Property owned by one of Seattle’s most notorious landlords will become a pocket park in the Roosevelt neighborhood, according to a plan announced Friday by city officials.
A piece of property owned by one of Seattle’s most notorious landlords will become a pocket park intended as breathing space in a neighborhood slated to become much denser, according to a plan announced Friday by city officials.
Some Roosevelt and Ravenna residents applauded the plan, while others asked whether the site might be better used for low-income housing.
The 0.2-acre parcel near Roosevelt High School belongs to Hugh and Martha Sisley, a landlord couple who owe the city $3.3 million in legal judgments, fines and interest related to housing-code violations at the dozens of rental homes they control.
Unless the Sisleys agree to transfer the parcel to the city, officials will seek to have the land seized by the King County Sheriff’s Office and sold at auction, City Attorney Pete Holmes said. The city would then subtract the property’s fair market value from what the couple owe.
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Mayor Ed Murray will send a proposed ordinance to the City Council next week authorizing the city to buy the property at auction to build a new park there, he told a crowd of about 40 neighbors during a news conference at the property Friday morning.
“Today we are announcing our plan to take what has been nothing short of a black eye on this neighborhood and turn it into something that the entire community can enjoy,” Murray said. “This blight has had a very real impact on property values and the success of local businesses.”
Holmes said he hopes the Sisleys will cooperate, but doesn’t expect them to. In that case, the process of acquiring the property will likely take months if not years, officials said.
The city can’t go to court to ask that the land be seized without first trying to get the owed amount from the couple in cash, according to Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office.
Council President Tim Burgess and Councilmember Jean Godden, who chairs the council’s parks committee, said they support the park plan. If another bidder buys the parcel at auction, the city would use its power of eminent domain to acquire the property from the new owner for its fair-market value, officials said.
The property in question is a vacant lot located along 14th Avenue Northeast between Northeast 65th and 66th streets. The Sisleys have for years owned a number of rundown homes along the Northeast 65th Street corridor.
Some are boarded up and sit on land leased to a real estate development group with plans to build apartment buildings. A few homes remain occupied.
City officials aren’t trying to seize other Sisley properties at this time, they said Friday.
The corridor has been targeted for high-density development because a new light-rail station is to open at 12th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 65th Street in 2021.
Michael Shiosaki, director of planning and development for Seattle Parks and Recreation and the mayor’s husband, said the city hasn’t yet determined what the park will look like. He said neighbors will be consulted.
“We think of this as a true example of turning a real lemon into lemonade,” Shiosaki said. “I know it’s been a long time in brewing this lemonade, but at some point in the near future this will be a park.”
The parks department has no funding as yet for the proposed park, an agency spokesman said.
Jeffrey Grant, a lawyer representing the Sisleys, said the announcement Friday may harm rather than help efforts by the city and his clients to reach an agreement.
“The process of trying to negotiate a resolution with these judgments has been ongoing for months and there are a number of moving parts,” Grant said.
“We’d like to get this worked out. But holding a news conference and introducing an ordinance seems like premature drumbeating … and puts the whole process at risk.”
Several neighbors cheered Friday when Murray described the proposed park as green space sorely needed in a neighborhood poised for tremendous growth.
Density has been a subject of debate in Roosevelt and Ravenna since before the City Council in 2012 rezoned 40 blocks near the future light-rail station to allow six-story buildings.
“I’m delighted with this plan because it means having a mix of housing and open space,” said Emily Easton, a retiree who has lived in Ravenna for almost 30 years.
Tim Pulphus, a Sisleys tenant who lives down the block from the site, said building more low-income housing should be the city’s top priority. Though Pulphus is fed up with his landlords, he doesn’t have enough money to relocate, he said.
“People need a roof over their head before they need a park,” the 52-year-old said with a quiver in his voice. “The park can come later. I want to see people get off the street.”
Murray said the city is trying to strike the right balance.
“We need to build more affordable housing … but we can’t build that affordable housing unless we build the amenities that come with it,” the mayor said.