Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Foes of the new 520 dig in

From the point of view of the State’s elected officials, it’s a done deal: the SR-520 floating bridge and its approaches will be replaced using the “preferred alternative” plan approved last year by the Governor. Although construction on the new bridge itself will not begin until next year, pontoon construction is already getting underway in Aberdeen, and construction is scheduled to begin next month on an SR-520 expansion project that will create a six-lane highway from Medina to Bellevue to better connect the new six-lane floating bridge to the Eastside.  And even though the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project has yet to be finalized, the State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is already conducting over-water fieldwork and on-land test drilling in preparation for construction of the new bridge.

In spite of all this “full speed ahead” activity on the part of State officialdom, however, the opponents of the “preferred alternative” have definitely not given up the fight.  In fact, with their other options becoming increasingly limited, the foes of the new bridge are girding themselves for the possibility of taking their case to court.  “We would still love to avoid a lawsuit,” says Fran Conley, leader of the Coalition for a Sustainable SR 520, “but it looks like we are heading that way.”

Conley states that there are several potential legal challenges that the opponents may pursue, including ones based upon the State’s supposed failure to adequately measure the traffic impact of the new bridge on the surrounding communities, the effect of construction on the environment, and the impact of the new bridge on open spaces and on water spaces. She says that both State and Federal laws govern these issues, none of which has been adequately addressed by the draft EIS.

Additionally, she notes, the draft EIS does not provide an analysis of two important factors: 1) the effect of having tolls on the floating bridge, and 2) the possibility of using the two additional traffic lanes (5 & 6) for busses only or for busses and eventual light rail only.  Both these things, she says, need to be studied.

In its literature, the group’s case against the “preferred alternative” plan is succinctly argued: “The state plans to spend money it doesn’t have to expand 520 in a way that doesn’t solve traffic problems and blights our historic communities.”  That’s a pretty comprehensive condemnation of a project that appears well underway, with construction bids for the floating bridge portion due to WSDOT by June 8.

The State, for its part, stresses theses positive aspects of the project: the replacement of a seismically unsafe floating bridge with one that can withstand both earthquakes and windstorms, the addition of a transit/HOV lane in each direction (as well as a bicycle/pedestrian path) across the new bridge, wider and safer traffic lanes, and the capacity of the new bridge to accommodate light rail at some point in the future.

We have given a significant amount of coverage on this blog to the issues surrounding the “preferred alternative” plan for the new bridge. Our previous postings have highlighted these salient facts: 1) the Arboretum on and off ramps to 520 will be eliminated, 2) the new bridge will be much higher, wider, and imposing than the existing bridge, and 3) funds do not currently exist to pay for the planned western approaches to the bridge. 

WSDOT has yet to produce a graphic showing the new floating bridge from a side view, as we would see it from Madison Park.  Opponents believe this is because the bridge will look pretty big and ugly from the water side.  This view, which comes from a WSDOT simulation, shows the projecting pontoons at the sides of the bridge.  These pontoons may extend nine feet above water level, and the bridge itself is expected to extend at least another 11 feet above that.

The purpose of this posting, however, is not to rehash any of those issues or to provide a comprehensive analysis of the pros and cons of the bridge project.  Rather, we are alerting our readership to the fact that both the opponents and proponents have upcoming information sessions where you can judge for yourselves whether this construction project is going to be, on the whole, a good thing or something less than that.

The State has been sponsoring “outreach sessions” to address citizen concerns and answer questions about the project.  The next such session will be held today, March 30, 5 to 7 pm, at Voxx Coffee in Eastlake (2245 Eastlake Ave. E.).  Information from WSDOT about the SR-520 bridge replacement project is available here

The Coalition for a Sustainable 520, meanwhile, will be holding a meeting at Park Place Deli (4122 E. Madison St.) on Saturday, April 2 at 9 am to inform Madison Parkers about their concerns surrounding the bridge project.  Information about the Coalition’s positions is available here.  The Madison Park Community Council, which is a member of the Coalition, is a co-sponsor of the session.  On Monday, April 4, Tom Rasmussen, Chair of the City Council's Transportation Committee, will be on hand at the regular meeting of the Madison Park Community Council (7 pm at the Bathhouse) to discuss the 520 situation.  The meeting is open to the public.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Madison Park makes another Best Places list

One local magazine (that shall remain nameless) had the temerity recently to not include Madison Park on its list of best places to live in the region.  How rude.  Madison Parkers can be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking that it’s the natural order of things for our neighborhood to automatically appear on such lists. Apparently, it’s not.

Fortunately for those of us experiencing a diminished sense of place, Seattle Met Magazine has just come to the rescue with another “Best Places” list to which we can point with pride.  Madison Park is listed as Number 12 on the magazine’s recently published list of “The 20 Best Places to Live Now.”  Also included on the list are nearby neighborhoods Pike/Pine, Madrona, Montlake, and Laurelhurst. Madison Park is cited as a waterfront destination neighborhood.  [Full disclosure: the author of the Madison Park Blogger is quoted in the section on Madison Park, opining that this is a liberal, welcoming, walk-around neighborhood that, once arrived, you really never have to leave.  Any dissension?]

By the way, that other magazine (the one that overlooked us) included both Madrona (34th Avenue, at least) and Capitol Hill (12th Avenue, at least) on its list of best places to live.  But in the same issue, the magazine chided Beacon Hill for not being quite “there” yet as a neighborhood.  Which is interesting, since Seattle Met this year places Beacon Hill at Number 1 on its Best Places list.  Proving only, we suppose, that when it comes to determining best neighborhoods, it all depends on who’s doing the choosing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

City likely to begin nighttime construction on East Madison Street through Madison Valley

As if the merchants of Madison Valley had not already endured enough disruption from the months-long construction of the stormwater pipeline, Seattle Public Utilities suddenly revealed in late February that it was contemplating turning portions of E. Madison Street into a one-lane thoroughfare and allowing no curb-side parking on the street during an upcoming weeks-long phase of stormwater mitigation work.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reaction of area retailers, service providers, and restaurateurs to this news bulletin was mixture of dismay, horror, and—at least in a few cases—outrage.  Now, as the result of a lot of back-and-forth discussion between SPU and the merchants, it looks like the City’s solution will be to do the work at night.  But because nighttime construction will create an uncomfortable or even untenable situation for many residents living in the immediate area, some of them will probably need to be moved into hotels for the duration—at the City’s expense.

In theory, at least, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Madison Valley merchants point out that they were told early on by SPU that the many months of planned construction on the Madison Valley Stormwater Project would not result in traffic disruption to E. Madison St. (other than for very brief periods).  The Madison Park Blogger, in fact, was told the same thing by the City when we did a story on the project in late 2009 (“Impact of Stormwater Project on Madison Street Traffic Expected to be Negligible”).  We asked SPU to explain the discrepancy and were told that when they talked to us they had only been referring to the main stormwater pipeline project and not the separate stormwater mitigation efforts related specifically to E. Madison Street.  Huh?

Well, it seems that what the City is soon to be working on is a separate-but-related project called E. Madison St. Stormwater Infrastructure Work.  According to SPU spokesperson Elaine Yeung, this construction effort, not directly part of the Madison Valley Stormwater Project, is designed to help divert the surface water that accumulates on E. Madison St.   And unlike the construction of the pipeline, which is a trenchless (underground boring) operation, the water diversion project for E. Madison St. will involve the digging of cross-the-street trenches.  Bottom line: the street will have to be torn up and then repaved after the new drains and pipes have been installed, likely a two-to-three-week process beginning in early April.

So, back to the City’s original plan.  That was to narrow E. Madison St. to a single lane during the open-trench phase of construction, with no on-street parking allowed.  Traffic would be backed up in both directions (east and west) for significant periods of time, with flaggers controlling the back and forth movement of the single traffic lane. Potential customers would necessarily find it even more difficult to get to Madison Valley shops than is already the case, thus creating an even worse nightmare for area merchants.

Upon learning this news, the Madison Valley Merchants Association (MVMA) immediately launched a campaign to change SPU’s planned program, requesting that the construction occur only between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, that on-street parking not be prohibited in the construction area, that the “No Parking” signs be taken down during the day or covered up when parking is allowed (since all many potential parkers see are the words “no parking” and then don’t read the details), and that entrances to parking lots not be blocked during construction.

SPU agreed to talk about the situation and scheduled multiple meetings for area merchants and residents to present their views. Sessions were held on March 5, 11 and 12, with most of the 30 or so Madison Valley business owners attending either one or more of the meetings.  A few local residents also showed up.  The merchants, at least, did not mince words.  Many described the potential negative impact of daytime open-trench construction on their individual businesses.  Restaurant owners were concerned about construction that would occur in the evenings as well, hoping that any work on the street could be delayed until at least 10 pm.  Emotions ran high at one of the sessions, as evidenced when a shop owner told the assembled crowd that at the rate things were going she was in danger of losing her house.

MVMA President Larry Levine says the business owners feel they’ve already suffered more than enough.  “The work over the Christmas holidays was longer than the City originally said--and that was hard,” he told us.  Additionally, according to Levine, the City did not make it clear to the merchants that there would be weeks of open-trench work this year.  “This could be devastating for some of the businesses,” he notes.  Just to put the situation into stark perspective, one shop manager told us that on a day when construction crews were working directly in front of his shop his total revenues were $25.

The City this week came out with a new construction schedule that limits construction to the period between 8 pm and 6 am (Monday through Friday), except during the street-repaving period, which is expected to last one week.   SPU’s additional concession was to work to make the “No Parking” signage more understandable, so that during periods when parking is allowed on E. Madison it will be clear to potential shoppers.

Whether these concessions will be satisfactory to the business owners (or for that matter, area residents) should be a bit clearer after SPU’s upcoming public meeting to discuss the new construction plan. The session will take place tomorrow, March 26, at Luc (2800 E. Madison St.) from 9:30 to 11:30 am.

Levine tells us that the restaurant owners, in particular, have problems with the idea of construction beginning at 8 pm, since the lights and noise will not only interfere with the dining experience but cause many restaurant goers either to have to park farther away or get up from dinner and move their cars off the street once construction is about to begin.

Although Levine says he believes the City is being more responsive than it had been, “right now it’s a wait and see attitude from me. My concern is how long is this construction going to take and when are they going to start.”  This view is echoed by Zach Letendre, Manager of Bill the Butcher, who says  “I wish the City had responded earlier to the needs of the businesses.”  To which he adds, “But if they can do the construction at night, I will be pleased with the outcome.”

[Information on the Madison Valley Stormwater Project is available here.  There are two locations principally involved in the open-trench construction phase:  1) the intersection of 29th Ave. E. and E. Madison St., near CafĂ© Flora, and 2) mid-block along E. Madison St. between Lake Washington Blvd. E. and 29th Avenue E., near City People’s.]  Photo at top by Duy Tran from

City settles with Madison Valley homeowners

A couple of weeks ago, The Valley View, the monthly community newsletter of the Greater Madison Valley Community Council, broke the story that the City of Seattle had settled a lawsuit with the twelve Madison Valley residents who had sued over stormwater and sewer damage to their houses. This original reporting by citizen journalist David Jacobson resulted from the discovery of the settlement through a public records request.  Jacobson learned that the City had agreed to pay the plaintiffs $2.5 million to keep the suit from going to court, and he shined the light of day on that fact.

Yesterday the story broke in The Seattle Times, which was gracious enough to acknowledge The Valley View as the initial source of the information.  KOMO-TV, which led with the story on one of its evening news shows yesterday, didn’t bother to cite the source of the news or make it clear that the out-of-court settlement, breathlessly reported as though it were a breaking story, was actually signed in November of last year.

Oh well, we know better.  Jacobson, who lives in Denny Blaine, made the Madison Park Blogger aware of The Valley View scoop at the time of publication. Although Madison Valley is not a part of our coverage area (other than the Madison Valley business district), we waited to make note of the settlement as part of our coverage today of the ongoing stormwater project. The residents' settlement with the City makes for an interesting story--and one that you can read in full here.

Three cheers for citizen journalism!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Readers send photos

New wading pool for the neighborhood?

Several MPB readers have sent us photos that we thought should be shared.  The one above was taken from his iPhone and forwarded to us by our neighbor, Scott Wilson.  It shows the lakeside park at E. Lynn St. and 43rd Ave. E. on Tuesday afternoon this week.  He notes that the parks department, with significant effort and presumably not a little cost, recently replaced a sand base for the swing-set area with a supposedly superior wood-chip base.  Perhaps, he says, the City's intention was to create a dual-use facility for the neighborhood, a combination swing set/wading pool.  "I'd call it a swool," he comments, "but others might call it a stupid use of money."

Does anyone remember seeing the area in this shape when the "inferior" sand base was still in place?

This must have happened on a weekend

Glenn Ader, director of the BRIGHT! Preschool here in the Park sent us this photo showing area preschool directors and teachers as they took a recent "time out."  Many of us are aware of the Madison Park Cooperative Preschool, operating out of the bathhouse, but who knew there were that so many private preschools operating in close proximity?  (We didn't, at least).  The purpose of this gathering, says Ader, was to share ideas and build relationships in order to improve programs for the children each preschool serves.

Pictured:  Sally Straight (Nanny's Annex), Frani Carlson (Frani's Preschool), Darlene Kenney (Frani's Preschool), Tea Carlson (Frani's Preschool), Megan Scott (Little Feet Preschool), Waleska Leiva (Mary Lane's Preschool), Jenny Cummins (Epiphany Pre-K), Andrea Losh (Harvard Avenue), Jackie Hubenet (Jackie's Pre-K), Christine Carlson (Little Feet Preschool), Glenn Ader (BRIGHT! Preschool), Mary Lane (Mary Lane's Preschool), Nora Wheat (Jackie's Pre-K), Nan Stephens (Nannies).

The Pavilion from a different view

From Madison Park resident and historian/author David Chapman comes this intriguing stereoview image of a prosperous-looking woman standing in front of the Park's then-famous Pavilion, sometime around the turn of the 20th Century.  Stereoscopic photographs (aka stereoview cards), which were apparently popular in the late 1800s, were composed of two nearly identical images mounted side-by-side on a cardboard backing.  These images were then viewed on a stereoviewer, providing an early form of 3-D effect. These cards were often sold as souvenirs, and Chapman speculates that this may have been one produced and sold around at time of the Alaska-Yukon Exhibition in 1909.

By the way, Chapman's latest book, just published, is "Venus With Biceps: A Pictorial History of Muscular Women."  Chapman will be giving a talk and a slideshow on  the subject at Elliot Bay Book Company (1521 Tenth Avenue) on Wednesday, March 30.

Chapman reports that the book, co-authored with Patricia Vertinsky, is getting good reviews, including this one in the New Yorker.  The Seattle Times also featured the book earlier this week.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Another bakery soon to arrive

Almost simultaneously with the arrival of a new patisserie in the general vicinity (Madison Valley), comes word that Madison Park itself is about to land another bakery alternative. Signs went up this weekend on the old Island Video space (3109 E. Madison St.) announcing the appearance, at some unnamed future date, of Belle Epicurean, which bills itself as "Seattle's premier patisserie." Belle Epicurean's main location is in the Fairmont Olympic Hotel downtown, where it has occupied a choice Fourth Avenue storefront for the past six years.  Owner Carolyn Ferguson, who studied cuisine and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, was profiled in a Seattle Weekly blog posting a year ago, and much earlier by Madison Park Conservatory's Maggie Savarino, back in the days when Maggie was a food writer for the Weekly.  But food writers are not the only ones to give BE high marks: the 95 reviewers of Yelp give the patisserie an average rating of four stars.

Belle Epicurean was famously (though not very) used in a scene for the ABC-TV show "The Bachelor" a couple of years ago, in which local (Kirkland) bachelor Jason Mesnick talked seriously to one of the show's contestants while they sipped hot chocolate. Or perhaps they were eating some of the patisserie's "signature" brioches during that pivotal scene (or is brioche also plural?).  Anyway, the place looked romantic, which may be tough to duplicate here in the new spot on Madison Street.  It seems that more than a bit of construction will be needed before the place is ready to turn out the croissants and spread the ambiance.

We've asked for the full story, and we'll keep you posted.

[Photo from the Belle Epicurean site.] 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Police Blotter 3/17/11

Well, it was inevitable that our local crime holiday would end. Unfortunately, criminal activity returned to normal levels in the neighborhood during the past month.  Where we had nothing to report in our last Police Blotter (2/16/11), we have plenty to report this time.

We’ll start with the five car prowls reported during the period: on 2/17 (the 2400 block of 42nd Ave. E.), on 2/22 (the 4000 block of E. Madison St.), on 2/24 (the 2000 block of 43rd Ave. E.), on 2/26, (the 1000 block of 34th Ave. E.), and on 3/5 (the 1100 block of 33rd). There was also a foiled attempt at a car prowl reported on the 800 block of McGilvra Blvd. E. on 2/23. In that case, the car owner heard the glass being smashed on the passenger window of his car, went out to investigate, and the perpetrator ran off.

There were also two thefts of “auto accessories” reported, one on the 1200 block of 41rd Ave. E on 3/10, and the other on the 3700 block of E. Blaine St. on 3/3.  In the latter incident, the BMW owner reported that just one tire had been removed from his vehicle sometime around 5:15 pm.  A bicycle, meanwhile, was reported stolen from the 4100 block of E. Blaine St. at about 9:00 am on 2/25.

There were a couple of misdemeanor arrests made in the neighborhood during the month.  One occurred on the 3200 block of E. Madison St. during the afternoon of 2/25.  The arrest followed an incident in which a homeowner discovered two men standing in his open garage on the alley behind his house.  Although they ran off, the suspects were later found by the police and questioned.  The one  with an outstanding warrant was arrested and the other suspect released.

The second arrest, on the 1800 block of McGilvra Blvd. E. on 2/28, was of a Madison Park resident who learned the hard way that losing her cool was not the best solution to the situation she (literally) ran into. The incident began when the woman tried to drive her car up an alley, discovering it was blocked by a truck that had deployed stabilizing jacks. According to the police report, the woman began honking her horn and screaming at the workers, who were installing an automated gate at a residence.  As the altercation escalated it caught the attention of a neighbor, who called the police. When the workers suggested that the woman back her car up and go around the other way, the driver reportedly accelerated her car in the direction of the workers before slamming on her breaks, causing some property damage.   She later drove off, but the workers wrote down her license plate number and the police confronted the driver at her residence. After she was interviewed she was arrested for harassment, reckless endangerment, property destruction, and reckless driving.   She was taken to the East Precinct Station, where she was booked and later released.  The police report has been forwarded to the City Attorney’s office for possible prosecution.   The incident occurred at about 5:08 in the evening, so it may well have been collateral fallout from a bad day at the office.

Several burglaries were also reported during the last month.  One occurred sometime during the night of 2/16 on the 2100 block of 38th Ave. E.  In that incident, forced entry occurred through the back door of the residence, the suspect(s) using a blunt object to shatter the door window and then reaching inside to unlock and open the door. While in the residence the perpetrator(s) stole a laptop from a kitchen counter and jewelry from the master bedroom closet, including a one carat diamond ring and platinum wedding band.  Latent finger prints were found, but the police report ends on this interesting note: “Due to the cost amount of the stolen items taken from the listed residence [estimated at $11,500], SPD detectives were contacted, but declined to respond.”

Another burglary occurred on 3/12 in an apartment building on the 1800 block of 43rd Ave. E.  In that incident a woman reported that she had been having dinner at a restaurant in Belltown when her purse was stolen containing the keys to her car and apartment.  She later discovered that her car had been stolen from the parking lot, so she decided to stay the night at her mother’s home.  Upon returning to her apartment the following day she noticed that her laptop was also missing.  She told police that the computer was not password protected an contained some important financial information that could be used fraudulently.

Finally, there was also a break-in at an unoccupied commercial building on the 3100 block of E. Madison St. on 3/7.  The police report states that the building owner noticed that the rear glass door had been shattered sometime during the night and entry may have been made, though nothing of value was in the store.

[Key to crime-map symbols: starbursts represent burglaries, solid cars represent car thefts, un-solid cars represent car prowls, spray-paint cans represent property damage, upraised hands represent shoplifting, dollar bills represent thefts, handcuffs represent arrests under warrants, guns represent weapons involved, red exclamation points represent cases of harassment, and gray cars represent traffic incidents. This map covers the period from February 16 through March 16.]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, President Madison

Today marks the 260th anniversary of the birth of the man for whom, indirectly, Madison Park was named: James Madison, fourth President of the United States (1809-17).  Madison, known as “The Father of the Constitution,” served two terms in office, preceded by Thomas Jefferson and succeeded by James Monroe.  As President, Madison presided over the War of 1812, which resulted in the British setting fire to the White House, but which also culminated in future-president Andrew Jackson’s triumph at the Battle of New Orleans.

We say indirectly with regard to our community’s name, since the Madison Park neighborhood was actually named after the Park at the end of Madison Street, the street itself having been named in honor of the Fourth President.  We chronicled that story at this time last year (“We could be living in Monroe Park”).

An interesting historical fact:  President Madison had a different Vice President for each of his two terms, the second one being Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts politician for whom the term “Gerrymandering” is named.

[Graphic:  President Madison, Oil on Canvas, Bradley Stephens (after Charles Wilson Peale), courtesy of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.]

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Madison Park real estate by the numbers

When we last posted a monthly real estate report, one of our loyal readers wrote in to comment that all the charts and graphs were putting him to sleep.  Another reader, however, responded that his reaction to the post was quite the opposite:  he was having trouble getting to sleep.

Obviously, not everyone is into the local real estate scene to the extent that we are or necessarily wants to be confronted with the details, especially if the news is bad.  Madison Park Blogger covers real estate so extensively that at least two national blog-listing sites categorize us as a real estate blog, rather than hyperlocal one.  We intend to continue our intensive coverage of the Madison Park real estate market and to do so, when possible, in a quantitative manner.

So that said, here’s some data on how our real estate market looked over the past five years in terms of median housing values. The chart above (click to enlarge) shows that there has not been an overwhelming change in the price of sold houses and condos compared to the beginning of the period.  As was true for the rest of the Puget Sound region, Madison Park hit the high in 2007, with a median price of $1,100,000.  The Park rebounded in 2009 with a median price almost at that level: $1,060,000.  But the market declined in 2010 to $975,000, representing an 11% decline from the 2007 high.  For Seattle, it has been about a 28% decline since 2007.

Based on just these numbers, it appears that our neighborhood has done much better than others.   But this could be misleading.   The number of sales in Madison Park is just too small for these aggregate statistics to be as meaningful as they would be for a larger sample, such as West Seattle or Bellevue.  On the chart above (and on those below) the numbers appearing in the various columns represent the total number of sales for each year.  As you can see, Madison Park had only 128 sales in 2006, declining by 43% to 73 sales in 2009 before rebounding to 105 sales in 2010.   These are pretty small numbers, even for the highest-volume years.   The types of homes that actually sell in a given year can easily skew the data.  For example, we know that very few houses priced at $1 million or under have been for sale during the last two years.  Naturally, therefore, most the houses that are selling are in the upper market.  This may mask an overall lowering of housing values for the market as a whole.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to compare the median selling prices, both by year and by neighborhood.  The charts below, unlike the one above, show only single-family homes that were sold each year.

Here’s the story for our most-exclusive enclave, Broadmoor, which took its big hit in 2009, with only six sales during the year and a 13% price decline from the previous year’s level.  Broadmoor saw three times the number of sales in 2010, but a further 11% price decline. Overall, Broadmoor’s median price for a house is down 26% from the 2007 high of almost $2 million.

Washington Park, meanwhile, suffered a 29% decline in the median house price between 2006 and 2010, though there was a one-year rebound in 2009.  With only 14 sales that year, however, it was probably a few outliers that skewed the numbers upward.  As was true for Madison Park as a whole, there was much greater sales volume in Washington Park during 2010 than had occurred in each of the previous three years.  But the median price could not hold at 2009 levels.

Finally, for the rest of Madison Park, principally the area north of Madison Street, things look pretty good.  The median sales price in 2010 was actually higher than the price in 2006: $960,000 versus $935,000. That’s a 3% increase!  But in this area of the Park the height of the market occurred in 2008, when the median price was $1,250,000. Since then, the median price has declined by 23%.

And that, for what it’s worth, is the five-year Madison Park real estate story in graphs. Whether this data will make you sleepy or sleepless may depend on when, exactly, you purchased your home.  Or perhaps the bigger issue is whether you plan to sell your house sometime soon or intend to be carried out of it feet first.  We suspect that that those who are bored by the numbers are in that latter category.

[Thanks to Laura Halliday of Windermere Real Estate for compiling the data for these charts, based on information supplied by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.]

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ML King School sale: done deal

The Seattle School District confirmed last month that the sale of the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School site in Madison Valley had been finalized and ownership transferred to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), as approved by the School Board in a controversial decision late last year.  FAME was the lowest bidder for the site, and the District walked away from the millions of additional dollars it would have received if it had sold the property to neighboring Bush School.

Recently, there has been speculation by some opponents of the sale that the FAME purchase could be overturned.   The Seattle Weekly was the first of the media outlets to pick up the story, followed by KING-TV on its 11:00 broadcast last night.  The basis for the hope of re-opening the MLK school-sale decision is the fact that then-District official Fred Stephens, boss of the now-notorious Silas Potter, was heavily involved in FAME at the time the District agreed to sell MLK to the Church.  According to the Weekly, Stephens' father was a one-time pastor at FAME, and Stephens himself was active in the Church. This connection has led some to speculate that Stephens had an unfair role in getting the School District to accept a lower offer for the MLK property from FAME.

The School District, however, rejects these claims of possible conspiracy or, at minimum, conflict of interest in the MLK sale. School Board member Michael DeBell was interviewed on KING stating that Stephens had nothing whatsoever to do with the District's decision-making process.  However, Adrienne Bailey, leader of the Madison Valley residents who wanted to create a community center at MLK, was also interviewed, stating that she has evidence in the form of emails that show Stephens was, in fact, involved in the District's process.

Short of proving the sale of MLK was a fraudulent transaction, however, it is hard to see how the District could be forced to try to recover the Elementary School property, now that the deed has been transferred.   There's been no comment, apparently, from FAME on the supposed Stephens connection to the property sale.

Meanwhile, we have been asked whether FAME has the right to dispose of the MLK site and keep any profits the Church might realize from the sale.  We have read the MLK purchase and sale agreement and the related restrictive covenant agreement, and it appears that FAME is not prohibited from selling the property so long as certain community-use conditions continue to be met.  The draft documents are available here for those who want to look for themselves.  For some reason, the executed documents are not available online, but the School District has confirmed to us that "the draft was not significantly different from the final" documents.

As a practical matter, however, it seems unlikely that anyone would want to buy the property from FAME with the restrictive covenant in place.  If community use of the site does not continue at the level contemplated by the agreement, rent will have to be paid to the School District for the conversion to non-public purposes.  For example, $6,000 would due as an annual penalty for each classroom redeveloped for non-public use, and $20 per hour would be charged for each hour of contemplated public-use of the gym space that does not, in fact, occur.  These rents or "value-sharing payments" would continue for the 40-year life of the restrictive covenant.  After that point, the School District would apparently no longer have any control over the property's use.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When one door closes, another opens

We've had a spate of stories over the last few weeks about businesses in the area closing their doors. So it's nice to be able to report on a new business that's filling a space recently vacated. Ines Patisserie in Madison Valley quietly opened its door at the end of last month, without advertising or fanfare.

Located in the space that was exited last year by Suess Chocolates (2909-B E. Madison St.), the patisserie features local and organic products wherever possible, according to owner Nohra Belaid, who says she's aiming for "small" and "quality" in her new establishment.

Until sometime in 2008, Belaid was the owner/chef of Bistro Mazaran, a well-regarded French restaurant in Madrona.  She reports that she gave up that business because of the hassle of trying to run a restaurant while raising two children.  The patisserie, she says, offers her the opportunity to do what she loves while still having time to devote to her family.  She spent two months on renovations to the space. The shop is open 8 am - 5:30 pm, Wednesday through Sunday.

Interestingly enough, there are two reviews of Ines Patisserie on Yelp. The first review is by someone named "Nohra b."  Her five-star review says "Simply an awesome place!!!"  The second reviewer gives the place only one star and ends her review with "expensive..not worth it."

[And while we're on the subject of doors opening and closing, we should note that it is not true that Park Place Deli has changed hands. Some may have seen the notice on the door late last month stating that there was "new management" and that the shop would be closed for a day.  We checked on the story and discovered that the ownership of PPD has not changed.  John McCormick, who bought the shop almost four years ago, has simply taken a step back from day-to-day management, turning that role over to manager Emelia Harris. The temporary closing was simply a re-tooling day, she tells us.  She adds that she's not expecting much in the way of changes, but new menu items will probably be on the board as we move into summer.]

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More art in the Park

We love art, and we especially appreciate Madison Park artists.  So we are pleased to be able to report that two neighborhood artists have exciting news to share this month.

Brooke Westlund reports that she's currently in the process of creating a functioning art studio/gallery "down under" in the Pike Place Market. It's Space #328, and it'll be ready for its close-up (we mean opening-night blowout), on Wednesday, March 16 (5-7 pm).  Meanwhile, Brooke and her friend Sam Taylor are jointly showing their work on the walls of Park Place Deli this month, for which there will be an artists' reception this Thursday, March 10, 5:30 to 8 pm.  Come one, come all.  The Deli is located at 4122 E. Madison Street.  (That's Brooke's painting, On The 313th Day, shown above, with an overlay of drawings by Sam).

Bud Lowe is also taking his art to the next level, opening a studio in the "lower level" of the building that houses the new KeyBank branch. Lowe, who works in both watercolors and acrylics, already has his art on the walls in his downstairs location and is ready for visitors.  His recently-mailed announcement of the Bud Lowe Art Studio/Gallery, states that studio hours are "9 am-ish to 5 pm-ish on weekdays and often on Saturdays, with time off for lunch and requisite naps and doctors' appointments.  Best to call first [206-227-9760]."   We don't think that Bud will mind our noting that he is one of the Park's older accomplished artists.  His studio's address is 4105 E. Madison Street. (That's his watercolor, Gig Harbor #1, shown below).

Readers respond

Several readers gave us feedback after our recent Seen or Heard in the ‘Hood posting, most of it benign. However, we won’t be making any more jokes on the blog about missing cats, since one reader commented on having found the remains of a white Persian, which apparently had been killed by some animal around the time that a coyote was reported in the neighborhood. The discovery occurred about three blocks south of where the coyote was last seen. As the tag to our coyote-alert posting, we had facetiously asked if anyone was missing a cat.  Not funny in hindsight.

A couple of readers reported sharing the experience of our MPB tipster, who we noted was unable to get a refund from Island Video after it shut down. This, in spite of a notice on the shop's door stating that refunds would be provided to those who had made deposits. Someone asked, “What do I do now?  Small claims court?”   Apparently so.

Another reader reported a similarly irritating experience with a different Madison Park business that recently shut its doors, Maison Michel.  In his case, the complainant says, he had given an antique piece of furniture to the store to sell on consignment. Although the store sold the piece, no payment has been made to him, the consignor tells us. We've heard anecdotally that others have had the same experience, and after our initial post, several readers confirmed these stories to us. [Blogger's Note:  Dee McQuesten, principal of McQuesten Fine Art Services, has requested that we clarify for our readers the fact that the art gallery she operated within the Maison Michel space was in no way legally connected with Maison Michel.  We have not heard of any problems associated with the art gallery, only with the consignment business operated by Maison Michel.]

Our report on how to get Good to Go! passes for paying the new tolls on the SR-520 floating bridge drew an email from a reader who reports that it is, in fact, not possible to get the passes at Safeway stores, as we had suggested.  What you can get at Safeway, apparently, is a packet that includes a pass that still has to be either activated online or at a WSDOT office.  So, if you are trying to avoid the internet, it apparently is possible, just a bit more complicated than we advertised.

Finally, Mark Long of The Attic, corrected our posting with regard to when “The Hollywood Bank Robber” visited Madison Park to rob a bank (it was the 1990s and not the 1980s, as we originally reported). Long says he thinks that two different branches might have been robbed at about the same time. We’re still reading a book on the subject, and we'll let you know in a later posting what we discover.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Seen or heard in the ‘hood

A Madison Park resident reports that while out for an early-morning walk last Tuesday she spotted a “scrawny” coyote at Madison Park beach.  She tells us that at about 6:30 am she was strolling along 43rd Avenue E., near the Bathhouse, when the coyote suddenly ran up from the beach, crossed the street, and stopped to survey the Park from the high point of the embankment, near the children’s play area. Moments later, an unsuspecting squirrel crossed the street under the watchful eye of the coyote, who then took off in hot pursuit of the prey. Fortunately for the squirrel, it was quick enough to scamper up a nearby tree just in the nick of time.  What happened to the obviously hungry coyote thereafter is a mystery, since our informant had to get to work and couldn’t stay around to monitor the situation.  She wonders:  Was the coyote spotted by anyone else later that day? (By the way, anyone missing a cat?)

We have it on good authority that the police recently accosted a bunch of high school kids who had been using the roof of a Madison Park commercial building as a regular partying venue.  It seems that the business owner whose shop occupies the space below became suspicious of the illicit activity, apparently because of the debris being left behind each night by the revelers.   Acting on his suspicions one evening last month, he returned to the premises and caught the culprits red handed. He then called in the authorities to administer a stern warning to the kids, though we understand that they were all allowed to vacate the area without charges being pressed.   Reports indicate that at least one of the partyers was wearing a Seattle Prep-emblazoned article of clothing when confronted by the police.  Whether he or any of the other miscreants were actually students at that august school is, however, a matter of conjecture.

A more exciting police intervention occurred in the Park last Wednesday, when two police cars, sirens blaring, rushed down Madison Street and screeched to a halt in front of the KeyBank branch at 4105 E. Madison St.  According to a witness, the police came prepared for action.  With assault rifles in hand, they immediately surrounded the building and ordered all passersby into the building’s lobby. Once they had the situation under control they discovered that the Bank’s alarm had been triggered accidentally (or something like that).  At any rate, no one was actively robbing the bank. Nevertheless, it was apparently quite a scene for those who got to observe the police response. It’s certainly not unprecedented for a bank branch here in the Park to be robbed.   How often this has happened is a subject of speculation (we’ve heard there’ve been four such incidents in recent years, but we don’t have a verifiable source).   The Madison Park branch of Bank of America (then known as Seafirst Bank) was famously and successfully robbed by “The Hollywood Bank Robber” in the 1990s.   Bestselling local true-crime author Anne Rule chronicled the saga of this local-boy-makes-bad in her book, The End of the Dream: The Golden Boy Who Never Grew Up.  We’re now busily reading it to see if there’s a future blog posting in there somewhere. (We’ll let you know).

Our final entry for this edition of Seen & Heard is this report from a disgruntled former patron of the now-defunct Island Video:  It seems that although the sign on the door states that those who had deposits with Island Video could ask for a refund, actually receiving a refund is proving a more difficult proposition. Or, at least that’s the predicament of our informant.  She says she’s made repeated calls to the number listed on the notice, but has had no response whatsoever to her voicemails seeking her money back.  We tried to get some answers by calling Island Video’s owner, but we also got nada.  Anyone else having the same experience?

[Photo of Western Coyote by Rebecca Richardson (Red-Star) on Wikipedia.  This is not the scrawny coyote mentioned in the posting.]