Thursday, June 28, 2012

Real estate on the rise?

The story of the local real estate market, in line with what’s happening nationally, is primarily about how low inventory levels and apparently increasing demand may be forcing prices upward. The Seattle Times, for example, recently touted the fact that home prices in King County are continuing to rise.  Quoting May information from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS), the paper reported on its front page earlier this month that the median price of a single-family home in King County was up almost 5% year over year while Seattle’s median price had increased by over 10%.

West Seattle, Leschi, Mount Baker, Queen Anne and Magnolia were among the Seattle neighborhoods singled out as having had the biggest increases in median prices, but Madison Park was not mentioned.  The MLS, however, does not break out sales information for this neighborhood, lumping Madison Park together with Capitol Hill, Madrona, Leschi and Montlake.  So it’s not clear how the MLS information might have been mined by the Times to indicate that Leschi is hot right now.  For the wider MLS region that includes both Madison Park and Leschi, the May data are actually a bit mixed.  While the median price of homes rose from $394,500 to $447,500, a 13.4% increase, those numbers include condo sales.  Just looking at single-family homes, as the Times did, the median price for our part of town actually fell from $635,000 in May 2011 to $562,500 in May 2012.  That was the third-largest decline of any King County area tracked by the MLS.

Statistics have their limitations, of course.  We’ve often noted that small changes in the composition of Madison Park sales can have a big month-over-month impact on the numbers.  This is true, but to a lesser extent, for the MLS real estate region we are part of and for the year-over-year numbers as well.  For the Capitol Hill/Madison Park/Montlake/Madrona/Leschi neighborhoods as a whole, listings were down almost 33% year over year, while sales were up 30%.  This data may represent a good sign for the future, since increasing demand should impact median prices in the long run, assuming inventory does not ramp up even faster.

Hot on the heels of the Times’ coverage, the Wall Street Journal weighed in with a front-page story of its own last week.  In it, Seattle’s real estate market was specifically called out.  The article, “Housing Comeback Remains Uneven,” noted that a recent analysis of national real estate trends by Zillow concluded, “Homes in sought-after neighborhoods, including those near transportation corridors and with top-notch public schools, are finding buyers.”  Other neighborhoods not so blessed, however, are “languishing.”  A map of Seattle zip codes shows the 98112 area as being in the very top tier of Puget Sound communities, with a 5% January-through-April increase in home values.

According to Zillow’s chief economist, Stan Humphries, as quoted by the Journal, more than a third of Seattle’s zip codes showed increases during the period, a sharp increase from last year, when only 3% had rising values.  Redfin’s chief executive Glenn Kelman, meanwhile, is quoted by the paper as saying that Seattle’s market is characterized by a “flight to quality.”  While home prices are up in neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, median prices are still on the decline in “Seattle’s far-flung exurbs and emerging urban communities,” says the paper.  The article’s accompanying colored map shows a lot of red and pink throughout the Puget Sound region (marking areas of continuing decline) while bits of green (spotlighting areas with home-price increases) are centered primarily in the core of Seattle.  Madison Park and our immediately surrounding neighborhoods are all some shade of green, with the exception only of the Laurelhust and University District area just north of the ship canal.

Whether there really is a flight to quality in Seattle should become more evident as the year progresses. Madison Park has apparently always bounced back very well from downturns in the past, and if good schools and close-in location are now the most important variables, this neighborhood and the surrounding communities should continue to stand in good stead.  Anecdotally, local real estate agents report that there have recently been multiple-offer situations for several Madison Park properties, including for a couple of houses in the over-$1 million price range.  It’s been a long time since we’ve heard of that kind of action.

Even so, it may be premature to accept at face value the subject line of a recent email we received from Redfin: “The Bottom?  That Was So Last Year.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Another neighborhood original comes down

Since our posting last month on residential destruction and renewal in Madison Park, at least three more houses have been demolished to make room for new structures. This 800 sq. ft. house at 42nd Avenue E. and E. Lee Street, which bit the dust this morning, is just the latest casualty.  Originally constructed in 1919,  it purportedly was built as a beach cabin for the president of Frederick & Nelson (a now-defunct department store). The house had apparently not benefited from any renovations since the early 1950's, so when the tall Portuguese Laurel hedge and large fir trees were recently removed from the property, it was a shock to many to discover that was an old house buried in there.

It took about four hours for the structure to be pulled down. Construction will soon begin on a high-end, energy efficient house, three times or more the size of the original structure. As one passerby commented upon seeing the destruction underway, "Well, the neighborhood pattern continues..."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

NW Sports Rehab enters the scene

A new neighborhood chiropractic clinic with a special emphasis on rehabilitation, exercise, nutrition and soft-tissue work, will open its doors for business on Monday. NW Sports Rehab, which is an offshoot of an existing 16-year-old clinic based in Federal Way, held an open house on Saturday to introduce the staff and let neighbors see the new configuration of what for many years was Spa del Lago.  The wall-length water feature remains, but the space has been updated and the treatment rooms expanded.

Dr. Jim Kurtz, who along with his wife, Dr. Ming Ming Su-Brown, owns the clinic, tells us that his experience convinced him that the general public could benefit from the same kind of comprehensive approach to combining chiropractic, physical therapy, and soft tissue work that is successful in treating professional athletes.  He has an extensive background working with Olympic and college athletes, as well as with the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders and many other amateur and professional sports programs.  "I really believe that whether you are a housewife, or an office worker, or a competitive masters athlete, or a recreational golfer, old or young,  you can learn to take an active role in your health and to do a little bit to make a difference in how you feel," he told us.

Kurtz notes that there are studies showing what minimum levels of strength, flexibility, endurance and balance are needed to achieve normal function in all areas on one's body.  "If you don't have that then you are going to have joint alignment issues, disc problems, tendinitis, knee pain, tennis elbow, chronic neck, and shoulder pain, etc. That's our philosophy in a nutshell."

As if to show that the clinic's mission is much more than chiropractic services, NW Sports Rehab will be presenting a free class on detox, "The Standard Process Purification Program," next month. Focusing on overcoming inflammation, fatigue, brain fog, digestive disorders, sleep issues, allergies and other associated ailments, the class will be taught by Dr. Katie Horton and will be held at the clinic on July 11 at 6:30 p.m. Those interested in attending should contact NWSR at (206) 328-5466. The clinic is located at 1929 43rd Avenue E.

[Photo of staff courtesy of NW Sports Rehab.]

It must be summer

As the first weekend of summer got underway on Saturday, it was not apparent from the weather that we had already passed through the summer solstice.  But the dutiful arrival of this year's Madison Park Beach lifeguards was confirmation enough that summer was officially underway.

The lifeguards pulled out and tested the rowboats, strung up the swimming-lane markers, and then began that all-important annual ritual: removing months of accumulated goose poop from the lawn and beach.

Continuing through the first weekend of September, the lifeguards will be at the beach from noon until 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. on weekends.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Upcoming events

Fat Salmon returns to the Park next month

It's an annual ritual: the summer arrival of the salmon to Madison Park. They come in ice chests, of course, and are the reward for swimming well done by the hundreds of participants in the Fat Salmon Open Water Swim, which this year occurs on Saturday, July 21. Registration is already full (all places were filled within four days of registration opening, a record). Those not actually swimming (or escorting swimmers in kayaks) can still enjoy the event by cheering on the teams as they arrive at Madison Park Beach. This is always a lively event for everyone--except the salmon.

Bastille Bash planned for Madison Valley

Madison Valley is leveraging its reputation as a French-themed business district by celebrating Bastille Day this year with a Bash on July 14.  There will be live music, food, wine tastings, giveaways and other festivities in honor of France's most important national holiday. The Bash this year will provide support for the Children's Response Center, a program of Harborview Hospital.

Bastille Bash wil begin at 3 and end at 8 p.m.

NW Sports Rehab holds open house Saturday

It's taken a bit longer than planned for the renovation of the space vacated by Spa del Lago (1929 43rd Avenue E.) to be completed, but NW Sports Rehab will be opening next week and hosting an open house this Saturday, June 23, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The new sign is up, the space is virtually complete, and everyone in Madison Park is invited to come down and check things out.

Swim for Life looking for swimmers

Another worthy annual event that calls Madison Park Beach the finish line each year is Swim for Life, which benefits the Puget Sound Blood Center.  Registration is still open for teams interested in swimming to support PSBC's Be the Match registry program. We will have more on this event as we get closer to the swim date, August 15.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

May Police Blotter

Man with a gun

There was plenty of press coverage last month of the incident that's designated on the neighborhood crime map above with a blue gun icon. That's the location where on May 30 Seattle Police arrested a man for unlawfully brandishing a gun in public. Although any kind of gun-toting event would always be a major story in Madison Park, what made this particular incident newsworthy to the wider public was the timing:  May 30 was the day that Ian Stawicki fatally shot five people in the Roosevelt District, later killing a woman downtown whose car he then hijacked. At the time of the Madison Park incident, Stewicki was still on the run (though he later killed himself when cornered by police).

At 1:30 p.m., just two and a half hours after Stawicki shot the patrons of Cafe Racer, students at The Bush School noticed a man in a black jogging suit and gloves running by the School.  In his hand was what appeared to be a gun. The man suddenly stopped and began doing some stretches, during which time he apparently placed the gun on the ground. Bush was immediately put into lockdown mode and the police were summoned. Upon their quick arrival at the intersection of Hillside Drive E. and Lake Washington Boulevard E., officers confronted the suspect and relieved him of a Glock Model 23 (as shown below).

The man told police that he had "not carried a gun in two years" but had decided to carry one on this day because of the Stawicki shootings.  He said that he'd noticed that the Bush students were observing him and had thought to himself, "I hope they don't call the police!"  The man had a permit for the gun and a license to carry a concealed weapon. Unfortunately for him, it is not legal to walk or run around the city with a gun in your hand. He was taken into custody for unlawful carrying or handling of a weapon.  In the words of Police spokesman Sean Whitcomb, "This citizen used bad judgment."

Meanwhile, some other criminal acts of note

We've already covered the incident last month involving a bottle of Bud Light used as a weapon against an employee of a Madison Park bar.  The police report we recently reviewed adds some interesting details.  Apparently all of the four suspect patrons of the bar were pretty big guys (one was 6'4'' and 220 lbs., while another was 5'10" and 220 lbs.). They left the bar with beer bottles in hand but were then asked by the cook, whose height and weight are not indicated in the report, to return to the bar to finish their beers on premises. The cook decided to follow them down the street, where he further decided to intervene in a fistfight that was already underway between the former patrons.  For his efforts, he was punched, pushed into the bushes, and hit in the face with a beer bottle.

The police report states that one of the suspects had earlier paid for a pitcher of beer using a debt card and that fingerprints were recovered from a remains of the beer bottle used as a weapon.  This case is listed by the police as "Open."

There was only one residential burglary reported in the neighborhood during May.  That incident occurred on May 9 on the 3800 block of E. McGilvra.  The victim reported to police that sometime between 8:30 a.m., when he left his residence, and 12:30 p.m., when he returned home, someone had prised open his kitchen door and entered the house. He reported that some presumably valuable "silver table/tea pieces" were missing, for which he had pictures.  No fingerprints were recoverable at the scene. There was also one attempted burglary reported on 400 block of 39th Avenue E. Someone had attempted to gain entry to a house by trying unsuccessfully to remove a screen over the window, which was damaged in the process.  The rather well-know homeowner had been away from her residence for two months and had only returned to the house the previous day.

There were two car prowls reported during the month, one on 5/5 on the 1900 block of 42nd Avenue E. and one on 5/17 on the 4100 block of E. Highland Drive.  One car was also stolen, from the 800 block of 33rd Avenue E. on 5/9.

Finally, this report:  On May 20 a concerned homeowner near the intersection of 31st Avenue E. and E. Ward Street (close to the Shell Station) called police concerning a man in a sleeping bag smoking a cigarette. The citizen felt that given recent burglaries in the vicinity, the man should be checked out. When police arrived the man identified himself; and, as it transpired, a routine check showed that he was wanted on an arrest warrant from Everett.  He was therefore hauled off to jail.  But the story doesn't end there.  Ruefully the police report that the "jail nurse" refused to accept the suspect at the jail, claiming that he was "red and hot."  As a result, the police took him to Harborview, where he later apparently walked out of the hospital and was not seen again.  According to SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb, there is not enough manpower on the force to provide guards at hospitals for suspects being held for low-level crimes, so the outcome in this case is not, unfortunately, unique.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Serial vandalism?

Constance Gillespie's building is hit again

For the third time in less than a year a person or persons unknown have vandalized the infamous and increasingly decrepit building at the heart of the business district which is owned by Constance Gillespie (4118 E. Madison St.).  Overnight, the plate-glass window in one of the structure's two vacant retail spaces was bashed in, leaving a gaping hole in the window itself and glass debris littering the shop floor.  Unlike the past incidents, which occurred in August and December last year, this act of vandalism did not result in dangerous glass shards on the sidewalk.  Nevertheless, the police officer investigating the incident requested that the fire department secure the building and prevent injury to passersby.  That mission is what prompted the arrival of SFD's Ladder Company 10 from Capitol Hill late this morning.

We are not the only observers detecting a pattern in these three crimes. The investigating police officer told us that the person who reported the incident had also speculated that this crime might be for the purpose of sending some kind of message to the building's landlord.  For several years she has failed to fully tenant the building or make repairs unless forced to do so. After the act of vandalism last summer, Gillespie was ordered by the City to fix the damage so that there would no danger to those using the sidewalk.  In this incident, the fire department's taping of the window might be sufficient to remove any danger to passersby.  In which case, the building has now become even more of an eyesore than previously.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More on those eagles

It took awhile, but major media has caught on to a story we reported here in March about the return of the eagles to the nest at Broadmoor.  Montlake resident and nature photographer Larry Hubbell posted some dramatic photos of the eagle family on his blog, Union Bay Watch, earlier this month, a story which was later picked up by the Montlaker blog and then by KING-TV last week (see the video here).  The Seattle Times followed suit with a front-page photo and the story of the eagles this morning.

Hubbell was at first reluctant to disclose the location of the eagles' nest on his website, apparently fearing that the intrusion of gawkers might disturb the birds.  When we quizzed him last week, however, he confirmed that his eagles he pictured at Union Bay Watch were indeed the Broadmoor eagles.  Now the world knows the story.

It's possible to view the nest without entering Broadmoor.  It can be seen from a vantage point in Canterbury as well, apparently, as from the Foster Island side. Hubbell's website, by the way, today documents a potential threat to the fledgling eagles: crows.  He has also posted some new videos to the site.

[Thanks to Larry Hubbell for permission to post these additional photos and to Montlaker for connecting us with Larry.]

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sun shines on Shore Run

The 35th Annual Shore Run/Walk to benefit the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center charged through Madison Park this morning, with participants and spectators enjoying pretty fine weather for both the 5K and 10K events.

It was a bit grayer by the time that the Kids' Run started later in the morning, but that didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the runners.  Here they are as the race begins:

More than 2,600 people participated in the Shore Run/Walk, which this year benefits the Hutch's Survivorship Program.  Race results are available here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Romancing the 520

A midnight stroll to Medina

The major unresolved design issue related to the SR-520 project has to do with the new bridge over Portage Bay, a controversial subject which has received major media coverage and the attention of the new neighboring blog, Montlaker.  Those of us in Madison Park are probably more interested, however, in the design for the new floating bridge, additional details of which were unveiled in late March.

Although we covered the fact that the project planners had finally provided the public with graphics of the new bridge as seen from the water (aka "elevations"), until now we haven't focused on the other elements of the bridge's design. The romantic night scene above prominently displays one of the previously undisclosed features, a lighted sentinel.  There will be four of these ornamental sentinels on the bridge, two each at the west and east approaches. This is what they'll look like in the daytime:

And this is the aerial view showing the sentinels on the west side of the bridge (Madison Park is to the right):

Their purpose, apparently, is to provide some visual interest to the bridge and break up the monotony of what some design critics have been calling that new "Viaduct across the Lake." This is a view of a sentinel as seen from above:

Next to the sentinel is one of five public viewpoints that will occur along the pedestrian/bike path at the side of the bridge.  That big mass of concrete to the right of the sentinel in this graphic is one of the  bridge's imposing pontoons.

This is the view of one of these jut-out viewpoint features (aka belvederes) from bridge level (note that the pedestrian/bike pathway is on the North side of the new bridge):

The particular belvedere in the graphic above is on the low-rise section of the floating bridge, shown below as it would look to someone standing on the pontoon:

Belvedere just happens to be Italian for beautiful view, in keeping with WSDOT's romanticizing of our new floating bridge.

[Thanks to the Washington State Department of Transportation for providing the graphics used in this posting. Other bridge graphics are available here. The lower photo shows the east approach at night from the water.]

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Change comes to Swingset Park

No untoward incidents reported

Given the outsized negative reaction of certain Madison Parkers to the idea of removing the park fence, we anticipated that the arrival of the take-down crew at Swingset Park last month might have prompted some kind of reaction.  But as it happened, no protesters arrived on scene waving placards reading "Save the Children!" or "Blood will be on Your Hands!" So far as we know (and surely we would have heard) no one threw themselves in front of the construction equipment in order to stop the desecration. With due deliberation, Parks workers calmly removed the fence and carted it away:

Though a new fence has been erected, it's temporary and designed simply to keep the public out of the construction zone. To this point, weeds and blackberry bushes have been eliminated at the site and crushed rock has been installed in front of the rip rap. Plantings, as well as driftwood and rock features, will be added over the next few weeks, with work expected to be completed by the end of the month.

[Lower photo by Trent Jackson.]