Saturday, February 23, 2013

Car rentals a go-go

Neighborhood awash in mini-cars

For a few weeks earlier this year it looked like some car-rental company had decided to dispose of its auto inventory onto the streets of Madison Park rather than buying a parking lot somewhere and behaving like a normal operator. The sudden hyper-abundance of those little blue-and-white vehicles was, of course, just part of the rental company's media hype---a more-subtle version of that well-known ploy used by certain truck-rental, hauling, and plumbing companies (the ones who strategically park trucks advertising their services on arterials where billboards would not be allowed).

To be fair, this car-rental concern does not advertise with "Rent Me for Only 38 Cents Per Minute!" plastered on the sides of its smart cars. That's probably not due to modesty or discretion, but rather a practical cost-related decision (what's the expense of repainting all the cars if the rates go up to 39 cents, for example?). But whether these cars are cluttering up our streets or are simply a wonderful new convenience available to Madison Parkers depends on your point of view. Some businesses in other neighborhoods apparently object to parking spaces being taken up by these vehicles (or so one media outlet has reported). No reports of that reaction here, although this is not the time of year when neighborhood parking is a problem.  When the summer rolls around (if it does) things may be different.

A quick inventory of the neighborhood's thoroughfares last week led us to believe that the hype was over and that the six cars remaining in Madison Park (where there had been 12-15 at the get go) meant that the car company had moved on. In the previous weeks the company's young "car jockeys" had been moving a large number of vehicles around the neighborhood just to get greater exposure for the service.  Apparently, however, that is still happening. There were an even dozen of the vehicles on the streets of Madison Park this afternoon.

Of course these could all be cars that have been legitimately rented and then returned to the streets by their satisfied users.  Or not.  It is interesting to note that neighboring Madrona has only three of the vehicles on its streets, while Denny Blaine has only two and Leschi and Laurelhurst have none.

But perhaps we haven't been targeted.  Maybe Madison Parkers are just big on curbside car renting.

[We hate to become complicit in the rental company's marketing efforts, but in case any reader is interested in a dissection of this new service and how it compares to a different one, we provide this helpful link to the Seattle Transit Blog. The company, by the way, pays the City of Seattle for the right to park on residential streets, or so it has been reliably reported.]

Sunday, February 17, 2013

January Police Blotter

Crime takes a holiday

For the first time in the almost four years that we've been covering neighborhood crime, we can report a month in which there were apparently no house break-ins and zero car thefts.  Madison Park was virtually free of significant criminal activity during January. That assumes that the Seattle Police map, above, accurately reflects the crimes reported for the period. Let's enjoy our sense of relative security while we can.

The map does not reflect that alleged hit-and-run crime that happened in January. The story of the young Broadmoor resident who claimed to have been the victim and later was arrested as the probable perpetrator, did not rise to the level of being icon worthy, in the opinion of the SPD. Nevertheless, it was a story that attracted a lot of notice. It was one of the most-read stories in the history of the blog (read by almost 1200 people) and was later 'reprinted' in the Madison Park Times.  

The remaining criminal activity during the month seems pretty mundane in comparison (unless, of course, you were the victim).  There were two cases of credit-card fraud reported by Madison Park residents (represented by the dollar-sign icons on the map), and there were four reported incidents of car break-ins (there is never a month without several). These car prowls occurred on January 17 on the 3100 block of E. Madison St., on January 21 on the 2000 block of McGilvra Boulevard E., on January 22 on the 4000 block of E. Madison St., and on January 25 back again on the 3100 block of E. Madison St.

There was also one case of theft reported (that on the 1000 block of 32nd Avenue E.) and two cases of property damage (the spray-paint-can icons). That blue icon marks the spot where there was a case of illegal dumping at someone's residence on the 2000 block of 43rd Avenue E.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Madison Park: regional banking center

HomeStreet Bank to lease the former Tully's space?

Though the neighborhood is already home to four bank branches, Madison Parkers are apparently about to get a fifth banking option. According to our sources, HomeStreet Bank, a State-chartered savings bank based in Seattle, has leased the prime location that was vacated by Tully's last October (4036 E. Madison Street).  HomeStreet was unwilling to confirm the story "at this time" when we quizzed the Bank about it this morning.  Nevertheless, the Bank's commuications officer was helpful in correcting some errors in an early draft of this story, which we had forwarded to her for review.

Assuming our sources are accurate, HomeStreet will be moving in sometime later this year after extensive alterations to the 2,100 sq. ft building. In its previous lives the building, built in 1900, had been the home of several different retail operations. If a bank now takes the space, the move will further solidify Madison Park's growing reputation as a place where you can get a meal, have your hair done---or cash a check.

HomeStreet, which has 22 retail branches, has been ramping up in recent months, recently opening a new branch in Fremont and soon to open a 23rd branch on Capitol Hill.  As a community bank of modest size, it would be the only financial institution represented here that is not a major commercial bank (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Key are each big national players).

The fact that another bank may be coming to the neighborhood rather than a new retail shop, however, will certainly reignite the debate that raged when Key Bank added itself to the mix in 2011. Many Madison Parkers argued then that landlords here have a responsibility to keep the supposedly village-like character of the business district intact by leasing only to retail shops. That argument didn't prevent Key Bank's move to Madison Park, and it didn't sway the landlord of 4036 E. Madison this time. It was clearly an economic decision.

We understand that the commercial real estate broker, when taking down the "For Lease" sign on the building late last week, told passersby that only a bank was willing to pay the cost of the lease (reported to be in the $9,000-$10,000 per month range). That rent is a tough nut for any retailer to crack, though there had apparently been interest in the space by many potential lessees. (For example, rumor has it that Bert's took a look at using the building for a wine & spirits shop but determined that there was not enough square footage).

Madison Park Business Association President Terry Short had this to say about the possible introduction of another bank into the business district:  "There seems to be a void when a business leaves our neighborhood, especially one that meets the needs of our residents. The banks in Madison Park have increasingly supported our community and have tried hard to be sensitive and support both the businesses and residents who live here."

What happens to the Tully's space has been a matter of intense speculation by many Madison Parkers over the past five months. In fact, a commercial broker tells us that in his long career he's never seen such a high level of interest by any other neighborhood in what was going to happen to an individual retail space. But the time for speculation is now over. "Confirmed" or not, a bank it is.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The tax man cometh

Madison Park's 2013 tax rate increases by 3.98%

King County will be mailing out the 2013 property-tax bills this week (expected arrival date: Valentine's Day), and Madison Parkers will on average see an increase in taxes relative to last year. Seattle's tax rate is going up from $10.17 per $1,000 of home value to $10.51. For the City as a whole, this uptick in the tax rate will be almost entirely offset by the fact that the median assessed value of Seattle homes fell year over year, from $359,000 in 2012 to $348,000 this year (a 3.1% decline). This means that although the City's tax rate will rise by 3.3%, the actual taxes paid on the median house will increase by only .2%.

Madison Park and the nearby neighborhoods of Madrona and Leschi, however, will experience a much larger increase in property taxes in 2013. As we previously reported, our section of the City this year saw a 0% increase in its "Standard Area Adjustment." While most Seattle neighborhoods recorded a decline---at least in the Assessor's opinion---Madison Park was one of those few places in the City where values held steady. The downside of that official determination is that we will be paying more of Seattle's total property tax bill than was the case last year.

For Assessment Area 14 (Madison Park, Madrona, and Leschi) the median value of a home increased from $806,000 to $811,000, slightly less than 1%. Even though the "Standard Area Adjustment" was only 0%, some properties in the Area were either improved or were replaced by higher-value structures. This was the reason for the increase in the Area's year-over-year median-property value (the point where 50% of the properties are worth less and 50% are worth more).

Here's the implication of all of this: Although the tax increase for Seattle this year is 3.3%, the tax on the median-value Madison Park home in 2013 will increase by 3.98%. In 2012 the median-value Madison Park home was taxed $8,197.02 and this year the property tax on the median-value home here will be $8,523.61.

Between us, Madison Park, Madrona and Leschi be paying 3.96% of the City's $112 billion property-tax bill in 2013 rather than the 3.95% we paid last year.

Lucky us.

[Thanks to the many responsive staff members of the King County Assessor's Office for providing the data and background necessary to produce this story.]

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mission accomplished in Washington Park

Multiple projects completed (finally)

The seemingly never-ending Madison Valley Stormwater Project ended with a whimper last month as the finishing touches were completed on the Project's final phase, landscaping of the water tank in Washington Park. The area is now open to the public through a new pedestrian pathway which snakes its way from the sidewalk at E. Madison Street down into the Park:

We're told that the fencing around the newly-landcaped hillside is temporary.  Also now completed and ready for use is the new playfield next to the water tank area:

Meanwhile, the CIty has also completed work along Lake Washington Boulevard though the Arboretum.  Two separate projects had been underway there, one involving "traffic mitigation" and the other improving the lighting along the Bouvelard.

Anyone who's driven through the Arboretum at night has certainly noticed the improved visibility resulting from the lighting project.  As to the "traffic mitigation" efforts of SDOT, well they're literally hard to miss:

[Lighting and mitigation photos courtesy of the Seattle Department of Transportation, via Flickr.]

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Registration soon begins for co-op preschool

Open house on Tuesday

The Madison Park Cooperative Preschool will be holding its annual Spring Open House from 6 until 8 pm on Tuesday, February 5.  The Preschool, which is housed in the Madison Park Bath House (1900 43rd Avenue E.), will soon begin enrolling for the the Fall 2013-14 school year.  At the Open House, teachers, board members, a financial aid officer, and parents of children currently enrolled in the School will be available to discuss programs, answer questions, and give a tour of the premises. Children are welcome!

Information on enrollment at MPCP is available here.