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana, passed strongly at the State level but was an overwhelming favorite here:

Madison Park is comprised of nine voting precincts, including three in Washington Park. These precincts voted in lockstep*, with exception only of one outlier, SEA 43-1992:

That would be Broadmoor.

Broadmoor reverts to Republicanism

In the 2008 Presidential election, even Seattle's one remaining dependable Republican precinct, the gated community of Broadmoor, voted with the State's majority and gave 53% of its vote to Barack Obama. That apostasy may have been a first for Broadmoor, at least in the modern era.

This time around, however, Broadmoor was once again a tiny spec of Republican red awash in a sea of Democratic blue.  While Seattle and Madison Park voted overwhelmingly Democratic, Broadmoor voted not only for Republican Mitt Romney as President (56% to 44%) but for Rob McKenna as Governor (71% to 29%) and for Reagan Dunn as Attorney General (65% to 35%).

Broadmoor, however, did not prove to be a socially conservative precinct, whatever its generally Republican views.  It supported gay marriage with a 71% to 29% vote and gave the nod to marijuana legalization by a landslide 61% to 39%.

[*Although the non-Broadmoor precincts all came down on the same side of the major issues and candidates, one Washington Park precinct (SEA 43-1819) almost voted for Rob McKenna for Governor, Jay Inslee winning the precinct by a vote of only 198 to 194.]

As we always note when reviewing voting results for Madison Park, there are two small sections of the neighborhood that are not included because those precincts primarily exist outside the Madison Park boundaries.  A block on 39th Avenue E. just north of Denny Blaine is located for some reason in a precinct within in the 46th Legislative District (the rest of Madison Park is in the 43rd), and the several blocks of Madison Park situated north of Madison Street and West of Broadmoor (near the Shell station) are part of a precinct (SEA 43-2020) that is composed primarily of blocks in Madison Valley.  This posting was corrected as a result of a reader comment below.

Madison Valley gets into the holiday spirit

"Holiday Happy Hour" Shopping on Wednesday

To encourage us to get out and buy our holiday decorations and presents early, Madison Valley merchants are sponsoring a special extended-shopping event tomorrow evening, 5:00 to 7:30 pm, with many businesses offering special sales and "festive treats" to those who partake. Among those participating is Seattle Fast Frame, which is offering shoppers "hot drinks and nibbles" during the event.  Restaurants in the Valley, meanwhile, will be extending their Happy Hours to 7:30 for the occasion.

In addition, several Madison Valley merchants are open special holiday hours or are running specials throughout the holiday shopping season. For example, Kate's Day Spa is offering a free steam bath to area residents who purchase a gift certificate valued at $40 of more, and City People's Garden Store (which has a special selection of holiday plants and gifts, as well as Christmas trees) has extended its evening hours (6-8 pm, weekdays).

And in case all the holiday shopping and the stress of the season starts getting to you, Inner Renewal & The Healthy Path in the Arboretum Court just coincidentally is hosting an event on December 12 (7:30 pm) having nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas but everything to do with peace on earth (or at least inner peace):  a Tibetan singing bowls concert and inner meditation called Resounding the Peaceful Path (call for reservations).

The complete list of Madison Valley merchants can be found on the newly redesigned Madison Valley website here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Russian consulate draws pickets

'Putin Nyet!'

It was a pretty sedate group of protesters that showed up at the Russian Consulate yesterday to protest Russian President Vladimir Putin's "repression" of political and free-speech rights in Russia. The action, which was sponsored by the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women, drew about 25 well-behaved activists to the neighborhood for a short rally in front of  the of Consulate, located at 3726 E. Madison St.

It's unusual for Madison Park to provide the backdrop for a demonstration, though we did play that role a couple years ago when five or ten people showed up here to unfurl a banner in protest of greedy, blood-sucking banks (and this was before Madison Park became the major banking center that it is today).  Of course we are not counting the illegitimate political statements that may be the intention of the activist(s) who occasionally lob rocks through the windows of the neighborhood Wells Fargo branch.

As far as we can tell, Madison Park is unusual in having the sovereign territory of a foreign power located within its precincts.  There are 38 "accredited consular offices" in the Seattle area, but most of these are the offices of honorary consuls (including one representing, of all places, the Seychelles). It appears that there are just six official consulates in Seattle (Canada, Mexico, Japan, Korea and El Salvador are represented in addition to Russia), and all of these consular offices are located downtown. For that matter, the office of Consulate General of the Russian Federation is also located downtown, in the Westin Building.

What we have here in Madison Park is actually the residence of the Consul General, Andrey K. Yushmanov, who lives in that Madison Street mansion topped by the Russian flag. His 10,000 sq. ft. abode has been described by author Jane Powell Thomas* as "Madison Park's most important home architecturally."  The mansion (onetime consulate of the USSR) was built between 1908 and 1910 and is known (to those in the know) as the Hyde House, for the original owner/builder, a mining magnate named Samuel Hyde. This Russian Federation territory takes up 23,640 sq. ft. of Madison Park.

Russian territory at 37th & E. Madison as seen from Google Earth

There was no evidence (at least while we were in the vicinity) of any Russian presence at the mansion while the protesters chanted "Putin Nyet!" and "Свобода сейчас!" as passing motorists slowed to see what the commotion was all about. Everything was remarkably subdued and orderly, the demonstrators' chants being interspersed with the occasional honking of car horns---presumably in support, since the protestors were not blocking the street.

In spite of the fact that none of the demonstrators, so far as we know, was from around here, their demeanor was perfectly in line with the laid-back Madison Park vibe---which they obviously had picked up on.

Or perhaps it was just the pouring rain.

[*Madison Park Remembered, by Jane Powell Thomas.]

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sick coyote reportedly killed

This is far from being a first-hand account, since for this news we are relying on a report that appeared yesterday on the Seattle Times webpage. That report, which relied on an earlier report by KING-TV, stated that federal wildlife officials had confirmed that a coyote that had been seen in various neighborhoods in the area over the past few weeks had been euthanized by officers on Capitol Hill.

We are were not aware of any sightings of this animal in Madison Park proper, though it is possible that it inadvertently strayed into our neighborhood while traversing Lake Washington Boulevard, where it was seen by several residents of both Denny Blaine and Montlake over the last two weeks. The coyote had apparently spent some time in the Arboretum, but more recently it had been making appearances in Volunteer Park. The coyote was in better condition than the old and ill coyote shown the the file photo above but was nevertheless described as being sick and mangey. Photos of the actual animal appear on the Capital Hill Seattle blog here (scroll down to the bottom of the posting, below the comments section).

Of course it's possible that the coyote that was killed is not the coyote that has been seen near Madison Park. Reports on the Capitol Hill Seattle blog and on the Yahoo Montlake Forum, a neighborhood news group, state that a group of coyotes actually lives in or near Volunteer Park. So, if another one of them roams we may have other coyote sightings in the vicinity.

[Photo by Pam Newman from stowoutdoors blog (2011). Without permission, we do not lift photos from neighboring blogs--though we are apparently willing to rob from an unsuspecting blog in Maine.]