The 26 historic homes at Fort Lawton have been up for sale for more than a year now, and it looks like the sale will close within the next two to three months.
The U.S. Army built Fort Lawton, including the buildings for sale, in Magnolia’s Discovery Park in the early 1900s. It was home to both soldiers and prisoners-of-war during World War II. Eventually, the military vacated, but it didn’t officially close until September 2011.
Previously, Forest City, a Cleveland-based real estate management and development company, owned the buildings, while the U.S. Navy owned the land. Because the Navy no longer has a presence in Seattle, the Fort Lawton homes were considered “excess housing,” said Forest City project executive Greg Rapp. In early 2013, the Navy transferred land ownership to Forest City.
The Washington Avenue and Montana Circle properties are currently in “exclusive negotiations” with a buyer who came on board in mid-2013. There were things that Forest City needed to complete before the sale could close, Rapp said, such as the soil-remediation project from lead-paint contamination and transferring ownership of utilities to the city.
When the exclusive negotiations wrap up, there will be a clear closing date. Until the deal closes, though, Rapp can’t reveal who the buyer is or the sale price.
He also said he cannot speculate about the future of the buildings — that’s the buyer’s territory. However, it is presumed the buyer will sell the homes as individual residences, as they are used now.
There are currently three open Department of Planning and Development (DPD) notices. Two notices are applications for 640 and 670 Washington Ave., to create Short Subdivision unit lots and for Water Availability Certificates. The other application, for 901 Montana Circle, has the same two requests, along with another for SEPA environmental determination.
A Short Subdivision application allows a developer to divide a plot of land into two to nine plots. A Water Availability Certificate ensures there is adequate water going to the home.
A representative from the DPD was not available for comment on the applications.
Friends of Discovery Parks’ main goal is to make sure park happenings adhere to the park’s Master Plan, which was penned in 1972. That plan called for a tranquil and serene natural oasis, with limited cars and manmade impacts.
At the end of February, Friends secretary Julia Allen wrote a letter to Mayor Ed Murray, asking him to take control of the situation.
“Please consider this ‘last-ditch, 11.9th-hour’ request to ask that you, as Seattle mayor, take the necessary steps to stop this impending sale, and to move to acquire ownership of these private in-holdings for the citizens of Seattle,” Allen wrote. “Only by doing so can we ensure that Discovery Park will remain the crown jewel of Seattle parks, now and in perpetuity.”
This isn’t the first time the group has reached out. In 2008, it tried to buy the homes — a move Mayor Greg Nickels supported, Allen said in her letter — but it eventually gave up the endeavor when a lawsuit was filed regarding the environmental impact and the financial crisis hit.
The letter is a “Hail Mary pass,” last effort to get the city to take control, said Friends of Discovery Park board member Gary Gaffner.
“[Julia] wanted the city...to retain the right to control residents in the park atmosphere,” he said. “The city might be coming to the party a little late and not understand the penalties they’ll pay in the long run.”
Maintaining the park feel
Many people worry about the impact of the residences on the park and its atmosphere, Gaffner said. When the residences are privately owned, homeowners can challenge the guidelines set for the area by the Department of Neighborhoods.
“The hope is that they’ll find purchasers who’ll know about the military and uniformity,” Gaffner said. “Maybe it’s a dream to think you’ll get that.”
If the city owned the property, they could say, “I’m sorry, but this is not a neighborhood,” he said.
Gaffner said there have already been problems with homeowners who have thrown parties and clogged the roads with cars or want to install a swimming pool or barbeque in their front yard, disturbing the park’s feeling of isolation.
Or there could be problems if homeowners want to modify their home, affecting the historic area’s distinct military style, Gaffner said.
One benefit is that private owners have the money to maintain these valuable historic structures, he said.
This project is fairly typical for Forest City, Rapp said. He’s used to working in areas surrounded by public places.
“There are some unique qualities,” he said. “A lot of people are interested in the park property.”
The great thing about Fort Lawton is its historical significance and location, he said.
We will continue to follow this story as information about the new owners and their plans become available.
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