Vic Barry looks back on two years as MCC prez

Longtime Magnolian Vic Barry is finishing up two one-year terms as president of the Magnolia Community Club (MCC), and he can look back on some clear wins for a neighborhood organization that has been around since 1924.

"I think one of the biggest victories we can point to is keeping Southwest Airlines from flying into Boeing Field," he said of a contentious proposal that was roundly condemned by practically everyone except King County Executive Ron Sims.

Southbound air traffic heading to the King County International Airport, as it's also known, is a sore point for Magnolians because most flights head directly over the neighborhood at relatively low altitudes, Barry noted.

The main neighborhood complaint over the years has been jet noise, especially at night, and most agree that adding Southwest to the mix would have made the problem even worse.

Proposals are in the works to route all air traffic over Elliott Bay instead of Magnolia, according to King County Council member and Magnolian Larry Phillips. But Barry sees a broader reason for the change.

"It irritates me that they look at this as a noise issue," he complained. "It's really about safety." There's more of a chance of a jet crashing in the neighborhood because they fly so low over Magnolia, according to Barry, who added that the risk is even greater during windstorms.

Barry used to live in Wichita, Kan., in the 1970s, and he remembers a Boeing tanker crashing into a school playground in that city back then. He wonders why Magnolia is still at risk of the same thing happening when it doesn't have to be. "If a plane fell on a Magnolia school, they'd stop the flights immediately," he said.

Transportation is another big issue the community club has dealt with, Barry noted. "The Magnolia Bridge, that was a huge victory for us."

Based on a long public process, the idea was to build a replacement bridge just to the south of the existing span so that the old one could handle traffic until the latest possible moment.

But the Seattle Department of Transportation sprang a surprise on the neighborhood at the last moment with news that the preferred alternative was the rebuild the bridge in the same location.

That meant that one of three routes into the neighborhood would have been out of commission for quite some time, he noted "We really raised heck," Barry said of the MCC. The heck-raising worked; SDOT went back to the original plan, he added.

Of course, there is still a major outstanding issue connected to the bridge replacement. "One big challenge in the future is the funding," Barry said, noting that Mayor Greg Nickels didn't include any money for a new Magnolia Bridge in his successful multimillion-dollar transportation initiative.

The community club has also taken a keen interest in plans to birth cruise ships at Terminal 91, along with the Port of Seattle's proposal to develop the North Bay property it owns in Interbay. Noise, lights, traffic and pollution are some of the concerns, but the combined plans represent "the least of all possible evils," according to Barry.

The fate of the soon-to-be-surplus Fort Lawton property is also an issue the MCC is keeping an eye on, he said. By federal law, programs that serve the homeless get first dibs on surplus military property, and that has raised the alarm for some members of the community.

Barry said he's gotten tons of e-mails about the issue from Magnolians who charge that the plan is just part of the mayor's solution to end homelessness in Seattle at the expense to the neighborhood.

Another concern for the community club is the disappearing views of Elliott Bay and the Puget Sound from Magnolia Boulevard. The problem is caused by overgrown underbrush and fast-growing volunteer maples, Barry said of a tree he described as a weed.

"Beautiful vistas are disappearing because the parks department hasn't followed up on the 1998 boulevard-vegetation plan," he charged. "We feel that needs to be revisited and revised."

On the other hand, the MCC is happy that the Capehart Navy housing in the middle of Discovery Park is going to be torn down and be converted into parkland, Barry said. "The city's got the money; it's a done deal," he said of the $9-million price tag for buying the property from American Eagle, the Texas developer that is spearheading the project for the military.

Outside of calling for the process to be kept open to the public, the community club has stayed out of the debate over setting up off-leash-dog areas in Magnolia, Barry said. It didn't help much; the MCC got hate mail about the issue anyway, he added.

Barry is also proud that MCC meetings under his watch have focused on public education about issues such as the possibility of a pandemic hitting Seattle, disaster preparedness, and the debate over rebuilding the Alaskan Way Viaduct or replacing it with a tunnel.

Barry is still on the board of the community club, but he has learned some valuable lessons while he was president. "I would say it has required paying attention to detail. It has required some self-control in forcing yourself to listen at times when you want to speak," he said.

Without mentioning any names, Barry conceded that hasn't always been easy.

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

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