Since the turn of the 20th century, the Seattle Children’s Home has nestled among the trees at 10th and McGraw on Queen Anne Hill. An understated landmark, its history rings with the familiar names of Seattle’s pioneers — Leary, Gatzert, Denny and Mercer.
Now that era is ending. The property is in the process of being sold, and the mental-health treatment center for children plans to move to a new site in Burien.
The buyer, Toll Brothers, wants to build as many as 66 town houses on the 2.5-acre parcel and remove dozens of trees and buildings, according to one proposal submitted to the city.
“How the sale of such a large parcel is handled will set a precedent,” said Terri Johnston, who is a member of the citizens’ group, Future Queen Anne, that calls such a plan devastating to the neighborhood.
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Last year 9,000 residential building permits were approved in Seattle — more than any year since the city began electronic tracking in 1984. Real estate sales are improving and developers and many neighborhoods have clashed when large homes are shoehorned onto small lots.
Future Queen Anne members have watched it all with alarm.
Although Toll insists its proposal is preliminary, Future Queen Anne wants to be sure it has a voice in development decisions.
The parcel spans nearly two blocks and Future Queen Anne doesn’t want dozens of town homes that have their backs turned to the rest of the neighborhood. The organization also wants to make sure the area is kept safe for walking and biking; they want the elm trees along 9th Avenue West preserved, as well as some of the other trees on the site; and they want the community at large to be aware of the historic value of the property.
Eric Campbell, president of Toll’s Northwest division, says he is sympathetic to the neighbors’ concerns. “It’s very normal because the development is large and it’s a change for the community,” he said.
“We’ve been working with neighborhood groups for 20 years,” he said, adding that the company will be sensitive to the desires of the community. He added that, despite the preliminary plan to cut trees, the company would work to preserve trees and the historic home on the parcel, if necessary.
The Seattle Children’s Home started in 1884 as the Ladies’ Relief Society, a home for orphans, on land donated by David and Louisa Denny. It was moved to the present property in 1903 where a new house was built in part with city relief funds left over from the 1889 Great Fire.
Those who donated and worked to help the needy children — from Babette Gatzert to Mary Leary — are some of the city’s best known pioneers.
The sale of the land, appraised at $9.8 million, will allow the nonprofit to expand and provide more services to mentally ill children at a new location in Burien, said Lisa Hay, director of development.
Most people on Queen Anne are only now learning that the site is being sold, said Johnston, whose green craftsman home sits across the street from the Children’s Home.
While an environmental review will be needed before any land-use changes are allowed, Johnston says that process can be intimidating to citizens. She believes a pre-emptive strike early in the process — in this case before the Children’s Home deal with Toll is even closed — is the best policy.
Toll had a preliminary meeting with the city and filed the initial proposal, but no formal application for development has been made, said Bryan Stevens, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Planning and Development.
“Based on what we heard during the preliminary meeting, the project would at the least require environmental review … which involves public process. If exceptional or rare trees are found, then streamlined design review would also be required,” Stevens said.
Toll, which has an option agreement to purchase the property, specializes in building suburban luxury homes and urban villages. The deal is expected to close at the end of 2014, said Hay. That would give the Children’s Home time to make the move and consolidate their services with the Ruth Dykeman Children’s Center, which they merged with in 2010, and with Navos Mental Health Solutions, which children’s became part of last year.
The sale price has not been disclosed.
Selling the property was part of the agreement at the time of the mergers, Hay said. And it will allow the group to add more facilities and various services at the Ruth Dykeman site in Burien by adding a medical clinic, four-room school, town-house-residential facilities and a gym, all focused around mental-health treatment for youth.
Future Queen Anne members understand the Children Home’s need to sell.
“We just think there should be some serious discussion about this and it should involve the community,’’ Johnston said. “We are not at all opposed to a repurposing of the site — in fact it is exciting to consider, if done well.”
But once the property is gone, it’s gone, she said. “The issue is how do we approach growth.’’
Nancy Bartley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8522