Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tonight King5 Report On Talaris Re-Development And Read Comments From The Neighborhood

At 5pm tonight,  King 5 news reporter Linda Brill will be doing a story on the Talaris re-development. We have heard she will be talking with George Thurtle, consultant and representative to the owners and who is also a Real Estate Developer with John L. Scott, and Linda will also talking with a few neighbors.

The owners have proposed two options for developing the 18 acre property and have posted the options as well as additional information on their "Talaris Living" website.

The first option, their preferred plan is a 350 to 400 unit multi story apartment option which would require a rezone from the single family zoning. Changing the rezoning then allows the developer to increase the height, in exchange for low income housing.

The second option, which is in line with the current zoning, divides the land parcels up into 90 single family lots for homes.

The Laurelhurst Community Club, who has been working with the 4000 Property LLC since mid 2012, has also drafted another conceptual option along with a residential architectural firm with the goal in mind to preserve as much open space as possible, by having homes with single family lots and staying in character with the neighborhood.

An LCC Board member told us of their concept:

The option LCC provided to Talaris is a suggested proposal to encourage Talaris to think outside the box on an alternative for a lower number of single-family lots and preserving more open space in sync with the character of the neighborhood.
This differs from 90-home maxed out grid that Talaris presented as an only option for single family development, or, their preferred plan , which is a 350- 400 unit apartment option, that requires a rezone.
Before last year, LCC has been involved with the site once known as Batelle, for over 30 years, in ensuring the property is well integrated with the neighborhood by closely monitoring any proposed development.

Here is LCC's history with Batelle and later Talaris as posted on their website.

LCC has told us that they "hope to work together with the owner and with neighbors to ensure any development plan enhances the livability of Laurelhurst and takes into account the unique open, natural space that exists".

During the Open Houses held by the developers to educate the community on the proposed re-development, our staff  received many comments from neighbors who attended.

Here are the comments:

I opposed the suggested development plan. The neighborhood and surrounding areas have already been hit by the impact of large developers and environmental changes. I believe that development on the Talaris property should be limited to single family homes with yards and high end town homes. The impact of this 'suggested development' design could bring in 200-250 cars into this neighborhood, implies rental and leased properly and retail opportunities. Is this what Laurelhurst neighbors really want?

Neighbors in the Laurelhurst neighborhood east of Laurelhurst Park did not receive a written invite to the meetings. They are only aware of the development via the hard copy of the Laurelhurst news letter.

Rentals mean transient tenants. With the size of one of the proposals there could be some major turn overs in occupancy in a 12 month time period. Short term occupancy can diminish the sense of community and pride.

How many children would they expect and how will that impact schools?

90 units is too many why not a cluster of single family dwellings more along the line of single family 20-30 nicer homes.

If they go with the POD idea and every occupant had a car and some have two where are they going to park? Reminded of other neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Swedish Hospital area were traffic and parking are a challenge.

We are surrounded by high density housing from UW student housing, to condos and town homes and an ever growing retail mall. Believe in preserving the idea of single family homes.

Both ideas presented by developer seem to be more about making money than in preserving the environment and enhancing the neighborhood. Against any rental property.

What is to keep other developers from buying up surrounding homes and continuing to build high density housing?

Was the developer putting this plan together at the same time Children's was proposing the additions to Children's?

I personally am against such high density housing. More and more signal family neighborhoods have been impacted by high density growth. We need to include preservation of communities like Laurelhurst so that residents of Seattle have choices.

When I was there an LCC Board Members shared an interesting concept design that is very different than either of the two developer options.  It includes a lot of public open space, retains much of the landscape and water features and still seems to meet the owner’s desire to make a profit on his investment. There are something like 52 homes (instead of the 91 homes in one of their plans) and some condos. But no rentals or apartment buildings

George  Thurtle, one of the owner's consultans seemed to  deny the presence of wetlands on the property, which he is totally wrong. 3.8 acres of the property was designated wetlands in the EIS done in 2006. George  also got pretty defensive with another neighbor who was asking a lot of questions, bringing up a lawsuit against a developer by some residents in magnolia, for whom it didn’t end well   He seemed to be letting this neighbor know that we shouldn’t think about pursuing anything of the sort. 

We attended the open house and had a long interaction with the architect who has developed the current proposed plan for the owners of Talaris.  Our impression is that a lot of thought has gone into the proposed development, with the goal of preserving as much as possible of the open areas, trees and conference center in its current natural setting. The development of carefully located buildings for apartments could balance the losses from the conference center without disturbing it's quiet profile.

We understand that the conference center alone is not self-supporting, and we understand the reasons for that. The facility has been limited to use primarily in the daytime and to quiet activities. It is a lovely place for a small conferences and many folks we know have used it as such.

There was one wedding reception that I know of a few years ago - it went on much longer than planned and became quite noisy around 9 - 10 pm. Our homes are like an amphitheater for sounds at Talaris, especially on the side with the dining hall. To Talaris's credit, there has been no other such activities. I'm sure such rentals would be profitable but they are also potentially noisy and disruptive for nieghbors, as we experienced the one time.

I was frankly prepared to dislike any changes to the Talaris property, but we recognize the conference center cannot continue as currently run. Therefore we were pleasantly surprised at the intense evaluation of the assets of the land including open space, trees, birds and wildlife. It took some effort to account for each of the trees, and to site buildings so that trees would largely be undisturbed and would shield buildings from view by homes to the east and west. The size of the buildings are reasonable at 2 stories - if I understand correctly - except for replacement of the "commercial" buildings along 45th. And those buildings would have more setback from the streets with landscaping, be much more attractive than the current buildings, and have underground parking.

We also understand that one reason to leave the property intact as a single entity, with renters, is that the owners/managers will retain control of the buildings, land, and their use. Their stated goal to us is to continue neighborhood access to the grounds, as is currently available, except of the development and sale of a single row of single family houses at the eastern edge of NE 45th. If the land was managed by a home-owners association, it is unlikely that the public would be encouraged or even allowed to freely utilize the grounds. Also, with central ownership, there can be standards for noise and behavior, and full time security is planned for the property. (There have been some vandalism and parties in the summer - not nearly as bad as the playfield from what I understand, and we have had numbers to call to alert the property management group to any problems.)

I asked about one comment I had heard, that the apartments would be 600 square feet, with a target of renting to students and workers at the hospitals. It was explained to us that 600 sq feet is a module when planning, and apartments could be 1, 1.5, 2x the 600 square ft, or whatever is desired by the market. We were told they see it as a high end development, and would likely be out of the price range for students. We commented on the interest by seniors in staying in the neighborhood when ready to give up maintaining a home and gardens. The developers are hearing this from others and will respond, I think.

There are plans to add one extra 2 story building on the east side of the property, north of the dining hall and south of a current building in the NE area which is used for conferences. It would give extra rooms for the conference center. We think that the limited height and footprint, along with the quiet nature of current conferences, would be much more desirable than building single family homes build in that area. In fact, the hillside between the alley and the driveway at Talaris is quite unstable and would be expensive to build on, as they recognize. Maintained and improving the trees and other plantings would be far better than intensive development, from our point of view.

We would support the proposed development of the option presented by Talaris, if contracts and covenants can be developed in such a way as to protect the future of that type of governance/development, including adequate safeguards for the future, and ongoing interaction with the adjacent neighbors and the community at large.

I had an opportunity yesterday to spend 45 minutes at one of the Tilaris open houses and I asked why my neighbors further into the neighbor hood were not included in the mailing. There comment was that they were addressing the periphery neighborhoods first. I asked how they were contacting people. They said they were relying on the LCC to get the word out by email and thru the news letter. Not everyone in this community and adjacent property owners are on the LCC mailing list let alone email. Shouldn't the developer be sending out info to all residence who will be affect by this project?

Apparently this project has been brewing since the approval of the Children's Hospital expansion.

When I asked what studies had been done regards to impact on schools the response was "that the design was created to provide housing for UW students and employees of Children's". No study had been done as yet regard to school aged children.

The majority of units are 600 square feet with a few potential larger corner units. Rents would begin about $1500 with the possibility $3000 for the larger units. The carrot is preservation of the pond and green space to the South as a 'legacy'. If you build homes you destroy or limit the 'legacy'.

At 240 units say 2-3 students renting together, 500 to 600 bodies and cars? I don't agree with that at all. Environmental impact the noise the cars and traffic. Doesn't sound very much like a neighborhood setting to me.

When asked about condos as part of the development we were told that it was not a viable return to the investors and that the maintenance would be an issue. Same with single story homes.

When asked to cut the number of houses in the second offer we again were told that for the investor to get a return he needed to keep the volume high. It was also implied that if they built fewer more expensive homes that it would become a gated community and that the rest of the community may not have access to the 'legacy' area.

I asked that if the POD were approved what was to keep the developer from buying up adjacent land and continuing to expand the project. There was no answer. They literally pressed their lips together and said nothing. What's on their future agenda?

In my opinion the investor is out to get his money, does not really understand or sympathize with the neighborhood. I felt somewhat intimidated when I went up to the display board and suggested the removal and rearrangement of some of the 90 house idea. I was told that by siding with single family houses "that I was not interested in preserving the 'legacy' ". They used that word a lot. It made me mad.

Some of my biggest concerns is the loss of neighborhood and open space. If I wanted to live in a high density environment I could move downtown!

I sure hope that LCC and the surrounding neighborhoods are able to put a halt to this high density, transient type of building in this location. Hopefully the city council will stand behind our community.

Talk about the gradual decline of single family housing just to suit big business! I think of the area surrounding the UW especially north of 45th and Greek row, There use to be beautiful single family homes, people I knew. They have left, their homes are not rentals and not well maintained. Is that where we are headed?

George Thurtle loves to use the words "low impact' and high rise " apartments" in the same sentence, though that is quite an oxymoron. There is absolutely nothing low impact about extra traffic, square footage, taller, cheap contruction units, and 350 transient residents at the foot of one of Seattle's 100 year old neighborhood.

If you were unable to attend an Open House, send comments to George Thurtle, the lead development consultant, at (206) 713-3355 or

George Thurtle, let us know that answers to the questions that neighbors submitted to the Laurelhurst Community Club and that we posted last week have been answered in the new FAQ section of the Talaris Living website


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