By reporter Steven Smalley
A handful of email messages pour into the offices of Magnolia Voice designed to generate attention relating to permit applications made to the Seattle Department of Planning and Development regarding the historic officers’ homes in Discovery Park. Folks are upset.
Permits will request the separation of 22 historic homes, now privately owned, from their physical structures (duplexes +1 single unit) and legally attach them to the land on which they sit, according to spokesman from the City of Seattle.
Emailers want to draw attention to the perception that contractors will then attempt construction at some point on or near the historic area. Others say it will not happen. No construction will ever take place without permission from the Landmarks Preservation Board, they explain.
According to the City of Seattle, the purpose of the permits is to allow fee-simple ownership. Fee-simple is: “The highest form of estate (ownership). The property owner is entitled to full enjoyment of the property, limited only by zoning laws, deed or subdivision restrictions or covenants,” according to published legal definitions.
One park faction wants the public alerted to what they feel is an attempt by builders to begin the construction process. Others think construction is an impossibility, given constraints by the homes’ historic status.
The legal attachment of buildings to the land will give future homeowners a legal description of the property, as explained by the city’s spokesman. No new construction is proposed, he said.
In keeping with the vaunted Seattle Process, a disagreement has materialized – one fraught with bureaucratic minutia and journalistic land mines.
For the sake of brevity, the following are portions of correspondence on this issue. The initial submission to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray by Julia Allen, Board of Trustees for Friends of Discovery Park, whose letter entitled, “Privatization and Historic Guideline Process – Fort Lawton Historic District,” is excerpted. In rebuttal, Monica Wooten, past-president of the Magnolia Historical Society, and participant in the Fort Lawton Historic Guidelines process, states her opposing views.
Julia Allen: Discovery Park is the largest piece of parkland that the City owns…Within the center of Discovery Park is the 97 acre Fort Lawton Landmark District. And within that, is 11.5 acres of private in-holdings with 26 homes….
Friends of Discovery Park has been concerned and involved with the transfer of the 11.5 acres of Navy property to private hands….
Monica Wooten: While the privatization of the historic homes at Fort Lawton was not the first choice for many of us during the long time-period [over 4 years...] that this was transpiring, it became abundantly clear: that though Friends hoped to change the course of this, they were unsuccessful. They were unable to pull together the parties and the money to stop the privatization….
Allen: …We sadly and reluctantly “accepted” that these homes and these 11.5 acres were going to be in some kind of private ownership. There was absolutely nothing we could do about it, so our next strategy was to try to mitigate the impact that the residents of these homes would have on the Park.
But in the end, all of our comments and requests went unheeded by the Department of Neighborhoods and the Landmarks Preservation Board. They never even acknowledged the unique location of this Landmark District completely surrounded by City parkland, and they did nothing to protect the Park from adverse influences by the occupants of the private in-holdings. Instead they claimed there was no difference between the Harvard-Belmont Historic District on Capitol Hill and the Fort Lawton Historic District in Discovery Park.
Wooten: This is simply not true. Friends of Discovery Park were a consistent and outspoken partner in the process. Their suggestions were certainly heard, considered, and many were incorporated into the Final Guidelines. The Park was constantly on all of our minds throughout the process as was the intent to protect the Park from resident’s behaviors that would interfere with the Park’s Master Plan of quiet and solitude; and, preserve the history of these homes.
There have been residents living in the homes decades longer than the Park’s existence. There already existed a Historic District within the Park (that is not well-maintained and that remains a concern and an issue of the Magnolia Historical Society). And, you should rest assured: the Guidelines were fairly arrived at and represent a good set of restrictions that, in my mind, will not allow change to houses, the Park or its use in any significantly adverse way. The integrity of the Master Plan was upheld by the Guidelines.
Allen: Now the properties are going to be sold to a private developer who has plans to subdivide them into 22 individual lots. That will be 22 different owners with their 22 different ideas and interpretations and their 22 different adversarial attorneys. No one can seriously dismiss the detrimental impact this will have on Discovery Park.
Wooten: Again, this is untrue. The division comes as a natural part of setting up private residences. These private residences will be formed into a Home Owner’s Association in which the Guidelines will be part of the leading principles and conditions of living there; limiting litigation on issues and upholding the principles of the protections they set up.
It is my sincere hope that as we enter the reality of the privatization of the property the groups that have been involved and have interest in history, preservation and Discovery Park will continue to work together to make this a most positive collaboration that preserves history, respects the Master Plan of Discovery Park and ushers in a new era with grace.
Allen: Please consider this “last ditch 11.9th hour” request to ask that you, as Seattle Mayor, take the necessary steps to stop this impending sale, and to move to acquire ownership of these private in-holdings for the citizens of Seattle. Only by doing so can we ensure that Discovery Park will remain the crown jewel of Seattle parks, now and in perpetuity.