What would you like your neighborhood to look like?
Probably NOT like this:
Would you rather see 160-foot-tall buildings? Or perhaps a big box store? Or BOTH?
Ravenna Blog and The Roosevelt Neighborhood Blog (Roosie Hood) have teamed up to try and shed some light on these concerns by interviewing Glenn Roberts, author and administrator of the blog Roosevelt-Ravenna Zoning Issues.
Glenn does not claim to be an expert on all things Sisely property-related, but he’s been following the saga of neighborhood vs. property owner/developer vs. city ever since he moved into the neighborhood (and started talking to neighbors about it in 2005, when then property manager Keith Gilbert was arrested on felony weapons charges). Glenn’s been in the real estate business for 25 years, spending the last 22 with the same brokerage here in Seattle. He and his Realtor wife have been residents of the Ravenna Park area for almost two decades, and his son attended Roosevelt High School.
Ravenna Blog/Roosie Hood: To start off in a place we can all relate to, what the %&$#! are all those boarded up buildings along NE 65th Street and 15th Avenue NE? Do you have an elevator speech answer to that question?
Glenn Roberts: About two years ago, Hugh Sisley offered to lease his properties for a term of 99 years. Another stipulation that the leasee has disclosed is that Sisley can disapprove of the development if the design isn’t to his specifications. What his specifications are has not been disclosed.
You don’t get an elevator speech here.
The buildings are boarded up because the leasee paid off the tenants to leave and then secured the property with the fence. They say they can’t tear them down because if the terms of the lease aren’t met, they will give up their option and return the properties to the landowner as they were when they got them.
I don’t believe them. It costs real money to properly tear down a building and if they were to pay for it, Sisley would surely (IMO) let them. But they both may want them to stay up so that public opinion from Seattle at large will say, “Anything will be better than those buildings.”
The landowner has a bad rep, and he will still be the landowner if any buildings are completed. Our main focus is A) To see that Sisley or anyone else does not own huge multi-unit buildings at this location and B) To allow the neighborhood to develop as needed according to the zoning currently in place.
RB/RH:Â So, Hugh Sisley owns most of the properties in question, and the Roosevelt Development Group (RDG) is the lease holder.Â Current tenants at the time got paid to leave, and the buildings are boarded up (“secured”).Â I’m also seeing this spelled out in a Seattle P-I article from 2007 entitied, “Run-down Roosevelt buildings are goners.”
One would assume the next phase would be planning. What does the current zoning for the area look like, and what would the developers like to see there instead?
GR: Most sensible city zoning including the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association (RNA) plan call for the tallest buildings to be in the commercial core and taper down to the single family neighborhoods. The Roosevelt core is between Roosevelt Way NE and 12th Ave NE. It’s a small urban village. What RDG is proposing is Urban Sprawl in the village. This kind of development would wipe out the concept of village here.
As for the tapering effect, putting 160 foot buildings up against 27 1/2 foot zoning of single family is ridiculous, ludicrous and inane. Yet that’s what the RDG plan calls for on the Sisely lots. The current zoning has 40 foot limits.
They also want to up the zoning from Commercial 2 to Commercial 3. That would allow for a Costco, Walmart or other monstrosity here in the neighborhood.
RB/RH: And to go back to that first question, it feels as though there are two sides to that %&$#! coin: Why have those properties been boarded-up eye sores for so long, and what does the owner plan to do with them?
GR: They have been boarded up because of several issues that have to do with city regulations.
1. For a long time now there has been a regulation that you cannot tear down a home on a property unless you have permits in place to build a new on. This was the city’s way of preserving taxes. They reasoned that it was cheaper to remodel an existing house than build a new one, but I think the assessed value of the deteriorated house was always more than that of vacant land. This law changed last year, but the tearing down or not is up to the owner, not the city or the neighborhood.
2. When you have existing low income housing (which Sisley can certainly say his were) and you accommodate the renters losing their homes for rebuilding by giving them money to relocate (RDG did that) you get credit to build more units or to build higher buildings, as long as you replace the buildings within a certain amount of time. So, they want to keep them up until they have permits or they could lose those credits.
RB/RH: Have any of the local neighborhood associations weighed in on the issue? Roosevelt Neighborhood Association? Roosevelt Neighbors’ Alliance? Ravenna-Bryant Community Association?
GR: The RNA has spent years developing a growth plan and it has been accepted by the city and should be sufficient for the next 40 years, light rail or no light rail. It is a good plan. The Ravenna-Bryant Community Association leadership has expressed support for the RNA Plan and opposition to the RDG Comp plan change. I belong to a small group of Ravenna neighbors who oppose the RDG plan and publicize everything we can.
RB/RH: You’ve been following the Sisley/Roosevelt Development Group saga for a while now, most notably at your blog, Roosevelt-Ravenna Zoning Issues. Can you provide us with a general timeline of Sisley’s/RDG’s purchases?
GR: About 30 or more years ago, Hugh Sisley was the janitor at Roosevelt High School. He managed to buy some properties back when Boeing went bust in the early 70s, I imagine. Possibly he learned then that a run down property diminishes the value of the property next door. Eventually his empire grew. RDG has purchased four properties that Sisely did not already own in the zone, in the last two years.
RB/RH: Sisley himself was a member of the neighborhood (perhaps in vocation only), purchased the properties over time, and then left them to rot, essentially, bringing down the value of the entire area?Â Has the neighborhood or the City of Seattle tried to do anything about this?
GR: The recent City ordinance concerning registration of landlords and inspection of rentals is in part a means to enforce clean up of properties like Sisley’s. You also might notice that three or four of Sisley’s properties were torn down last year. I wish I knew the mechanism that forced that so I could try to make it happen on the others. Neighbors should write to the city council and to the mayor and insist that those unused, never to be used again buildings be removed. There are a haven for vermin, a fire hazard, a location inviting graffiti, and an eyesore. They have no place in the community.
RB/RH: At this time, what would you advise a concerned citizen to do?
GR: Oppose everything Sisley and RDG want to do until they meet the design of the RNA plan. Citizens should go to meetings and let their voice be heard. They should write to the city council and express themselves. They should be involved.
RB/RH: You yourself are a real estate agent and live in the Ravenna neighborhood.Â What do you say to those who may cry NIMBY over your stand (or others’) on the rezoning issue?
GR: If you own, anywhere, NIMBYism is an important part of making neighborhoods better all across the country. If you are a short term renter, you probably don’t have stake in how towns and cities grow and thrive, or how they fall into ruin.
For my part, Iâ€™ll continue to be proactive in the future of my neighborhood and be proud of doing so.
Glenn Roberts is a Seattle residential Realtor residing in the Ravenna neighborhood. He writes and administrates a number of blogs, including Ravenna Park – North and Roosevelt-Ravenna Zoning Issues. You can read much more about the Sisley properties, zoning, Environmental Impact Studies and much much more at both of those sites.