Friday, May 28, 2010

Shore Run returns to the Park June 13

Madison Park will be the finish line again this year for the 33rd Annual Shore Run/Walk to benefit immunotherapy research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. There will actually be three races on that Sunday morning: a 10K Run (beginning at 9 am at Ferdinand Street Park, near Seward park), a 5K Run/Walk (beginning at 8:15 am at Leschi) and a Half-Mile Kids Run (beginning in the Park at 10:15 am). All of this will be followed by a Party-in-the-Park at Bert’s, with food, music, and drawings for prizes.

Those interested in participating should check out the Shore Run website for details and information about registering. There will be shuttle busses to each of the starting points from Madison Park between 6:30 and 8:15 am.

Park residents should note that in addition to the fact that there will be a lot of cars descending on the neighborhood early that morning, traffic will be delayed at times to facilitate the racers/walkers. But it’s all in a good cause.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

April Real Estate Report

Depending on which press report you may have read today, you could either believe that Seattle’s real estate market is in recovery or continuing on a downhill path. The Seattle Times headline read “Home Prices in Seattle Inch Up in March,” which was true. But there was also this from the Wall Street Journal: “Housing Prices Remain Weak,” along with a chart showing Seattle prices down 3.6% for March. Which was also true.

Confused? Well both reports were from the Case-Shiller index for Seattle. One statistic was a comparison of house-sale prices from February to March 2010, which showed a small, .1% increase. The other statistic showing a decline of 3.6% was a year-over year number, March 2009 to March 2010. So, while Seattle’s home prices have not recovered even to last year’s levels, it looks like we may be witnessing the bottom of the trough. Here’s what the month-to-month price-change numbers looked like for the first three months of the year (the latest for which statistics are available):

It’s looking like a trend in the right direction.

Seattle sits somewhere in the middle of the top 20 largest American cities in terms of the housing “recovery” during the last 12 months. At the top is San Francisco, with a 16.2% increase year-over-year, and at the bottom is Las Vegas, with a 12.0% decline. The nation as a whole is up 2%, according to Case-Shiller.

Local real estate agents I’ve spoken to in the last couple of months are enthusiastic about the increased interest in the Seattle market. This anecdotal evidence is supported by statistics. For our area of the City, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS) recently reported a 5.4% increase in listings, a 32.8% increase in pending sales, and a 9.33% increase in median home prices between April 2009 and April 2010 (single-family residences and condos combined). Our MLS coverage area includes Capitol Hill, Madison Park, Montlake, Madrona, Leschi, and parts of the Central District.

For Madison Park, the April numbers were consistent with the upward trend for the year: 10 total residential sales versus an average of seven sales per month in the first quarter of 2010. Even so, this is hardly a big comeback since the fourth quarter of 2009 averaged 10 sales per month.

Here’s a breakout of the sales activity for April:


Sales: 7
Median Sale Price: $1,266,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 2,805
Average Price per Sq. Ft.: $476
Average Days on Market: 61
Average Discount from List Price: 4.9%


Sales: 3
Median Sale Price: $410,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 1,062
Average Price per Sq. Ft.: $431
Average Days on Market: 176
Average Discount from List Price: 7.4%

National real estate reports have recently focused on an increase in inventory as many so-called “side-line sellers” have decided to enter the market in the belief that prices are recovering and potential buyers now have access to financing. Indeed interest rates are at historic lows (qualified buyers can now obtain a 30-year mortgage at 4.65%), and a fair amount of new inventory did enter our local market (24 homes in the last month, through a few of these were re-listings at a lower price point).

The median price of the 18 new single-family house listings in April was $1,800,000, and only one of these houses was listed at under $1 million. 14 of the 18 new listings were located in Broadmoor or Washington Park.

Although the average number of days on the market for sold properties has declined from the high levels of last year, there are still 14 houses and five condos currently available that have been for sale at least 200 days. At the other end of the spectrum, however, were the two houses that sold last month after having been on the market for only five days.

Here’s what the Madison Park market looks like right now (Washington Park and Broadmoor included), as reported by Redfin:


Listings: 65
Median List Price: $1,985,000
Median Sq. Ft.: 3,912
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $507
Average Days on Market: 115
Percentage with Price Reductions: 29%
Pending Sales: 10
New Listings During the Month: 18


Listings: 27
Median List Price: $549,950
Median Sq. Ft.: 1,125
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $489
Average Days on Market: 186
Percentage with Price Reductions: 41%
Pending Sales: 6
New Listings During the Month: 6
While it represents only about 18% of the total residences in Madison Park, Broadmoor has 21 of the 65 houses currently on the market in the Park (32% of the total). Only 18 houses are available in the Park outside of Broadmoor and Washington Park combined.

Next month: A look a declining real estate values in Madison Park, as measured by Zillow.

[Shown in photo above: a 1939 “traditional” 5,200 sq. ft. home located at 1620 Broadmoor Drive E., on the eastern fairway of the golf course. Listed at $2,795,000, the home has four bedrooms and 3.75 baths. It was a new listing this month.]
Thanks to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Real Estate for her help in compiling the sales data.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Contemplating Montlake

The idyllic scene illustrated above, believe it or not, is supposed to be E. Lake Washington Boulevard as it will look at some point in the future--after the new SR 520 floating bridge has been built and the new westside approaches have been installed. As you can see, there is no traffic.

That’s certainly not what that boulevard looks like today, especially during rush hour through the Arboretum. It makes one wonder what the artist may know that we don’t. The graphic is courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT); and as we’ve reported, the State’s “preferred” alternative plan for SR 520 contemplates both the removal of the Arboretum ramps to 520 and the imposition of a new “traffic management” plan for the Arboretum. The combination, apparently, will make Lake Washington Boulevard into the bucolic back road of the artist’s imagination.

Here, by the way, is what the artist imagines the scene at 24th Avenue E. and E. Lake Washington Boulevard will look like (this is the intersection where the bridge to the Museum of History and Industry now crosses 520 at Montlake). Under the “preferred” plan, HOVs may leave Lake Washington Boulevard to enter an eastbound ramp to 520 at about this point. Nevertheless, it doesn’t look like this area is expected to be too busy. Although a bus is depicted, it certainly didn’t end up in that location by coming north on Lake Washington Boulevard, since it would not have been able to navigate under the Arboretum’s low-clearance brick footbridge.

But will smaller high-occupancy vehicles be able to drive through the Arboretum to get to the 24th Avenue intersection? That’s a question that will only have an answer once all the public agencies (State, City and the University of Washington, which co-manages the Arboretum) and the Arboretum Foundation agree on a “traffic management” plan for the Arboretum, as noted by the Governor when she announced the new 520 scheme. It’s a matter of some doubt whether any non-HOV traffic will be able to drive through the Arboretum to access 520 either. Just how traffic will be restricted will soon be a topic of discussion between the various players, with a recommendation on an overall traffic mitigation strategy to go to the State Legislature no later than December 31, 2010.

In the meantime, it’s interesting to speculate on just how that new Montlake Lid and 520 interchange will work exactly, since we’re all going to have to make use of it. Eventually, Montlake will have to handle all of the current traffic that flows into the area plus all of the new traffic that will be dumped there because of the elimination of the Arboretum on and off ramps for 520.

As a starting point, WSDOT had provided me with some additional information concerning current usage of the Arboretum ramps. This graphic depicts usage of the 520 westbound exit to Lake Washington Boulevard in the Arboretum:

And this graphic shows usage of the 520 eastbound entrance:

Perhaps a bit surprisingly, Capitol Hill tops the list of peak-hour users of Lake Washington Boulevard to access and exit 520 (35% of total westbound off-ramp usage and 36% of eastbound on-ramp usage). That includes a lot of people coming down E. Madison Street and turning into the Arboretum rather than taking the more direct (but often more time-consuming) 23rd Avenue route to Montlake. First Hill and the Central Area (including Madrona) comprise the next biggest number of westbound off-ramp users. Many of these drivers are certainly bypassing the more direct route to and from their neighborhoods. Montlake residents, somewhat unexpectedly, are also big users of the Lake Washington Boulevard ramps (23% of eastbound traffic and 13% of westbound).

Madison Parkers (and residents of Denny-Blaine), meanwhile, represent only 5% of eastbound traffic and 4% of westbound traffic. But given the fact that Lake Washington Boulevard is the most direct route to 520 from our neighborhood, it is likely that almost all of Madison Park’s 520 traffic to and from the Eastside goes through the Arboretum. So next to Montlake, which is going to be on the receiving end of a lot of new 520 traffic, Madison Park may feel the biggest impact of any neighborhood when the Arboretum ramps are closed.

Quite clearly, based on this WSDOT data, many neighborhoods—including those as far south as Mt. Baker and Columbia City—are going to negatively impacted by the State’s preferred plan. And if access through the Arboretum is further curtailed, as expected, huge changes to traffic through Madison Valley and down 23rd Avenue E. are inevitable, since that route would become the main corridor for 520 traffic to and from Madison Park, Denny-Blaine, Madrona, Leschi and points south that now utilize Lake Washington Boulevard and enter the Arboretum at E. Madison Street. All of that downtown, Central District, and First Hill traffic that now heads down Madison to enter the Arboretum at Lake Washington Boulevard will in the future probably need to turn left at 23rd for the trip downhill to Montlake.

And when everyone gets to Montlake? Well, WSDOT didn’t provide any graphic of what that’s going to look like!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Are we dense enough yet?

There was a time, not that long ago, when Madison Park could lay claim to a significant number of modest homes with airy yards and plenty of space between neighbors. In the area to the north of Madison Street, which was once primarily a working class neighborhood, there remained unbroken blocks of one-story cottages. And in the area to the south of Madison, more than a few one-time beach bungalows (such as that classic example shown above) still dotted the landscape.

While we continue to have numerous modest-looking (though few modestly-priced) houses here in the Park, the trend over the past twenty years—as in many other Seattle neighborhoods—has been to demolish the cottages to make room for the Megahouses. Occasionally, modest has been replaced with immodest.

I live in an area of the Park, near the Seattle Tennis Club, that was literally under water until 1916, when the building of the Ship Canal resulted in the lowering of Lake Washington by nine feet. Until that time, much of my block was marshland. Our house, constructed in 2001, sits on the site of what had been a very modest home, built early in the 1900s as someone’s boat house. Next door there was (and still is) a tiny beach cabin originally built in 1914 for the President of the now-defunct Frederick & Nelson Department Store. And the two little houses sitting on the other side of our property were former houseboats that had been pulled up onto the land when the Lake went down. Each was no bigger than 800 sq. ft.

In the eight years we’ve lived here, almost all of the old houses on our block have either been torn down and replaced with larger structures or were significantly remodeled and expanded. The former houseboats are gone, replaced by narrow multi-storey structures that cover virtually the entire footprint of their lots. Even the one-story 4,000 sq. ft. waterside mansion down the street, built in the 1920s, was recently replaced with an 8,000 sq. ft. two-story structure whose outbuilding of 3,000 sq. ft. is larger than my house. And what’s been happening on my block is not atypical of what’s occurring in much of the rest of the Park.

Not everyone, to be sure, is happy about this trend. Local realtor Val Ellis, for one, deplores what she sees as a potential threat to the character of the neighborhood. “I live, work and play in Madison Park, she explains. “It’s my ‘hood, and I’m against anything that will spoil the enchantment of the place.” While she doesn’t oppose people making improvements to their properties that are in line with the rest of the neighborhood, she does object to “obnoxious construction” that is inconsistent with the surrounding houses. She sees the crowding in and building up of the neighborhood as potentially undermining the flavor of the community.

Val and some of her neighbors recently found a catalyst for their concerns when the City notified them that two property owners in their area of the Park had requested approval to divide their lots into two. This is known as short platting and, if approved, allows the development of each lot as a single-family residence.

The property receiving the most critical comment from neighbors is located at 4202 E. Lynn Street, at the corner of Lynn and 42nd (shown below). There are currently two 1940s-vintage structures on the property, one of which appears to be a garage that was converted into a small residence. The other structure is a cottage that is separated into two living units. The lot has about 5,000 sq. ft, and subdivision will result on one lot of 2,557 sq. ft. and another of 2,248 sq. ft.

The neighbors’ stated concern is that future development of the property will result in several large structures at the site, which could negatively impact the “flavor” of the neighborhood and potentially impair sightlines for cars at that intersection. In spite of these objections, however, the City today announced approval of the short plat. The decision by the Department of Planning & Development (DPD) took into consideration only the facts of the case and the requirements of the City’s Code covering situations of this type. The neighbors’ objections were not material to the outcome.

According to DPD planner Holly Godard, the rule is that if there are multiple living units already on the parcel and these were permitted by the City at some point in the past, subdivision of the property is allowed. This assumes that other zoning requirements (with regard to such issues as setbacks) are complied with, she told me. In this case, the structures had been legally approved in the past and the other requirements were satisfied, so the City has allowed the creation of two separate lots, each of which can support a new single-family residence. This necessarily will increase the value of the property for the owner.

A second property on the same block (located at 2330 42nd Avenue E., below) is currently under review for short platting. The subdivision is likely to be approved, since the 4,800 sq. ft. property’s two existing early-1900s cottages were legally permitted. After division there will be a 2,128 sq. ft. parcel and a 2,676 sq. ft. parcel, each of which could be developed as a new single family home.

Godard points out that development of any property in Madison Park still must meet building-code requirements. Nevertheless, grandfathering does allow more leeway for development of smaller parcels—and variances to code can sometimes be obtained when the rules need to be bent by the developer. In the case of a needed variance, however, the neighbors will have another opportunity to weigh in and a much stronger likelihood of impacting the outcome.

Density in Madison Park is theoretically controlled though zoning. Most of the Park, as shown below, falls into the SF 5000 zone, which means that existing properties are meant for single-family residences and can be subdivided only so long as the resulting lots are not less than 5,000 sq. ft. Washington Park is primarily in the SF 7200 zone, so properties there are expected to be 7,200 sq. ft. at minimum. There are a significant number of grandfathered smaller properties scattered throughout Madison Park. And as we have seen, an exception to the subdivision rule occurs when there are already multiple legal structures on a particular property.

The subdividing of existing lots is not, however, the biggest threat to the character of Madison Park. There are probably few—if any—remaining properties that contain two legal residences that could be short platted. The real issue is this: what replaces the cottages and bungalows once the demolition crew has done its job? “It will be a crime if we can’t maintain the existing feeling of the neighborhood,” says realtor Ellis. “Tasteful improvements are fine, but we don’t want those tacky townhouses here like you see in Ballard and elsewhere.” And with regard to the future development of the newly subdivided Lynn and 42nd Street property she adds: “It’s not over ‘til it’s over.”
[Zoning map courtesy of the Seattle DPD. Click to enlarge. Note that the blue areas are zoned Multi-Family Lowrise,the gray area is zoned Commercial, and the yellow areas are all Single Family 5,000 sq. ft. lots. Washington Park and Broadmoor are each zoned for Single Family 7,200 sq. ft. lots.]

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Madison Park merchants say “NO!” to LOLA

The plan to develop a park at the end of Madison Street has suddenly become controversial, with one part of the Madison Park Establishment squaring off against another. In one corner is the Madison Park Community Council (MPCC), which is busily promoting public involvement in support of its LOLA (Love our Lake Access) project; and in the other corner are the merchants of Madison Park—including those of the Madison Park Business Association (MPBA)—who are busily signing petitions and sending emails in opposition to the Council’s grand scheme. This division appears to be a rare fracture of the “powers that be” in Madison Park. As recently as last year, the two organizations (MPCC and the MPBA) found themselves so much in alignment that they agreed to merge their websites into one ( Now their unanimity, assuming it was ever real, has been torn asunder over an unlikely issue: parking.

What supporters of LOLA describe as a potential community “jewel” and scenic focal point at the very heart of Madison Park, the merchants see as potential threat to their livelihood. For the fact is that the area at the end of Madison Street currently serves principally as a parking lot, and the creation of a park in that space will lower the amount of close-in business district parking.

Mark Long, owner of The Attic and a leading opponent of LOLA, estimates that 25 or more parking spaces will be lost at the road end if a park is constructed at that location. And it’s parking that will not—and really cannot—be replaced anywhere in proximity to the businesses along Madison Street. Eliminating the existing parking will force people to park further away from the businesses they patronize, he says, and will result in some people deciding to forgo making the trip to Madison Park.

“Everyone that lives in the Park enjoys the benefit of a varied retail area with wide sidewalks,” he says. “However, not all realize the costs and time needed to keep the doors open. Parking is a paramount problem.” This is a position that many other area merchants support. Stan Moshier, co-owner of Bing’s, summed up the concern this way in an email to other business owners: “Parking is most necessary to our existence as a viable business, proven by the countless times we have heard ‘it takes forever to find a place to park around here’ from our patrons, both young and old.”

A similar refrain comes from Madison Park Bakery owners Karen and Terry Hofman, who emailed “In our 17 years of operation, not a week has gone by without someone mentioning or complaining about parking difficulties. On occasion, [we’ve] had to telephone some elderly customers who pre-ordered baked goods but didn’t pick up their order. The response has too often been ‘Sorry, drove down but couldn’t find anywhere to park.’”

While Long is adamant that the whole LOLA idea be dropped, other business owners, including the Hofmans, are a bit more circumspect: “We only ask that the issue of parking be seriously addressed before rapidly proceeding only on the wishes of individuals representing LOLA.”

LOLA committee members say they are attempting to address the parking concerns of the merchants. “We can collaborate with the MPBA,” says LOLA’s Kathleen Stearns, “but we are not the decision makers. The Department of Parks and Recreation is.” She notes that the land belongs to the parks department and simply is not designated for use as a parking lot. “Madison Street ends at 43rd Avenue E.,” she notes, and the area beyond 43rd down to the pier is not controlled by the City’s transportation department. Effectively, vehicle drivers who park in the area are encroaching on City parkland, since it is technically not a city street.
Ownership of the property is shown on this graphic (click to enlarge):

For LOLA supporters, the issue therefore appears to be pretty straightforward. The land is park land and should be restored to park use. This is not to say, however, that LOLA is opposed to discussing the issue with concerned business owners or working with them to find creative solutions. Stearns notes that focus groups were held (including one where the parking issue was specifically on the agenda) and the business owners also were invited to meet with the MPCC by its president Ken Myrabo. But in spite of this outreach the business owners opposing the project did not come forward, she says; and as a result, some LOLA committee members sought out various Madison Park business owners to solicit their input.

Among the ideas being floated to improve parking in the business district are these, she says:

1) Encourage more employees of these businesses to use public transportation to get to work.
2) Ask employees (as well as business owners) to park further from their places of business.
3) Limit street parking to 2 hours (versus the 1, 2 and 4-hour designations that currently exist in different parts of the business district) and have it enforced to optimize usage.
4) Ask residents to volunteer spaces in their driveways or in front of their houses for the daytime use of employees (Kathleen Stearns reports she has agreed to do this on her property).
5) Make better use of existing alley parking spaces for employees and owners.

Stearns says she believes that collaboration will solve the parking problem, and she’s dismissive of the merchants who are not interested in working with LOLA on the issue. “Their vision is a parking lot. Our competing vision is for it to be restored to public use as a garden park. These are the competing interests for this public space.” To which she adds, “We are not opposed to bringing commerce to the Park.”

"Not impressed,” says Mark Long. “There are already three parks along 43rd. Parking is the Number One need here, not more parks. I know [the current situation] is not perfect and beautiful, but it’s functional. I think LOLA is a waste of time and effort just to get one to two percent more green space.” Among the other merchants supporting this anti-LOLA position, says Long, are the owners of McGilvra’s, Tina’s on Madison, Madison Park Jewelers, Cookin, and Martha Harris.

Cactus! owner Bret Chatalas, meanwhile, sent an email to City Council members and the parks department last month in which he expressed his support for parks but added that “I can’t imagine anyone, while thinking it through, would think that more parks in Madison Park is a better idea than providing parking for those already coming to the local three parks and beach, let alone the local businesses that rely on customers’ ability to easily access them. The ratio of parks to parking is way out of balance down here already, in my opinion.”

Unfortunately, there is no real room for compromise here. Succinctly, the question is this: park or parking lot? The area at the end of Madison Street can’t be both.

So which is it to be?

Given both the controversy and the uncertainty of funding, it's probably going to be quite awhile before we find out which faction of the Madison Park Establishment will ultimately have its way.
[Everyone, Madison Park business owners included, will get another opportunity to give their input when, on May 26, the final schematic design for LOLA will be presented at a community meeting to be held at Park Shore Retirement Community (1630 43rd Avenue E.) at 7:00 pm.]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

McGilvra gets new principal in September

The Seattle School District yesterday named Mary Lane, who has been serving this school year as a principal with the Shanghai American School (SAS) in China, as the new McGilvra Elementary School principal for the 2010-11 school year. Lane's most recent experience in Washington was as the principal of Hawkins Middle School in Belfair (located on Hood Canal in Kitsap County). According to the School District, her experience also includes a stint as an assistant superintendent in a Dominican Republic school district. She began her career as an elementary classroom teacher, later moving into administration.

Lane has been in the role of SAS's elementary school principal at the Puxi campus, which provides a pre-kindergarden though fifth-grade education to 650 students from approximately 40 countries. The are more than 100 teachers and staff connected with the school, whose mission is to provide an education on a par with what would be offered in the best American private and public schools. Puxi is an area at the core of urban Shanghai.

Lane's academic credentials include a Master's Degree in education from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. in elementary education from Tennessee Temple University. Why Lane chose to go to China and why she is now returning to the States are questions unanswered in the District's press release. We hope to have the opportunity of asking her about all of that and more. She will be attending the PTA meeting at McGilvra this evening at 6:30 pm.
Lane's selection occurred after a round of interviews with a team composed of McGilvra parents, teachers, and staff. She was named one of the finalists for the job by the school's interview team, with Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and Susan Enfield, the District's Chief Academic Officer, making the final choice.
McGilvra's Interim Principal Birgit McShane will continue in her role through the end of the current school year, which has certainly proven to be an interesting one administratively.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dredging ends, beavers return

I haven’t seen the furry critters myself, but I have it upon reliable eye-witness authority that the beavers are now back frolicking in the waters off the northern coast of Madison Park. This, in spite of the two weeks of dredging in the area recently undertaken by Broadmoor’s contractor. The dredging company pulled out last week, meaning (I guess) that water from the Lake is now free to gush unhindered into the irrigation pipes of the golf course.
I don’t get up early enough, unfortunately, to get a shot of swimming beavers (who, I am told, are most likely to be seen after sunrise); but Canterbury resident Gene Brandzel provided this fuzzy shot last week to prove his point either that the Loch Ness monster lives or that the beavers are really back in Canterbury (Gene admits that the lighting was bad). He reports that there were four adult beavers on show at 5:30 that particular morning, which just happened to be a couple of days before the dredging equipment was evacuated. “Some of the beavers slapped their tails right next to the dredge to say goodbye,” Brandzel said. “It was quite touching.”

Broadmoor isn’t the only community, by the way, to benefit from the dredging effort. As a condition of one of the permits that Broadmoor needed to obtain for the project, the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife required that the pier at the end of 37th Avenue E., near the dredging site, be resurfaced. The old surface of the pier (aka “dock”) was wooden, allowing little light to penetrate into waters underneath. The new pier has slots that allow the light to shine through. This, in theory, should be good for the aquatic and plant life of the bay.

It's nice to know that the fears of many of us that the beavers might be disturbed as a result of the dredging have apparently proved overblown. The waters look serene, the beaver lodge remains intact, and we presumably can soon look forward to seeing the results of another successful breading season. If anyone gets a good shot of the new brood, please share with us!

[Middle photo: the wooden housing for the Broadmoor irrigation system intake pipe, around which the dredging occurred.]

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Say bye bye to those Arboretum ramps!

Just in case you missed one of the implications of the Governor’s announcement earlier this month concerning her revamp of the SR-520 project, allow me to hammer the point home for you: the existing Lake Washington Boulevard on and off ramps in the Arboretum will be demolished.

And they will not be replaced.

There will be no easy out-the-back-gate-of-Broadmoor access to 520, no trips through the Arboretum to a convenient access ramp. For Madison Parkers, the new way to get onto the floating bridge will simply be this: drive to Montlake and get in line.

The press hasn’t done a very thorough job, in my opinion, of spelling out this consequential aspect of the Governor’s latest 520 decision. But it’s a fact that the Governor came through big time for those who opposed the “wide and intrusive” Arboretum access ramps that were a feature of the Option A+ plan. The earlier Option A plan for the western approaches to SR-520 had already eliminated the existing Arboretum ramps, but the subsequent Option A+ compromise plan put new Arboretum ramps back into the mix. Now they’re out again.

So, beginning with the very first stage of the floating bridge replacement project, the westbound 520 exit to Lake Washington Boulevard will be closed. Under current construction plans, that’s expected to occur in the last quarter of 2012. And eventually, as construction moves forward in what’s anticipated to be a six-to-eight year construction project, the eastbound Lake Washington Boulevard ramp to 520 will also be demolished, along with the famous “ramps to nowhere.” Right now, that’s expected to happen sometime in late 2015.

This is a great image from Google Earth showing the Arboretum ramps which will be no more (the top is north, and the “ramps to nowhere” are marked with the largest red X and with the X immediately above that):

In announcing “the State’s preferred alternative” plan for 520 at a press conference at the UW’s Waterfront Activities Center, the Governor stated that “the State Department of Transportation heard the concerns of the neighborhoods and the City of Seattle” by creating a new design for the floating bridge and its western approaches that addresses those concerns. With regard to the elimination of the Lake Washington Boulevard ramps, the Governor said that “the purpose is to protect the Arboretum.” So score this as a one big win for the friends of the Arboretum.

For the many of us who have been using the Arboretum as a sort of gateway to and from the Eastside, however, the world will be changing in a less-comfortable way. And for those unhappy residents of Montlake: expect even more traffic to be heading in your direction. Of course, there will be that lovely new “Montlake Lid” to make things pleasant for everyone.

This is what the Montlake interchange and freeway lid look like in the proposed scheme, with the yellow routes showing 520 traffic flows from and to Lake Washington Boulevard (click to enlarge):

Some of the details are reportedly still being worked out, but basically traffic that now enters 520 in the Arboretum will under the new scenario be channeled to the intersection of E. Lake Washington Boulevard and Montlake Boulevard E., where it will (after negotiating at least one traffic light) enter a freeway entrance that loops around and under the Montlake Lid, heading eastbound. Traffic from Lake Washington Boulevard attempting to go west on 520 will apparently have to negotiate both a right turn at the same intersection with Montlake Boulevard and then make a left turn through another traffic light a block further north on that street. This is how the streets mentioned line up today:

There may be some relief for high-occupancy vehicles going eastbound on 520. They will apparently be allowed to enter the freeway by making a right turn on 24th Avenue E. from E. Lake Washington Boulevard (that’s where the bridge to the Museum of History and Industry currently crosses 520) and then they can enter the HOV lanes eastbound. Presumably the same would be true for the westbound HOV lane from 520, with an exit leading to the 24th Avenue intersection with Lake Washington Boulevard.

When all is said and done, assuming the “preferred plan” is the final plan, the Arboretum will not be a jumping off point for traffic to or from the Eastside. And a lot of the traffic that currently goes through the Arboretum before or after a 520 trip will no longer find Lake Washington Boulevard the most direct or convenient route. Anyone watching the E. Madison Street/E. Lake Washington Boulevard intersection during rush hour knows the extent to which traffic from downtown, First Hill, and Capitol Hill currently makes use of Madison Street and the Arboretum as a means of getting to and from 520. When the 520 ramps are reconfigured, however, all of this Madison traffic will benefit from turning left onto 23rd Avenue E. at the top of the hill, rather than coming down into Madison Valley for an approach to 520 through the Arboretum.
Madison Parkers, however, as well as drivers from Denny-Blaine, Madrona, and Leschi who currently use Lake Washington Boulevard to enter or exit 520 in the Arboretum may still find that route is the shortest way to get to the Montlake entrances. But using the Arboretum for this purpose may not be possible, or it may be severely restricted. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) notes on its site that it will be working with the City of Seattle “to develop a traffic management plan for the Arboretum.” The goal? Limiting auto traffic through the Park.

So the Arboretum really came out ahead in the Governor’s new plan, while Madison Park, Madrona, Leschi , and—most spectacularly—Montlake were badly inconvenienced. Give credit to the Coalition for a Sustainable 520, the Arboretum Foundation, and the City of Seattle for the success of the Arboretum’s efforts. They all wanted the Option A+ Arboretum ramps drastically scaled back, and the Governor effectively said “Fine, no ramps at all.” The Coalition issued a statement today deploring the Governor's new plan, stating that it will channel all of the Arboretum traffic (which it estimates at 15,000 cars per day) onto 23rd Avenue E. and into Montlake. "The neighborhoods got shafted," says Coalition head Fran Conley, adding that the Governor's failure to plan for all of this new traffic in Montlake is "infuriating."

Note, however, that the timing for all of these 520 changes—including those affecting the Arboretum—is still very much in doubt. One big problem is that the money's not there. Unless another $2 billion or so of revenues is found, there will be no re-engineering of the western approaches to the new floating bridge (which does have funding). Also, delays in funding could mean that the construction schedule is pushed back. Another factor to consider is the willingness of the opponents to continue their fight in both the political and legal arenas, with changes to the Governor’s “preferred plan” a distinct possibility. In other words, this ain’t a done deal.

Nevertheless, I think we can still kiss those Arboretum ramps goodbye.
[Graphics courtesy of SDOT, Google, and Google Earth. Photos by Tagas. For more information on the Montlake Interchange, click here.]

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Independent Pizzeria finds its niche

I was surprised to discover when looking at the blog’s statistics earlier this week that my posting on the opening of The Independent Pizzeria was the most read story ever, with over 500 reads to date. This must be a neighborhood that really likes pizza! So I decided I ought to live up to the promise I’d made to MPB readers that I would get the inside story on the new pizza joint from its owner/manager/pizza maker, Tom Siegel.

Early this evening, therefore, I moseyed on down to the pizzeria (located at 4235 E. Madison Street) to get the scoop. [Before I go any further with this posting, however, let me just interrupt the flow to say that while I was on the premises, I just happened to buy a pizza (the Syracuse), and it was only the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life—and I’ve been to Italy!]

Now where was I? Anyway, the place was not packed when I arrived a little before six, but doing a brisk business. There are only five tables, a few bar stools and some couch seating, so it will be an intimate place during the winter months. Tom told me that Wednesday night had been the pizzeria’s best night ever. The place has not even been open two weeks, but the word is obviously spreading.

There are seven pizzas on the initial menu (Queen, Twin Peaks, Beta, Pepperoni, Norwalk, and The Stevedore are the other six, with “Mama Lil” providing the peppers). The pizzas are all twelve inchers. In addition, there’s a salad option, two different selections of antipasti, and a more than sufficient number of wine and beer choices.

Tom was too busy to be interrogated in detail by me (Question: “Any glitches noticed so far?” Answer: “I will have to think about that and get back to you.” I told him things must be going okay if he can’t remember any major snafus). That's Tom making pizzas in the photos above, by the way.

Luckily for this piece (which is intended to provide some color, after all) I had quizzed Tom by email earlier about how he happens to be making pizzas in the ‘hood. Pretend this is a live interview:

ME: Why another pizza place in Madison Park?
TOM: I love to talk about, look at, smell, make, and eat food. In the spring of 2002 I experienced my first Neapolitan pizza. It was at a little kiosk in the heart of Naples. it was a six inch pizza with sauce, a dollop of cheese and a basil leave. It was ethereal. From that moment my mission was to open a small pizzeria. When Impromptu closed, my friend Fred from Madison Cellars stopped by my previous job to tell me about the space. Merijo, the previous manager at Impromptu, was kind enough to show me the space. As soon as I saw it I knew this was the place to live out my dream. A place that I could focus on making pizza.
ME: What's your personal background?

TOM: I was raised by a family of foodies in upstate NY. From my first job as a bus boy at 15, to present, I have worked a variety of different jobs in food and wine. My first experience working in a fine-dining restaurant was as a pantry chef in Nantucket. I owned and operated a small catering business in Prague. I worked at Windows on the World as an assistant sommelier. I have been a wine rep for Triage Wines, a local wine distributor for the past ten years. These are some highlights of my life in the industry.

ME: What kind of pizza exactly are you purveying?

TOM: A craft pizza in a style where New York meets Naples. Thin crust with pure, natural ingredients, baked in an exceedingly hot oven. Our goal is to offer our patrons a tasty and unique selection of local and European beer and wine made by small producers. We want our libations to work well with our food.

ME: Is this a take-out place?

TOM: We invite people to dine in but should someone want a pie to go I would be happy to box one up. Currently we are open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. We will be expanding our hours for the lunch crowd and we will be opening our patio up for outdoor dining by this summer.
ME: Anything else you think Madison Parkers should know the new joint?

TOM: I'm excited to join Madison Park's merchant gang. I'm looking forward to meeting the neighbors and feeding the eaters in this community.

Well, that’s about it for this pizza roundup. Bottom line: I think Mad Pizza has some competition on its hands, although maybe we’re talking about an entirely different segment of the market here: pizza aficionados. But don’t let my judgment rule. The patrons I spoke with had these things to say about their experience at The Independent Pizzeria: Unidentified (and wanting to remain so) Patron No. 1: “We’re from the East Coast and we know good pizza when we find it!” And Unidentified (I forgot to ask for a name) Patron No. 2: “This is better than Tutta Bella!”

(No, Tom is not paying me for this posting. And, as a matter of fact, I paid for my pizza too).

Some early reviews have been posted on two of the major restaurant customer-review sites, Yelp and Urban Spoon Seattle, and all of them are positive. So check the place out for yourselves. Just don’t show up on a Tuesday!

[Note: to-go orders must be made in person.]

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why a park?

KING-TV last week used the proposed park for the E. Madison Street road end (the LOLA project) as a jumping off point for a story asking why the City is going ahead with plans for new parks when it can’t even afford the upkeep on some of the ones it currently operates. It’s pretty well known that plans are afoot to reduce staffing this year in Seattle’s Parks & Recreation Department due to budget constraints. This means fewer people working maintenance and operations in the parks. Noting, in addition, that the Department is considering closing certain swimming pools, community centers, and wading pools, correspondent Linda Brill interviewed three Madison Park residents (Reg Newbeck, Jane Carter, and Ginny Thomas) who each sounded* as if they agreed that it doesn’t make sense to build a new park if the City can’t pay for proper maintenance of the existing ones.

Brill, however, may have been a bit off base in using the Madison Street park project as a cause célèbre for her story about the City’s dilemma in having a $15 million from a 2008 parks bond issue that it must spend on new parks but can’t legally use for park operations. First of all, the Madison Street park project is not moving forward, as Brill implied, simply because there is a bunch of money that’s sitting in a kitty awaiting park projects to fund. The LOLA project has been developed organically within the neighborhood and is being spearheaded by the Madison Park Community Council. The Council does plan to apply for grants from the City, including money from the bond issue, but efforts to create a park at the road end predate this potential funding source.

Secondly, it’s certainly not true that “the plan would be to cover over the concrete with grass” at our road end, as Brill reported. Far from it.

Three possible road end plans, in fact, were presented to a community meeting held last month at Park Shore. And none of them involved much, if any, grass. Murase Associates, at the behest of the LOLA (Love Our Lake Access) Committee, developed the multiple options after getting the input of several focus groups during the past few months. Here is an overview of the concepts, as presented:

Option One: Focus on the View

This proposed plan (click to enlarge) features active lookouts with terraces, small garden patches, concrete or stone pavers, a trellis, and decking. There is also a prominent water feature: a stormwater runnal down the middle of the space, which will empty into the Lake.

These are illustrations of some similar design elements as used in other installations, not necessarily ones designed by Murase:

Option Two: The Step-Down

This proposed plan features a sloped transition into the existing lawn at the right of the road end, so there would be some additional grass added to the site. A major element of this plan is a curving stone wall, with a stormwater runnel alongside. There is also a profusion of cherry trees, some wood benches, and stone steps leading down to an overlook area.

Here are some illustrations of design elements from this plan:

Option Three: Intimacy and Privacy

This proposed plan features a shallow stormwater reflecting pool and a cascading stormwater feature enclosed in stone blocks. There would be some additional lawn in this plan, as well as cherry trees, stone boulders, and some stepped terrace seating.

Here are some illustrations of design elements from this plan:

As presented by Murase Associates, these plans each reflect what the LOLA Committee felt were the “big ideas” arising from the various forums held to solicit input: 1) green space, 2) public access, 3) passive recreation, and 4) an opportunity to interpret history.

Because the site was for 80 or more years a ferry dock, the Committee felt that any design should incorporate a nod to the past with some kind of historic element. Additionally, the Committee concluded that any final plan should emphasize these three design concepts: gardens, views, and seating. And according to LOLA Committee member Kathleen Stearns, the road end park is also intended to be low maintenance.

The audience of 40 or 50 Madison Parkers who heard the presentation seemed enthusiastic about the designs, and plenty of input was provided about what seemed to work and not work in each of the plans. It is now up to Murase to create a final proposed site design which incorporates the best elements of the three options. This final schematic design will be unveiled at another community meeting to be held at Park Shore (1630 43rd Avenue E.) on May 26 (7:00 pm). If you have input you would like to make concerning these conceptual plans you may direct your comments to

We will be following up with another blog posting next week on one of the most controversial aspects of the LOLA project: the impact on parking in the vicinity. Let’s just say that not everyone is too happy with the idea of taking out all of that concrete. More to follow…
[*At least one of those interviewed, Reg Newbeck, reports that his quote was taken out of context and that he actually supports the idea of a road end park.]
Graphics courtesy of Murase Associates

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Luc to open Thursday

Madison Valley gets another French restaurant this week with the much-heralded opening on May 6 of Luc, owned and operated by the famous Thierry Rautureau, aka “The Chef in the Hat!!!”tm, whose principal claim to fame for many years has been Rover’s, just down the block. Where Rover’s is a very high-end sort of place, the concept for Luc is—well, let’s just say not the same. And by now, I should certainly know the difference.

It’s a difference that was pointed out to me several years ago when my wife and I dined at Rover’s for the first time. While there, it seems I made a bit of a mistake. When Rautureau came over to our table to ask if we were enjoying our meal, I let drop the fact that we were new both to Madison Park and to his restaurant. I told him that we were at Rover’s because we were looking for a really good neighborhood eatery. Bad move. “This is NOT a neighborhood restaurant” he told me in no uncertain terms. “This is a destination restaurant!” He asked where we had lived before. View Ridge, I told him. “Well, you could have driven here from there!”
And that was pretty much the end of the discussion.

So don’t call Rover’s a neighborhood joint. But I think Rautureau might not mind it if you applied the term to his new venture. This is what he had to say to about Luc: “My goal is to have it be a neighborhood anchor, the kind of place where you walk in and find just what you want, whether that’s solid or liquid. I want it to be fun, accessible and warm; a nice, fun place to be. It will be a casual, inexpensive American and French café with a bar. Food will be good, clean and simple. We’ll feature items like boeuf bourguignon, hamburgers and both French and American classic and contemporary food. I won’t be reinventing the wheel; everything will be recognizable."

A neighborhood joint!

It’s even got takeout. Well, after several months of renovation of the old Fast Frame shop location (2800 E. Madison Street.), it looks like things are ready to go (there was a private party there tonight to get things started). Those interested in knowing more about the concept of Luc can check out the details here. The restaurant’s new website isn’t precisely up and running yet, but Luc’s phone number is 325-7442.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Madison Park named one of Seattle’s best neighborhoods

Of course we knew this already, but Seattle Met magazine has reconfirmed the fact by naming Madison Park as one of the 15 best Seattle-area neighborhoods to live in. Referring to Madison Park as a “secluded little burg of high-priced homes,” the article quotes Madison Park Community Council president Ken Myrabo referring to our end-of-the-road community as a “destination” neighborhood (you really can’t just drive through it on the way to somewhere else, can you?).

Madison Park Hardware owner Lola McKee also gets prominent mention in the story, along with the LOLA road-end project; and our real estate market is fairly well dissected by the authors. In its statistical evaluation of our neighborhood, the magazine reports that the median income is $100,087, that the median age is 48, and that 41% of the adult population have college degrees.

What mars Seattle Met’s coverage, from my perspective, is their map of Madison Park. Once again the legacy of the City’s decision to truncate our neighborhood on its “unofficial” official neighborhood map plays its baneful role in media coverage of the Park.

While Seattle Met is not silly enough to think that the area to the south of Madison Park is really called “Harrison/Denny-Blaine” (as the city “unofficially” does), the magazine does buy into the boundaries for Madison Park set by the City, eliminating Washington Park from our neighborhood. Seattle Met solves the “Harrison/Denny-Blaine” dilemma by calling all of the area south of the Park “Madrona.” Thus Washington Park, in the magazine’s view, is a section of Madrona.