Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Land Lease, Perhaps?

As previously mentioned, my mother's aunt owns a house over in Fremont, on a lot that is zoned L-2. She and her husband have moved to a retirement home and the house is for sale. The price is high, of course, because it's in a terrific location, but they haven't been getting many calls; no surprise really, with the slow economy. However, I'm wondering if pursuing a land lease could be an option for building on this site.

For those who have never heard of a land lease, it is an arrangement where the owner leases the land for, say, 99 years and the developer else builds on it, then pays the owner a monthly rent. Unico does this downtown on the Metropolitan tract; in fact I work in one of these buildings. Anyway, it's an interesting scenario that could possibly lead to lower prices.

Check out this article from the Wall Street Journal for some pros and cons of buying a co-op that has a land lease.

Any lawyers or real estate professionals out there with experience in land leases?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Friday Night

The text below is from an email I received earlier today from Allied Arts. I heard Mark Hinshaw lecture at UW earlier this year and it was very informative, so I recommend this presentation to anyone reading this site. I was planning on going to the Capitol Hill Block Party tomorrow night but I may end up at Weber Thompson instead.

Downtown Streets:
Places for People or Designed for Cars?

July 25, 2008
We'll start at 6:30 p.m.
Program begins at 7:45
Event Location:
Weber Thompson
225 Terry Avenue N. Suite 200

RSVP: 206.624.0433

What makes a downtown street work for people? Is it just well-designed sidewalks next to cute shops? Or is the juxtaposition between vehicles and pedestrians important? Can we accommodate trucks and buses with people and bikes?
The Governor is talking about getting rid of the curb-parking on downtown avenues - what would that do to the human experience? Should we ask the trucks that use the Viaduct to move to 2nd & 4th Avenues? Are we being forced into a "devils choice" between a pedestrian oriented downtown and a great waterfront?

Different streets meet different needs: green streets, main streets, transit streets, walking streets, boulevards, commerce streets, and café streets. What's the right mix of streets for Center City? How could our city creatively use public art and open space funding to make our streets match our status as an international city?

What ideas do you have from your visits to other cities? What do you think Seattle does well and what could we do better?

Join us for a fun look at what will make our downtown streets work for people. We'll hear from a panel of experts who will discuss the many ways we can find clever ideas to create a vision for Seattle as a place with inspiring public spaces.

Panel & Presenters
Mark Hinshaw, Author, True Urbanism, and Director of Urban Design, LMN Architects
Gary Johnson, Center City Strategy Coordinator, City of Seattle
Peg Staeheli, Principal, SvR Design
Moderated By: Brian Steinburg
Senior Associate and LEED AP, Weber Thompson

Hosted By: Weber Thompson
Allied Arts Beer and Culture Nights

Allied Arts was founded in 1954 under the name of "The Beer and Culture Society." More than fifty years later, we still like that name so we're honoring it with our "Beer and Culture Nights."

By convening groups of smart, energetic and public-spirited citizens in an informal setting and by providing snack food, beer and a hot topic, we hope to inspire free-ranging and uninhibited discussion that will be enormously fun and can lead to civic action.

Attendance to the event is free -- all donations are appreciated, regardless of size. Your contribution supports Allied Arts.

Allied Arts of Seattle |
RSVP to: or (206) 624-0433

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Homeowner's Association Meeting

Though my wife and I only rent a unit in a condo building, I decided to go to an HOA board meeting last night. The purpose of my attendance was to inquire about composting food waste (coffee grounds, paper towels, vegetable scraps, etc). I had been told by a member of the board that several residents were interested and that I should attend to talk about the issue, so I did. I was also interested in seeing how many residents attended and witnessing the dynamic of the group.

Attendance was paltry. The board was there in full force (five members), as were the property manager and the onsite caretaker, plus three homeowners and myself, for a grand total of eleven (I believe there are seventy three units in the building). The agenda wasn’t too long but the composting discussion was the last item of new business, and therefore occupied the final position of the night.

A detailed account of the discussion that lasted two and a half hours before we got to composting would scare off any reader so I’ll just hit the highlights:

1) A two-sided form, prepared by an impassioned resident and former board member, which was to be distributed to all residents soliciting interest in low-flow toilets and building wi-fi, was presented. Much discussion ensued about the wi-fi portion and the costs associated with the installation ($27,000). Maybe twenty minutes later reason triumphed, and the form, with any mention of money removed, was approved. Oh, and the low-flow toilet proposition was to be “spun” to seem “hip, green, and sustainable,” since “that’s cool these days,” while the board’s true concern was over the water bill.

2) A revision to the 2008 budget was proposed by the treasurer. Evidently, a certain amount of money was allocated for miscellaneous expenditures and the treasurer wanted to insert it as line items where it had actually been spent, therefore reducing the negative variance. For example, there is one unit the association owns that had not been leased until May, though the budget counted on income beginning at an earlier date. Consequently, this line item appeared over budget when in fact some of the money allocated as miscellaneous could have been used to cover the cost. Another half-hour discussion ensued about the politics of presenting the budget to the homeowners and the appropriateness of modifying it midyear (evidently budgets are set annually and are not to be changed, even if the money is just shifted within, during the year; they are only to be reflected upon when the new budget is being determined. Interesting.) It was decided to approve the revisions, but not before one of the board members had left and the aforementioned impassioned resident (who opposed the revisions) yelled out, “where is he?!!”

I’ll skip the discussion of the new hardscape in front of the building that is cracking and the dealings with arborists about the trees in the rear courtyard and get to my immediate concern, the composting.

The impassioned resident proposed building a worm bin with about $100 of association money, which sounded great to everyone: we have lots of planters and flower beds so the new soil would be useful. I asked how long it would take and suggested maybe disposing of food waste in the yard waste container for the interim, at a cost of $5.35 a month, with a one year commitment. I was immediately shot down by the impassioned resident who said that what the way we are currently disposing of food waste (in the garbage) is free and he didn’t care if it was ten cents a year for city pickup. He asked how long I’d lived there (1 year, 3 months) and said it would take a very long time to get the bin built and operational. And with that, the meeting came to a close.

Evidently seniority as a resident and concern over the funds trumps progressive behavior – no surprise there. And it seems that one impassioned resident, who talks the loudest and lets emotion trump reason (fanaticism in lieu of intellectualism, says Paolo Freire), can maintain the status quo when at least sixty two other people, with varying opinions, surely, are holed up and not participating in the decision-making. It’s too bad, really.

I’ve since discovered that Madison Market has a composting area that I can use for my food waste, so my conscience can be clear. I’ve also asked the caretaker and the board whether I can order the cheap curbside pickup for all interested parties while the worm bin construction progresses. We’ll see where that goes.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Quick update on the Medhane Alem church sale and 13th and Olive: though I still have not heard who bought it, I can faithfully report that it is not coming down. My wife spoke with one of the workers painting the windows last week and he said it's there to stay. I snapped this photo of the exterior scaffolding today as we walked past en route to the Broadway Sunday Farmer's Market and the Imagine Capitol Hill festival.

Secondly, though I respect Charles Mudede's opinion wholeheartedly, a comment of his on SLOG, most likely written in haste, has been haunting me. Responding to a post on Hugeasscity criticizing his take on the new Four Seasons building, he said:

I couldn’t care less about the street and what the building is doing to it.

Granted, he was defending his article, where he celebrated the "coding" of the new structure, but every time I think about his comment, I think of this hideous stretch of 7th Ave, between Pine and Pike.

To me, this is the apotheosis of architecture that complete ignores the context in which it is constructed. I spit in the general direction of the Sheraton (and I'm sure Charles does too).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Return to the Land

On my road trip to and from Denver, I listened to most of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (purchased at The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana). As you may know, I'm a proponent of locally grown organic food so this audiobook was especially interesting. It reminded me of an orchard that my aunt owns down in Rufus, Oregon, about 100 miles east of Portland. I have yet to visit, or to even meet her, but I'd be lying if I said I never have daydreams about growing organic fruit and free range eggs to sell at farmer's markets in Portland.

Mixed Primary Use Redux

Continuing my walk from a from a previous post, I find myself on 12th Ave. in Capitol Hill. In retrospect, I should have snapped a photo of the Seattle Trading Post but I was heading for the locksmith below as my reference point.

It may not be glamorous but who says commerce, especially in the service industry, is supposed to be? I'm quickly reminded of Brooklyn Storefronts, a collection of photographs that shows many of the eclectic small businesses throughout the borough. Moving on, almost directly across the street is Good Services Plumbing and Heating. which I would have patronized a few months back in lieu of Roto-Rooter -- even though they did a fine job on a slow bathtub drain -- had I been aware of its existence.

From home maintenance to recreation and transportation, 12th Ave. has you covered. Take 12th Ave Bicycles, located in the lower level of an apartment building at the intersection of Howell.

Moving to mental sustenance, and another example of a small business mingling with residences, one can find the relocated Twice Sold Tales a few blocks west of Broadway on Denny.

These examples make me glow with hope for the city and neighborhood; they are examples of Jane Jacobs' much lauded diversity seeping into unused corners (especially the latter two) and Michel de Certau's "getting by." In the last few weeks, I've traveled to both Denver and North Texas (Denton is my hometown) and have gained an even greater appreciation for Seattle's plentiful independent business.

An important tie that binds these businesses to the type of housing I'm proposing we construct is mentioned throughout this site and is, of course, the use value. These shops are not relying on the glitz and glamor of PR, marketing or slogans ( "newer, better, different"). They are simply what they are, small businesses.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Point of View

Is it just me or is this an incredible waste of paper?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mixed Primary Uses

I snapped a photo of this proposed land use sign, at the corner of 13th and Pine, a few weeks ago (I was on vacation in Denver last week; we drove and our Prius averaged 51 mpg for the trip!). Like Josh over at Cascadia Rising, I've been reading Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and have been paying closer attention to the sorts of mixed uses that new developments house. This building, if I remember correctly, will be office above (and maybe residential) with restaurants at street level. As a frequent patron of Capitol Hill eateries, I generally welcome this, but the Jacobs book had me thinking about more diverse types of ground level establishments.

Recalling a post on Hugeasscity, where Dan laments the loss of the BMW dealership on Pike for providing diversity and working class employment, I set out to find similar retailers: locksmiths instead of boutiques, plumbers in lieu of architects. I immediately headed over to Pike where one can find Central Vacuum Service and Dave's Appliance Rebuild, shown below, respectively, within yards of each other.

In all honesty, I've never visited either of these shops (vacuum works fine and our apartment building has a shared laundry) but it is reassuring to know that both are here in the neighborhood. Seeing these reminded me of the ACE Hardware that used to be on top of Queen Anne, which in turn led me to recall my neighborhood ACE in Denver, two blocks from the condo in which I lived before moving to Seattle. I was at a loss: could it be that there was no local hardware store in my neighborhood, that I'd have to drive to the Home Depot by the Starbucks headquarters to buy some wood glue if needed?

It wasn't until today that my wife reminded me about Pacific Supply Company, on 12th between Pike and Madison. I had seen it before but failed to remember. Oh, and it's a co-op!

In case you were wondering, the man in front of the store is hard at work installing benches around the sidewalk planters. I can't say for sure whether or not these were here before, but I am very glad to see them. Jacobs repeatedly stresses the importance of having people milling around and hanging out on public sidewalks and cites the myriad benefits, including pedestrian safety and the vibrancy that attracts many of us to the city in the first place.

I have more photos from this walk that I will post soon but thought it worth mentioning that, in case it isn't clear, the point of highlighting these various retailers is that they are antithetical to typical suburban development, which relies on auto-dependent big box retailers and shopping centers, to serve the needs of residents. Stay tuned...