The stoop of a demolished single-family house. (Photo by the author)
The stoop of a demolished single-family house on NE 65th Street, one of many properties that Hugh Sisley has let deteriorate in the Roosevelt neighborhood. (Photo by the author)

The Seattle City Council will vote today on whether to acquire a one-fifth-acre property from Hugh Sisley, an infamous slumlord in the city’s Roosevelt neighborhood. The City has been doing battle with Sisley for years over code violations and unpaid fines at his deteriorating residential and commercial structures. Earlier this year, City Attorney Pete Holmes put his foot down and declared that the City will seek payment for the fines and to publicly acquire at least one of them for a new park.

The parcel to be acquired by the City. (City of Seattle)
The parcel to be acquired by the City. (City of Seattle)

The property, located at 1322 NE 65th Street, is one of at least two that the City intends to acquire. According to a press release from last May, the other is next door at 1318 NE 65th Street and will presumably be addressed in future legislation. Sisley owns a number of rundown properties in the neighborhood, and someone has made a custom Google Map showing where they are. (The map is four years old, however, and some of the properties have been sold to other owners since then.)

The property to be acquired by the City of Seattle. (Photo by the author)
The property to be acquired by the City of Seattle. (Photo by the author)

The site is across the street from Roosevelt High School and is only three blocks from Roosevelt’s new light rail station, planned to open in 2021, which could contribute to the growing and vibrant neighborhood in a variety of ways. King County has assessed the value of the parcel as just over $1 million, though that may differ from what the City pays in just compensation for taking it. According to King County records, the 8,734 square-foot parcel has apparently sat vacant for the past five years. It is zoned NC2P-65 (Neighborhood Commercial 2, Pedestrian Overlay, with a 65 feet height limit).

Despite its development potential, the City Council wants to acquire the property for “open space, park, and recreation purposes” and put under the control of the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). Council Bill 118509 states that the motivation for this is preserving views of Roosevelt High School, a historic landmark, and balancing future high density development with increased green space:

…WHEREAS, the property at 1322 NE 65th Street, Seattle, Washington, is located in a part of the Urban Village that lacks open space, protects some views of Roosevelt High School through its adjacency to the newly designated green street on 14th Avenue NE, and provides a neighborhood park next to future high density development…

The DPR’s 2011 open space gap analysis found that the Roosevelt Urban Village needs 1.26 acres of useable open space to meet the neighborhood’s goal for the year 2024, and currently it exceeds that with 11.09 acres within and abutting the village boundary (a 9.83-acre surplus).

The aforementioned Green Street on 14th Avenue NE has been planned since at least January 2013, when the City published a Roosevelt Neighborhood Streetscape Concept Plan (PDF). The one-block stretch of the street is envisioned to be rebuilt with leafy trees and large planters, and adjacent development would be expected to be set back from the street to provide space for seating and a public plaza.

A conceptual site plan for a short green street on 14th Avenue NE. (Seattle DPD)
A conceptual site plan for a short green street on 14th Avenue NE, connecting to a similar green street on NE 66th Street in front of Roosevelt High School. (Seattle DPD)

City Council District 4 candidate Michael Maddux, in an episode of CascadiaCast, suggested that the City should turn the street itself into a park and use the flanking Sisley properties to build affordable housing. Indeed, some have proposed using the properties for low-income housing instead. However, until the HALA policies are implemented, there’s little reason to expect that to happen on the site at 1322 NE 65th Street unless the City Council suddenly changes course.

Sisley recently sold another set of four properties, on the southern half of the block to the east, to Roosevelt Development Group (RDG). Sisley’s $3.5 million in fines were paid off by RDG, clearing the way for the company to develop those properties. Curbed Seattle reports tentative plans to develop a 225-unit apartment building there. Three of the four properties were demolished in September while an abandoned commercial building at the corner of 15th Avenue NE and NE 65th Street remains.

This article is a cross-post from The Northwest Urbanist.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a non-profit that depends on donations from readers like you.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I like parks just fine, but neither the city nor the Roosevelt neighborhood have a shortage of urban space, nor is existing urban space in any jeopardy. Neither of those things can be said about affordable housing. Maddux is right.

  2. A few things to note here.

    • The site for the proposed conversion of housing site to park is 600 feet from the Roosevelt Link Station, a two minute walk from a major civic transit investment. (Not three blocks as stated in the post.) [https://www.dropbox.com/s/t64jfwa6458q8ly/Screenshot%202015-10-05%2009.06.51.png?dl=0]
    • There will be a public plaza on top of the new Link station, 600 feet from the proposed new park.
    • 82.2% of Roosevelt residents are within one quarter mile of open space already.
    • Setbacks in the Roosevelt Area Design Guidelines already require a 15′ setback along 14th Ave NE, which if you actually go to the site, you will see will preserve views both to and from Roosevelt High School.
    • Rainier Development Group does not own the land on the block (known as the “fruit stand block”) to the east of the proposed park. RDG has a long-term ground lease from Hugh Sisley, who will continue to own the parcels.

    • The idea of the City acquiring 1318 NE 65th Street (the parcel to the west of the southern half of the proposed park) was dropped early on.

    • While the idea of a park at this location does enjoy support within the neighborhood as “compensation” for having to endure the blight of the Sisley properties, others have opposed it, including Futurewise and Homestead Community Land Trust, and 50+ urbanists on the CityBuilders Facebook group. For more information, have a look here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/845044532233770/

    • Thanks Rob, there are quite a few details here I didn’t consider. Like the plaza on top of the station — it’s curious that’s going to fly when Sound Transit is so opposed to do doing the same in the U-District, which really does need more open space. Do you know anything about that?

      I’ll update the post later today.

      • As I understand it from a Sound Transit presentation I saw at a Roosevelt Neighborhood Association meeting, the choice between a plaza on top of the station versus building housing or commercial on top of a station has been driven by the economics of the area (the value of the land) and geotechnical aspects of the particular location. At the time the stations were being planned, it didn’t make sense to build on top at Roosevelt, whereas in the U-District it did. Once construction is underway it’s virtually impossible to go from plaza to building. I’m not sure about going from building to plaza.

    • I agree Rob. I’m afraid the argument for more open space are often similar to the argument for more light rail. Often it comes down to more, more, more, without any concern about whether it makes sense there or not (I can’t wait until we get light rail to Discovery Park).

      This neighborhood is one of the richest from a park perspective. Ravenna is a short walk away, as is Green Lake. Those are two of the nicest parks in the city. This would not be. It would be a very tiny park. It is crazy, given the demand for housing in the area as well as the city as a whole that we spend a huge amount of money carving out a tiny pocket park in an area rich with parks. What next, ask the city to pay for a few Thai restaurants in Fremont? Maybe a few breweries in Ballard while you are it.

      From a housing perspective, it is ridiculous. First the city carves out tiny sections of land and says “just build here”. Then the city basically says “Oh my, this is getting too urban, better carve out part of that land, and make it open space”. Most of what anyone would consider the neighborhood is still zoned single family. Just walk around and you can see that while the big cranes are impressive, they have a definite stopping point, and that stopping point is not too far from this park. In other words, if the hustle and bustle of six story buildings gets to be too much for your sensibilities, just cross the street and walk through the old houses, with their pleasant lawns and lovely trees. Of course, if you keep walking, you will encounter a park (of course).

      Meanwhile, the idea of park plazas in an of the light rail stations is just plain stupid. I can’t think of more ridiculous urban planning than that. Light rail stations (especially in our system) should be high density areas. Parks are zero density (unless you can’t the homeless that might inhabit them). People will walk a few blocks to a park — some would say that is the whole point of a park: to walk. But if you make people walk a few blocks to the station, then wait for the train, then the bus, eventually that person will just drive.

      As far as this neighborhood goes, if the city wants to spend a bunch of money on a park, it should cover up the reservoir, as it did with Maple Leaf. Now that was a wonderful park project. It completely transformed the neighborhood. It delivered a very big park — a park so big and nice that it draws people from all over the area. This simply would not be possible here (can you imagine someone walking by Ravenna/Cowen Park and going “don’t stop now, I want to go to that really good park by the high school”). But it did more than that, it connected the streets from a pedestrian standpoint. This park won’t do that, but capping the Roosevelt Reservoir would. In both cases, capping the reservoir means that someone walking north/south can “walk through” — saving time and making for a more pleasant walk.

      Oh, and as should be obvious to anyone that has spent any time in this city, if a technical analysis of this neighborhood states that it needs more open space, then perhaps it is time to question the analysis. It really cracks me up. I’m sure that more than one realty listing in the area prominently states “close to parks” — but hey, our analysis says we need more, based on lines we drew.

      • Happy to fully agree with you on this one, Ross. It seems to be a natural reaction when a parcel of public land becomes available to want to turn it into a park, regardless of need or circumstances. Roosevelt has an abundance of well-sited parks and doesn’t need any more from the Sisley property.

        That said, I think there is a good case for turning that one block of 14th (from 65th to 66th) into a tree-lined ped & bike only way. Or a one-way woonerf. For future MF development on either side of this block, their vehicular access can be provided on other streets.

        • No, access off another street won’t work. The already designed and approved RDG building to the east of 14th Ave E has its access to parking and loading dock off 14th. Access to a building on the block to the west of 14th can’t be off an arterial (65th) nor off a Green Street (66th) so with the park there access will have to be off Brooklyn. With the park there any building–the entire block–will have to be accessed from that end, which means the entire block will have to be developed as one building. The parcels on that block are owned by different people, including the majority–4 or 5–by Sisley. Now they all have to sell before the block will be developed. Nice move, RNA.

          • That’s too bad. I liked RDPence’s idea. That being said, it could be woonerf, couldn’t it? I assume that these buildings don’t have any parking for residents. After all, the place is obviously so urban that there is no need. Basically you have the occasional delivery truck and that is about it.

            All joking aside, I think a woonerf could work. Even with the occasional driver, you wouldn’t have that much traffic. To a certain extent, a woonerf is somewhat cosmetic. Some extra paint — some official notices — local access only — and everyone wins. The biggest difference is the “local access only” sign, which would keep folks away from cruising the street looking for surface parking.

Comments are closed.