The city was supposed to present a draft plan for future uses of the Fort Lawton Army Reserve base last week at a community meeting in Magnolia. However, there was no draft plan, announced Linda Cannon, deputy director of the city's Office of Intergovernmental Relations.
The problem, she explained, is that shortly after the April 19 meeting notices went out, the Army called the city expressing concerns about not being able to sell off as much of the property as possible to private developers.
"Until we're clear on that, we're just going to pause on starting the reuse plan," Cannon said. The city has had two initial conversations with the Army, and there will be more, she added.
Seattle isn't the only city having to grapple with the problem posed by a cash-strapped military. Reuse plans under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act have been sent back to the drawing board because the military was getting the short end of the stick in both Pasadena and Long Beach, Calif., according to Cannon. "Pasadena, I think, basically had completed their plan," she said.
Open space was one component of the reuse plan, and Seattle Park and Recreation has taken a look at the base, said Kevin Stoops, manager of major projects and planning for the department.
"It's a fairly built-out campus," he noted, adding the parks department determined that it didn't need any of the buildings or parking lots at the site.
But there are two plots of property at the base the department is interested in. One is at the northern boundary, and one is to the south near the Army cemetery, he said.
"Both sites connect Discovery Park to Kiwanis Ravine, and both are mapped as wildlife corridors," Stoops added.
Finding any more open space at the base seems unlikely, according to Adrienne Quinn, director of the city's Office of Housing. Before the Army spoke up, there was talk of balancing open space with other uses, she said. Now the Army's attitude is: "Forget open space. We want to see as much high-value housing as possible," Quinn said.
THE HOMELESS ISSUE
One thing that hasn't changed in the BRAC process is that housing for the homeless will be part of the mix, Quinn said.
Proposals outlined in Notices of Interest from five lead organizations called for around 182 units of market-rate housing and approximately 304 units of housing for the homeless. Property and buildings for homeless uses would be provided at reduced or no cost, according to BRAC.
Moreover, federal law requires that homeless housing be included in plans for military bases the government has declared surplus, Quinn explained over and over again at the meeting.
Still, often couched in terms of concern for the homeless, speaker after speaker objected to the idea of having housing for the homeless set up on the base.
One man who said he owns a house worth almost a million dollars near the base and asked if an analysis had been done about the possibility of swapping the Fort Lawton property for land elsewhere that could be used for the homeless. The Army has said no to the idea, Quinn said.
The man with pricey digs persisted. "Socially, I agree 100 percent," he said of the need to have housing for the homeless. "[But] aren't you asking the city to subsidize low-income housing?"
One woman who lives near the base spoke of the number of children who live in the immediate neighborhood. "My concern is the homeless being put in this area," she said.
"While I believe they deserve homes, you talk about the appropriateness," said the woman, who worried about the adequacy of bus service, access to grocery stores and social services for the homeless.
A man from Magnolia also worried that housing for the homeless could include sexual predators, but sexual predators will not be allowed to live at the former base, Quinn stressed.
Another man from the neighborhood worried about support services for clients of the Downtown Emergency Center, one of the lead agencies that submitted a Notice of Interest and serves people who often have drug, alcohol and mental problems.
"It's such a family neighborhood, it's not really suitable for abuse services," the man said.
"Our recommendations will be based on who are solid [homeless] service providers," Quinn said.
But city recommendations are just that, Cannon explained. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development will review the proposals, the plans and the community process, she said. "Then they make their pass at the plan and send it to the Army." The Army acknowledges that HUD has the authority to make decisions on housing for the homeless, Cannon added.
"The way federal law reads right now is, homeless housing goes there," said Quinn, who added that the city doesn't make the decision. "One reason is that many communities would not want homeless housing."
Cannon said she expected the city would get back to Magnolia in a couple of months, but it won't be to discuss a draft reuse plan. Instead, Cannon said, the city will provide a list of the homeless-housing providers and sit down with the community to discuss them.
Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 461-1309.