Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The buyer's dilemma: preserve or destroy?

A tale of three properties

To a greater extent than many other Seattle neighborhoods, Madison Park enjoys (or suffers from, depending upon your point of view) a lot of churning of its housing stock each year. At any given moment there are usually several homes being pulled down, torn apart, or otherwise rehabilitated. And while the rhythm of this ongoing neighborhood transformation accelerates or slows in keeping with overall market conditions, the cycle of destruction, renovation, and renewal is pretty much a constant in Madison Park—and has been for many years.

One of the reasons for this trend has been the increasing value of Madison Park land. Given that many neighborhood parcels have relatively tiny houses sitting on them, buyers are logically reluctant to maintain what is an anomalous condition: high-cost land with a low-value structure. The goal of achieving a property’s “highest and best use” comes into play in these situations as speculative builders and private buyers alike choose to demolish what exists in order to create large, modern, livable homes.

The house above, a new listing at 2338 41st Avenue E., in the area north of E. Madison Street, is a case in point.  A 1941 bungalow of about 1,000 sq. ft. had graced the property when a speculative builder purchased it in 2008:

Development was delayed for several years; but ultimately, Chaffey Building Group this year completed a five-bedroom, 3,750 sq. ft. house on the property, designed to appeal to today’s upscale buyer.  Priced at $1,750,000, the new house definitely has the amenities, interior space and visual appeal that its predecessor so clearly lacked.

But what if the little house that’s for sale on an expensive Madison Park property is considered a classic?  Though a speculative builder would almost certainly knock such a structure down and start over, a private buyer’s idea of “highest and best use” might be something entirely different:  preserve and enhance.  A Washington Park house, located at 1212 41st Avenue E. represents a fairly recent case in point:

Designed by renowned Pacific Northwest architect Ralph Anderson and built in 1959, the 1,500 sq. ft. bungalow, had definitely seen better days by the point it was sold in 2005.  Given the size of the lot, this “contemporary treasure” could easily have been replaced with an imposing structure almost three times as large.  But the ultimate buyer decided to rehabilitate the house, preserving its classic lines while updating its features to make it more livable.  It was an expensive process, but the outcome represented a rare neighborhood victory for both the preservationists and the minimalists in Madison Park.

Another classic home, which is currently on the market, potentially poses a bigger test between preservation and destruction.  This 5,100 sq. ft. “Roland Terry masterpiece” sits on a fabulous 7,800 sq. ft. view property across from the Seattle Tennis Club (1101 McGilvra Boulevard).

Built in 1954 and added onto in later years, it was a local precursor of the “contemporary style” of the angular/boxy structures that are now quite the thing with certain developers of Madison Park properties.

Roland Terry has such an exalted reputation that you might assume the buyer of this particular property would automatically rehabilitate and preserve it for posterity.  But even given the house’s $3,350,000 listing price, demolition or a complete gutting of the structure are possibilities that have apparently been broached by certain potential buyers who’ve toured the home. However horrifying such an outcome might be to those who value the past, the wrecking ball as an agent of “progress” is only too familiar in other area neighborhoods (just ask the folks in Medina), and it could certainly happen here.

We’ll be watching this one closely.

[Correction:  In earlier posting we identified the spec house cited above as being a Chaffey Homes project. The builder, Chaffey Building Group is, in fact, a different legal entity, though with certain principals and employees of the predecessor company in lead roles.]

Photo credits:  Top photo courtesy of Bob Bennion, Windermere Real Estate.  Cottage photo courtesy of the King County Assessor.  Ralph Anderson bungalow photo courtesy of Thomas Jacobson Construction.  Roland Terry home photos courtesy of Chris Sudore, Coldwell Banker Bain.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Justin Ferrari’s death IS a Madison Park story

Commentary by Bryan Tagas

This senseless shooting did not take place within our neighborhood, and the innocent victim of the crime did not live in Madison Park.  Yet the scene of the tragedy was close by and familiar to most of us, and the murdered man himself lived just a stone’s throw away. Both he and his family were known to many here in the Park.

Though elements of this story may have been familiar, the otherworld outcome—a random killing of an innocent in broad daylight—certainly is not. The death of Justin Ferrari on Thursday afternoon has us reeling.  Like Danny Westneat, as documented in his excellent front-page column in The Seattle Times today, many are thinking, “It could have been me.”

I was gently prodded by several neighbors yesterday to write about the shooting, even though there has been plenty of major-media coverage. “This killing is the only thing anyone here is talking about,” a friend told me. “You need to say something about it.” This story is both proximate (close in time and space) and particularly chilling for those of us who had come to look upon the Central Area as just another neighboring community.  Now we’re thinking differently.

What has changed?  Someone from around here, a Madrona neighbor, was gunned down while doing something any of us might have been doing ourselves. “This is not a case of someone driving through the Central Area at 1:30 in the morning,“ a Washington Park resident told me yesterday, “this is a daytime trip I myself make all the time.”

I can remember growing up in Seattle at a time when, unless you lived there or had to go there for some compelling reason, you were advised to avoid the Central Area.  I suspect this was an exaggerated precaution, not borne out by the reality of “danger” in that community.  But it was the perception of many, including my parents.

When I arrived in Madison Park ten years ago, it hardly occurred to me not to drive to or through what is now the Central District.  But given last week’s incident, I’m certain the thought will now cross my mind, however fleetingly.  The route and destination choices of Madison Parkers have undoubtedly been impacted by the shock of Thursday’s crime.

I did not personally know Justin Ferrari, but I’m told he was a wonderful person, a family man, and a good neighbor. I went online today to check out his profile on Linkedin, the business social-media website, and was surprised to discover that he and I actually had had a third-degree relationship: some of his “connections” were connected to some of my “connections”.

I may not have been directly connected to Justin in life, but by the manner of his death and my reaction to it, I certainly feel directly connected to him now.

[Thanks to the Central District News for the reference to Justin Ferrari's Linkedin page. Profile photo from Linkedin.]

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

News of the 'hood

'Why us?'

Employees of our local Wells Fargo branch may well be asking themselves that question after the Bank's windows were smashed in an overnight incident last week. This is the second such act of vandalism at Wells Fargo this year. But given the larger notoriety of certain other national banks (JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America for example), what justifies Wells Fargo as a particular target?  Wells was also singled out by the Occupy Seattle protesters during their downtown march a couple of weeks ago. Of course it's possible that this local crime is just a random bank smashing, unpolitical in nature.

The incident, which took place last Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, occurred within hours of our posting on vandalism in the neighborhood.  According to a resident living near the Wells Fargo office, Seattle Police took their time Wednesday morning going over the scene and taking a lot of photos.  No immediate word on whether anarchist symbols were spray painted on the building, as was the case when the Bank's windows were broken in January.  This incident may have been captured on on the branch's heavy-duty camera, though seasoned vandals would be unlikely to expose themselves to that kind of scrutiny unless disguised:

Aggravated assault with a weapon

On Saturday, Madison Park was the scene of an unusual crime involving a weapon, in this case a bottle of Bud Light.  An "Unpaid Intern" at The Stranger got the story ahead of us yesterday; and frankly, we could hardly do a better job of describing the incident. The posting, entitled "Never Get Between a Man and his Bud Light" can be found here. Presumably the bar involved is McGilvra's.

Rehashing the fence debate

We received a press release from Seattle Parks last week making it official that Madison Park's famous fence at Swingset Park is coming down, with the work expected to be completed by the end of June.  Meanwhile, Crosscut's Knute Berger, who served as a pro-fence-removal resident on the Park's advisory committee for this project, describes from an insider's perspective the interaction between the residents and the Parks people over how the fence was to be removed.  His take on the whole thing can be found here.

No more retail for Villa Marina (at least for now)

It looks like Lakeside Capital Management has given up, at least temporarily, on finding a new retail tenant for the space in the Villa Marina building that was vacated last month by Ropa Bella, the women's clothing store.  Although Lakeside, the building's landlord, was unwilling to confirm the story, we've heard from reliable sources that the space will soon become an office, rather than a new retail location.  It is possible that this is just a temporary situation, with a retail tenant still the ultimate goal.  So far, it has proven difficult to bring retail onto 43rd Avenue E., though Park Bench Gifts in the same building is gamely holding on.

[Madison Park's Wells Fargo branch is located at 4009 E. Madison St., Swingset Park is located at 2300 43rd Avenue E., McGilvra's is located at 4234 E. Madison St., and the Ropa Bella space is located at 1928 43rd Avenue E.] 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The President skirts the 'hood (again)

It always seems to happen this way (or at least it did the last time), but when President Obama comes to town and heads our direction, he never quite makes it into Madison Park proper. Yes, we can legitimately say that he traveled on Lake Washington Boulevard, which is the western/southern boundary of the neighborhood. But instead of turning up Madison and gracing us with his presence, he headed from the Arboretum on down to Denny Blaine for a fundraiser at the waterfront home of Ann and Bruce Blume (see video of his arrival here).  As far as we know, no one in the press (except for the Seattle Times) correctly called the neighborhood, however. It was variously described in news reports as Madrona, Madison Park, and even Broadmoor.  Well, all of these neighborhoods have a lot of potential rich contributors, and it's easy to get confused.

Say, look at this. Isn't the President's motorcade driving on the wrong side of the road?

Anyway, the President's arrival was either very exciting (for those people who showed up to cheer as he passed) or very irritating (for those many drivers stuck in traffic delays resulting from blocked roads due to security).  Maybe next time he's in town he can turn east on Madison.  We're relatively friendly down here, after all.

Location of Obama fundraiser in Denny Blaine
[Thanks to David Berryman for taking these photos and to his partner David Chapman for forwarding them!]

More Art in the Park

What would you do if you were lucky enough to have a bunch of talented artist friends, the kind who might be willing to lend you their art?  Well, if you're Madison Park resident April Pride, you'd borrow as much as would fit into your house, get the artists to hang their works on your walls, and invite everyone in the neighborhood to enjoy it along with you. And that's exactly what April's doing this Saturday, hosting an event in her home that's something of a cross between a gallery opening and house party. She's calling the occasion "he/art" (as in "home is where you hang your heart").  And we're all invited.

As regular readers of this blog well know, we're big fans of Art in the Park, so we have no hesitation in suggesting that Madison Park art lovers should take advantage of this opportunity to see works by Seattle-based artists Jen Ament, J.P. Canlis, Jules Frazier and Irene Wood (those are two of Jules Frazier's pieces shown above and one by Canlis below).  Pride, who with this show is celebrating eight years of living in Seattle, holds a Master of Arts from the Parsons School of Design and is, among many other things, an entrepreneur, interior designer, and blogger!

Here's how April describes her raison d'etre for this neighborhood show: "I have a personal relationship with each of these artists. Recently, I had a Eureka! moment and was inspired to bring them together and install in my home. The idea being that art is rarely seen as it will ultimately be presented (similar to clothes on a mannequin) and the white walls of a gallery can often intimidate a first-time art buyer."  Intimidation should not be a problem in April's Washington Park home, which is located at 1214 42nd Avenue E.

Golden Arboretum by Irene Wood

The doors open at 5 pm, Saturday May 12, and the open house continues until 9 pm. Food is by Dante's Inferno.  And, by the way, the art is for sale.

See you there!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

April Police Blotter

As reported in major local media, vandals attacked several expensive plantings in the Gateway to Chile section of the Arboretum last Thursday, inflicting about $43,000 worth of damage on the installation. It's speculated that perhaps someone wishing to celebrate Cinco de Mayo was simply gathering decorations for the festivities, but this willful destruction right on our doorstep could easily have been just a senseless act, like some of the other property damage that regularly occurs in the area.

The above map, covering crimes reported in March, shows two acts of vandalism during the month (represented by spray-paint-can icons).  But for the year to date there have been eight such incidents reported to police:

The kind of property damage generally inflicted when these crimes occur is minor, such as spray painting on the side of buildings, fences, and garbage containers. Earlier this year suspects attacked and damaged the display case in front of the Madison Park Bath House, the one that primarily exists to exhibit the meeting notices of the Madison Park Community Council. This was probably not a political statement--more likely the result of juveniles running amuck. There have also been some smashed windows reported this year, both on cars and on homes.  In these incidents it appears that the intention of the perpetrators was probably theft, but they were interrupted in the act.  In one case a woman noticed a man standing by her car late at night.  The man seeing he was being observed, left the scene and the next morning the woman discovered her car window had a small hole in it, but the car had not been entered. A similar situation was experienced by a homeowner who investigated a noise and found her backdoor window broken, but with no sign of anyone in the area.

There was also one apparently purposeful act of vandalism that happened  this year: A man deliberately smashed in an indoor plate-glass window at the Canterbury Shores Condominiums before calmly leaving the scene.  No word on what led to this act of destruction, which was both messy and costly. Seattle Police Detective Mark Jamieson points out that vandalism is almost always a felony since the cost the property destroyed or damaged in usually in excess of $250, which is the felony threshold.  The same $250 threshold applies to thefts, and most thefts in Madison Park therefore fit the felony category.

There were, in fact, two reported burglaries in the neighborhood during March.  In the first incident, April 18 on the 1800 block of 42nd Avenue E., a small office building was broken into through a smashed basement window.  The police report states that "the only property stolen" were three desktop computers and two external hard drives.  In the second burglary, April 24 on the 3900 block of E. Boston St., a homeowner discovered in the morning that sometime during the night someone had entered the house through an unlocked kitchen door and stolen several items from a kitchen counter, including an iPad.

During April there were seven cars broken into in Madison Park, four on one night alone. That night was Tuesday, April 24, when there were car prowls on the 4100 block of E. McGilvra, the 1500 block of 37th Avenue E., the 3700 block of E. Prospect St., and the intersection of E. Madison St. and 43rd Avenue E.  Two car prowls happened on the following night: on the 2000 block of 43rd Avenue E. and at the intersection of E. McGraw and Canterbury Lane.  Another car break-in occurred on April 10 on the 2500 block of Canterbury Lane.

Two cars were also stolen from the neighborhood.  One car was stolen from the 1500 block of 42nd Avenue E. on the night of April 4.  It was a Toyota Land Cruiser, not particularly new.  In what was probably a crime of opportunity, the stealers of that vehicle on rounding the corner to the next block discovered a new Mazda Miata convertible sitting in front of a neighbor's house with the keys either on the seat or in the ignition.  Both cars were reportedly seen driving in tandem west on E. Madison St. by the driver of a car driving east towards Madison Park. That car was a Seattle Police vehicle, and the officer minutes later received the car theft report. But by then the thieves were long gone.

[On the map above, the dollar bills represent incidents of fraud, usually involving credit cards or identity theft, the star bursts represent burglaries, the solid car represents a car theft, the non-solid cars represent car prowls, and the bike represents---you guessed it---a bike theft.]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The fence is coming down--and soon

The recalcitrants go down fighting

Ever since the Parks Board voted in December to take the fence down at Swingset Park (Madison Park North Beach), the only real question remaining was when. Now that question has been answered.  Seattle Parks confirmed to us late last week that the planning process has been completed, the neighborhood has been given its opportunity to provide input, and it's time to move on. The fence will be pulled down and trucked away by a Parks crew sometime this month.

Getting to this point has not been easy. The Parks Superintendent, in accepting the Parks Board recommendation last winter, mandated that before the fence comes down, the community should provide input on what comes after. To that end, a committee with a supposedly equal number of anti- and pro-fence-removal Madison Parkers was established to advise the Parks staff on landscape restoration at the park. Two meetings of the committee were held, the most recent occurring last Tuesday.

While the first meeting was reportedly collegial, the second and final meeting was something less than that. Though a Parks staffer reported to us simply that "the meeting yesterday did not go well," that was apparently an understatement. According to multiple witnesses, the meeting ended with one of the anti-fence-removal members telling a Parks staffer that many people in Madison Park consider members of his department to be "something lower than fecal matter." It has also been reported to us that during the course of the meeting an anti asked a Parks staffer what their name was so that he could make sure he spelled it right on the lawsuit he intended to file. It was that kind of meeting.

Other members of the committee, however, later dissociated themselves from the ill-mannered behavior of their fellow Madison Parkers, and in multiple emails praised the Parks staff for its professionalism and responsiveness. They expressed support for the process and seemed dismayed that any members of the committee could have mis-understood the purpose of the group. It appeared, one committee member stated, that certain other members would only be satisfied if a new fence were installed to replace the old one.

That, however, is not the plan.  This is the plan:

According to Parks staffer Susan Golub, once the fence is removed a Parks crew will begin installing the plantings and other natural materials that will act as a low barrier where the lawn comes into contact with the existing rip-rap. The first order of business, actually, will be to remove the blackberry bushes, but once that has been accomplished up to three different planting schemes will be employed:

Instead of a hedge or low fence, there will be logs, one-man rocks, aggregate, and driftwood at various locations along the ridge, as well as plantings of potentilla, gaultheria shallon (a leathery-leaved shrub),  Kinnikinnick (a low-creeping shrub), spirea (a small deciduous shrub), grasses, and other low- and medium-sized plants.  In other words: no view-blocking shrubbery and no new trees. The idea is to preserve as much of the existing lawn as possible and prevent erosion.  The aim of the whole project, after all, is to restore "public access" to Lake Washington.

It's the official view of Seattle Parks and Recreation that this is a done deal. All that remains is to carry out the work. As far as we're aware no one is seeking an injunction, so presumably the new Swingset Park will be unveiled in all its "unobstructed" glory sometime before the Summer rush begins.  Quite clearly, not everyone will be pleased.

[The Parks Superintendent and the Development Division Director will formally present the plan to the Madison Park Community Council meeting on Monday, May 7 (7 pm at the Madison Park Bath House), for those interesting in hearing the details and seeing the plan up close. Swingset Park is located at E. Lynn Street and 43rd Avenue E.]