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Building a Pathway Home at Fort Lawton

*Originally Published in Queen Anne and Magnolia News

Hundreds of community members packed the Magnolia United Church of Christ for a public hearing on the Fort Lawton Redevelopment Plan last Tuesday, January 9th.

People came from Magnolia and across Seattle to take part in a discussion about the future of Fort Lawton, land the city will acquire from the United States Army at little cost.  Our goal is to build housing at Fort Lawton supporting low-income and formerly homeless seniors, veterans, and families.

Fort Lawton holds a unique spot in our City’s history. The land occupying the north part of Magnolia bluff served as an Army base from the late 1890s through the 1960s. Fort Lawton was an active duty base during both World Wars, and became a base for tactical weapons during the Cold War. The Army’s need for the base steadily waned as the 20th century progressed, and the Fort became part of the federal Base Realignment and Closure efforts in 2005.

Site plan for Fort Lawton Redevelopment

In the 1960s, the Army declared surplus 700 acres, and with the help of Senators Warren G. Magnuson and Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, 534 acres were transferred to the City for use as a park, while twenty acres were dedicated to the United Indians of All Tribes to create a cultural center, Daybreak Star. The Army preserved 38 acres for their ongoing training and office uses. In 2011, the Army left the base for good, leaving the land vacant and the buildings boarded up and unused.

As everyone who has lived here knows, Seattle has transformed from the small northwest outpost to one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and as of May, the fastest growing in the United States (Seattle Times, May 25, 2017). Seattle is not the place it was when the Discovery Park Master Plan was written. However, with this growth has come a new challenge that we acknowledge to be the great crisis of our time: homelessness.

In my eight years serving as a City Councilmember, and particularly during my time as chair of the Human Services and Public Health Committee on the City Council, I have pursued this challenge of addressing homelessness from every angle. In our all-out effort to address the crisis of homelessness, we have connected with other cities across the nation to learn what they have done successfully.

We have consulted with national experts, including Barb Poppe, who authored the Pathways Home recommendations. We know what works – Housing First.   I continue to believe we can alleviate the suffering we see on our streets by focusing our energies on fast-tracking a range of decent housing options.  This will require all communities to pitch in, for all neighborhoods to willingly support the goal of getting more people housed.

The Fort Lawton redevelopment plan is an opportunity for us to put these solutions into practice while preserving what Seattleites treasure about Discovery Park: “an open space of quiet and tranquility for the citizens of this city—a sanctuary where they might escape the turmoil of the city and enjoy the rejuvenation which quiet and solitude and an intimate contact with nature can bring” (Discovery Park Master Plan, 1972).

The City’s vision is to create an affordable, livable community within the Fort Lawton acres as well as to increase recreational and open space for everyone by dedicating more than ten more acres to new park uses. This vision includes elements of past planning efforts, while recognizing the City’s present priorities of equity for all.

The City’s redevelopment plan includes supportive housing for homeless seniors and veterans; affordable rental housing for low-wage households including families with children; and affordable home ownership opportunities through Habitat for Humanity for 52 families.

The success of this vision will depend on partnerships with community members, the private sector, service providers, and public agencies to support the new residents.

At the public hearing on Tuesday I appreciated hearing many voices in support of the affordable housing investments at Fort Lawton. Community members led with compassion.  One of my favorite comments invited everyone in the community to “[A]ct with faith to see this project to completion, supporting our neighbors in need.” Other commenters reminded the crowd that, “This could be your children, your family experiencing homelessness. How would you want them to be treated?”

I want to thank many Magnolia faith leaders who have aligned themselves with this work, including the Magnolia Ecumenical Council, particularly the Reverend Marilyn Cornwell and Pastor Joy Haertig; neighborhood leaders including Carol Burton, Janis Traven, Matt Adkins, Lisa Barnes, Patricia Akiyama, and Greg Shaw; the Fort Lawton School Coalition, including Valerie Cooper; affordable housing advocates including the Housing Development Consortium, Real Change, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, Enterprise, Queen Anne Helpline, the Low Income Housing Institute, the Transit Riders Union, Seattle Tech 4 Housing, and the Church Council of Greater Seattle. Special thanks are due to the Magnolia Community Council as well, who voted to support the Preferred Alternative of affordable housing.  I also am grateful to the vision and commitment from Seattle Public Schools and our Office of Housing.

As agreed with our Seattle Public Schools Board members, if the plan is approved by the Army, the City will dedicate six acres for the Seattle Public Schools’ use as active athletic fields, with the potential of developing a school in the future.

What I have appreciated about those who have come to the Fort Lawton Redevelopment Plan meetings is the deep commitment to build the community people wish to see. I am grateful that we are all committed to creating a community that is healthy, safe, and welcoming for all.

The Office of Housing is currently accepting feedback on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Following the close of the public comment period on January 29th, OH will release a Final EIS by March 31, 2018 that responds to the range of comments received. Based on the FEIS, OH will prepare a revised Fort Lawton Redevelopment Plan engage public feedback, and ultimately submit the plan to the City Council.

There are real consequences if we do not submit the FEIS by March 31, 2018. The value of the Fort Lawton land has been rapidly growing since we first embarked upon this planning process. Should the city fail to come to a shared vision, the United States Army could sell this land on the private market.

This is my simple wish for us. As a City, we will only be able to wrap our arms around the challenges we face if we will engage in open conversation–or as I call it, respectful leadership. Whether it be about public safety, housing, transportation, the environment, or any other issue we hold dear, we can solve the problems when we understand the intersections of the issues, and come together as willing partners, believing the best in and about each other. I hope the Fort Lawton Redevelopment plan process will become a model, showing how we can move away from fear and toward compassion. Please join me on the path toward inclusion, access, and a Magnolia and Seattle for all.

-Research assistance by Alberta Bleck

 

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