Army Reserve site facing closure at Fort Lawton: Future uses could include housing for homeless

The United States Army Reserve at Fort Lawton is set to become just another part of Seattle's history later this year.

A federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) has included the 38-acre Lawton complex at the edge of Discovery Park on a list of nationwide military installations it wants to shut down.

What would happen to the property afterward is still up in the air, according to Mike DeCesare, communications director for Congressman Jim McDermott (D-Seattle). "There's been all kinds of talk about possibilities for it," DeCesare said.

But getting bumped off the closure list isn't one of them because Congress has to OK or reject the entire package to avoid "various political footballs," he added. Congress members can't "cherry-pick" at the list, which was prepared with careful consideration by the independent commission, DeCesare said.

It's too early in the process to determine "what, if any, uses the city might have for the property," said Marty McOmber, a spokesman for Mayor Greg Nickels. So far, he added, the mayor's staff is just batting around ideas that include the possibility of turning the property into a park.

That seems a little unlikely, according to parks department spokeswoman Dewey Potter. "It's not very useful for any municipal purposes like a park," she said. But Seattle Parks and Recreation has not completely ruled out the possibility. "I would say we would obviously take a look at the proposal," Potter added.

The military would get first dibs on the property, DeCesare said. If the military isn't interested, there is a hierarchy of other uses that would be considered, he added.

According to a base-closure report prepared by the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment, the first step after the land is surplused would be to form a Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA).

The LRA would be a broad-based organization representing all stakeholders and affected jurisdictions, and it would manage the community adjustment and reuse planning process.

The planning process could become controversial in Magnolia. That's because "(t)he LRA undertakes outreach to representatives of the homeless and solicits notices of interest in base property from eligible public benefit recipients to assist the planning effort," according to the report.

"An LRA must specifically consider the needs of the homeless, as well as local community and economic development requirements," the report adds. Other uses listed in the report include schools, hospitals and correctional facilities.

With a Lawton closure, reserve operations would shift to Fort Lewis, according to Fort Lawton spokeswoman Maj. Hillary Luton. She noted that Congress still has to approve the list after President George Bush accepts or rejects the BRAC recommendations in their entirety. The deadline for that decision is Sept. 23.

Moving the reserve center south wouldn't be a problem, according to Luton. "The Army Reserve is changing," she said. "If we can become a more expeditionary force (by moving), all the better." DeCesare said he expected that a congressional decision on the base-closures would be made by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, personnel at the reserve center are in a "hurry up and wait" mode, according to Maj. Luton. "The Army is good at that," she said.

You can reach senior staff reporter Russ Zabel at 461-1309 or[[In-content Ad]]