Magnolia, a hill divided

I've been chatting with folks who live and work on Magnolia Hill-informally, and with assurances of anonymity, at least for now. I'm looking into issues that are bugging residents and business owners.

I promised these subjects that I will be back for a proper interview at a later date, and then we'll have attributions with quotations. "Fair enough," they say.

A couple business owners independently brought up a common issue: their perceptions of a hill divided along economic lines. "Do you know poverty exists on Magnolia?" one soul asked. She queried me what I knew about medium incomes for families living here in Magnolia.

"I think I read that the medium household income for King County was about $45,000," I said, "so I would guess that might apply to us."

It was suggested I take a lower number.

"Really?" I said, surprised.

"Indeed, try about $35,000," she said.

"No way!" I exclaimed. "I don't believe it."

We continued to talk about other issues facing our zip code-for example, the bridge repair, traffic snarls, parking, rental costs for businesses, who will occupy The Magnolia Tree space, etc. Of course, I made mental notes of these topics and promised myself that I'd get back to them later.

Still another business person supported the poverty issue, but the position this person took went as follows: because of the economic disparity on our hill, most residents are shopping at the "big box stores," meaning such mega-retail outlets as Walmart. He predicted that the slow withdrawal of local support for businesses will cause a collapse of many of the hill's mom-and-pop operations.

I was directed to review the "for rent" spaces that currently exist, such as those along Gilman Drive in the small strip mall as well as the seemingly forever empty spaces adjacent to Ace Hardware on 32nd Avenue West.

I like the spontaneous informal chit-chats that occur during my periodic visits to LyLy's spa for a pedicure. My wife and I make appointments at the same time so while Rita is enjoying the additional nail treatment, I'm having the foot spa and being entertained by their son John Paul.

Afterwards, I usually visit with other drop-in friends or walk along the corridor of the building, popping my nose in to say "hello" to other tenants. It's another way I gain insight into neighborhood concerns.

I raised a hypothetical question: "Is it possible that the Village would disappear and new housing developments replace it?"

The replies varied, as one might expect for such an open-ended question. I was informed by one respondent that the new city height limits for buildings have been raised. "And what impact will that have?" I asked.

"Well, I've been told that business expansions will be built up to three stories." One of the problems few people noted had to do with so-called visual eyesores. To wit, the parking of large sail boats on one's front yard. It was easy enough to test this beef-I simply drove around zip code 98199 looking for examples, and I did indeed spy a couple of parked boats, mainly located on northern hill properties.

But are these boats presenting any economic difficulties for us? I was not convulsed. I telephoned Seattle's Department of Planning and Development to inquire about demographics for Magnolia, and surprisingly I was told that "the city no longer employs a demographer."

Now, that odd piece of information did upset me, because I could not imagine why our forward-thinking metropolitan city would lack such foresight as to not have a paid expert on the payroll. We seem to spend monies on a lot of things-so how do Seattle citizens know we are getting good advice? Or how can one prove or disprove whether economic disparities truly exist on Magnolia?

I should think a city demographer would be requisite for a planning department.

I was ready to move on, to go home and ponder what I heard from some Magnolia residents on this most recent walkabout. Even though I have lived on 35th Avenue West since 1978, I felt as though I could learn much more. It's always a pleasure to meet longtime residents and listen to them reminisce about the former bowling alley and movie theater that once gave the area so much fun.

For certain, many talented and knowledgeable people work and play here, and I hope they continue to provide insights into our Magnolia issues.

Bernie Sadowski is a longtime Magnolia resident. Write him at[[In-content Ad]]