Capehart future on front burners with developer selection

The Department of the Navy announced June 1 that it has selected a developer for its public-private venture to privatize housing for service personnel in the Puget Sound region.

The development company is Dallas-based American Eagles Communities LLC, and its selection has moved the contentious issue of what to do with the Navy's 66 units of Capehart Housing in Discovery Park onto the front burners at both a city and national level.

The Navy no longer needs the Capehart Housing and wants to get rid of it, but the future of the property "will not be determined until the completion of exclusive negotiations," according to a press release issued by Navy Region Northwest spokesman Richard Huling,

"The Discovery Park piece is kind of a tough one because there's a lot of concern about that," he conceded.

Indeed, Magnolia community and Discovery Park organizations, the Seattle City Council, Mayor Greg Nickels, U.S. senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott have all called for the land to be turned over to the city for park use.

In addition, Cantwell, Murray and McDermott last week co-signed a letter about the issue to Rear Adm. Len Hering Sr., Commander of Navy Region Northwest. In it, they note that the city council in 1986 adopted the Discovery Park Development Plan, which calls for, among other things, the 66-unit Capehart complex to be ultimately removed and converted to open space.

"The residents of the neighborhood, the city of Seattle and the congressional delegation support the vision of the development plan," the delegation wrote.

Cantwell has gone one step further. According to a June 2 e-mail sent to King County Council member Larry Phillips' office, she has drafted an amendment to a military appropriations bill that would "only allow the Navy to convey the property to the city of Seattle for public park purposes at no cost to the city."

The same amendment, which was co-sponsored by Murray, would also hold the Navy responsible for any environmental cleanup costs at the Capehart site.

"We're following this very closely," said Mayor Nickels' spokeswoman Marianne Bichsel, adding that the future of Discovery Park is important not only to the city but also to the entire Puget Sound region.

"I have personally conveyed to the Navy leadership how important Discovery Park is to the people of Seattle," Nickels said in a press release.

The mayor also noted that the city-adopted 1980 Discovery Park Long-Range Plan called for the eventual inclusion of the federal land for park purposes.

"I look forward to working with the Navy and American Eagle Communities, and I have directed city staff to initiate these discussions immediately," Nickels said.

Kathryn Thompson, managing director of American Eagle Communities, said she's looking forward to the discussions. "We understand [Discovery Park] is a huge asset for the city of Seattle."

Still, Thompson declined to discuss the possible future of the Capehart property, or whether it represented potential equity that could be tapped to defer costs for the rest of the project.

"There are so many options, I couldn't begin to name them," she said. "Our goal is to make it a win-win for the Navy, taxpayers and the city of Seattle."

Talks about Capehart should begin soon, according to Huling, the Navy spokesman.

"In the next week or so, teams involved in negotiations will get together," he said.

Huling added that he expects the negotiations to be concluded by next fall: "We're probably looking at late October."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel may be reached at or 461-1309.

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