Bringing shorelines to the public

SDOT, Friends of Street Ends work to improve access to right-of-ways

Bringing shorelines to the public

Bringing shorelines to the public

When the City of Seattle was platted in the late 1800s, there were 142 shoreline street ends created.

“Over the course of years, when we first became aware of them 30 years ago, there was no policy, no permit system, and basically the neighbors next to them would take them over,” said Karen Daubert, cofounder of the Friends of Street Ends (FOSE).

FOSE was formed more than 20 years ago by residents who wanted to see the street ends opened up to the public to enjoy the shorelines, which include Lake Washington, Lake Union, Puget Sound and Elliott Bay.

The Seattle City Council designated 149 shoreline street ends as for “public uses and enjoyment” in September 1996. Those private property owners who wanted to continue using the right-of-way as their own were required to pay a permit fee, which to this day is dedicated to supporting the opening and improving of shoreline street ends around Seattle.

Six street ends ended up being vacated by the council, and the Washington State Court of Appeals found another was no longer city right-of-way.

The Seattle Department of Transportation oversees the Shoreline Street Ends Program, and is solely funded by permit fees property owners pay to use the public right-of-ways.

“A lot of the marine-based industries like along the Duwamish use them as storage,” said program coordinator Omar Akkari.

These marine-based industries will likely keep their permits as long as they remain operational, but there are opportunities to open up more street ends when a property owner no longer wants to pay for the right to use it. Sometimes people will acquire a property and not realize they hold a street-end permit until it comes time to renew. Fees range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars, Akkari said.

“We’re constantly looking to see what’s coming in through these permits,” he said. “They don’t have to apply again, but they do have to pay again. The price goes up or down depending on the value of the property.”

Seattle Parks and Recreation partnered with SDOT in 2013 to improve 10 shoreline street ends, which included the end of McGraw Street in Magnolia.

The Shoreline Street Ends Program now relies on just permit fees, and Akkari is the first permanent position assigned to the program. He moved to Seattle in August from Spokane, where he worked as an urban designer for the city.

“We’d rather just keep this internally funded,” he said, “because it’s a nice closed loop, you never have to worry about the council removing funding.”

Marine-based industries receive a 50-percent discount on permit fees, Akkari said, because they provide public benefits in terms of jobs and neighborhood value.

SDOT evaluated every street end in 2016, and a matrix and ranking system was developed in the work plan. The first was drafted in 2009, and then revised in 2017.

“That’s what I use to do improvements,” Akkari said. “I try to target by opportunity also.”

Community groups wanting to adopt and maintain street ends that benefit the public are allowed to prioritize any areas they like that are technically open but maybe not improved. Less than a third of Seattle’s shoreline street ends are unimproved.

FOSE members Gene and Liz Brandzel continue to steward the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary they created with the Madison Park community at the end of 37th Avenue East. Gene Brandzel is also leading an effort to improve the street end at East Prospect Street, just north of the Seattle Tennis Club, but solid designs have not yet been finished.

Akkari said East Prospect has access to Lake Washington by two levels of gravel path. The biggest issue with this street end is removing blackberries and other invasive species, which will help the native habitat. There is one bench overlooking Lake Washington.

Brandzel said the former owner of waterfront property on the north end of the street had not been keen on seeing improvements.

“He was imposing all kinds of requirements on us to avoid having him make a big stink about it, so we just decided at that point the hassle wasn’t worth it,” Brandzel said.

That property owner has since sold their home, and Brandzel is working on a design concept for improving East Prospect now.

“It’s just going to require a lot of different skill sets,” he said.

East Highland Drive is a great example of what happens when neighbors support a street-end improvement project, he said. Brandzel approached adjacent property owners Scott and Shirley Wilson about the project, and they got involved. The issues with the street end were similar to what had once existed at the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary.

“When we cleaned it out, we found everything, including computers people had thrown in there, and now there’s an absolutely beautiful little beach there,” Brandzel said. “The nice thing about it is the neighbors completely adopted the project.”

When a tree fell, the Wilsons spent their own money to turn it into benches for the street end.

“Madison Park is fortunate to have actually many (open street ends) with the potential of adding a new one,” Daubert said, referring to East Prospect. “It’s big, wide, but it’s also very deep, and it’s a fabulous low-bank waterfront.”

She added East Mercer Street is also in need of improvements, with access blocked by a cypress hedge running parallel to the street and shoreline.

“It’s a poster child for some of the city’s shoreline street ends,” Daubert said. “It’s been completely blocked off from public access for so long.”

Three open shoreline street ends Daubert recommends in the neighborhood are the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary and East Lee and Highland streets.

Community-led improvements, such as with the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary, are supported by SDOT, which provides collection of vegetative and manmade waste gathered during work parties, plus design and permitting assistance.

Public access to shoreline street ends isn’t always explicitly written out, and many people are not aware they exist and where to find them. SDOT has maps of improved and unimproved shoreline street ends online, and Akkari plans to have signs installed at 30 locations over the next two months.

“There are a lot of these spots that are kind of under the radar,” he said.

Akkari is also working to create a volunteer program for improving and maintaining street ends within an existing Trees for Seattle program that focuses on habitat restoration.

Residential lot owners won the right to the shoreline right-of-way around their properties on Northeast 130th Street in 2016, after challenging the City of Seattle’s plans to improve the street end. The case was decided in the Court of Appeals, and the state Supreme Court declined the city’s request for review. 

“We lost the battle to own the property,” Akkari said. “Basically, they can choose to condemn the property and buy the property from the owner now.”

So Akkari is also working on an ordinance directing how public shore ends are added and removed, and what is no longer considered right-of-way.

“It’s coming,” he said, “it’s just not very far yet.”

FOSE will hold its first meeting of 2019 from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Oppenheimer Camera, 7400 Third Ave. S.