Friday, April 6, 2018

Update on Talaris Development

The 17.8 acre Talaris campus (4000 NE 41st Street) was reportedly sold to Quadrant Homes in January, who, proposes to build 63 single-family homes on large lots that could sell for about $2 million each, according to a recent article in the Seattle Times and Daily Journal of Commerce.

The plan would keep some of the existing buildings and park space, including the existing conference center and four other buildings, and two ponds. Two other small buildings, including Building G, housing a lodge, would be demolished.

The site, built in 1967, was originally owned by Battelle Memorial Institute. In 1997 Era Care Communities purchased the property for $6,125,000 and it was developed into Talaris Institute which focused on infant and early learning research of the brain. In 2000, Bruce Mc Caw under the name 4000 Property LLC of Bellevue, purchased the property for $15,630,000. The county has assessed the property at $14 million and sold in 2000 for $15.6 million.

The property, when sold several decades ago, included an underlying Settlement Agreement in which Battelle Neighbors and the Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) are partnered together with the land owners of the parcel.  The Settlement Agreement specifically states that major institutions can't operate within this property (no hospitals, colleges, etc).  And the Settlement Agreement has specific restrictions attached which specifies the use of the property to protect the quality of life in the adjacent neighborhood.

The property was designated with landmark status in November 2013, which dictates that specific controls define certain features of the landmark to be preserved and a Certificate of Approval process is needed for changes to those features. Some incentives and controls included in the City's ruling are zoning variances, building code exceptions, and financial incentives, which are protected, as stated on the City's Landmark and Designation website.

For decades, neighbors were free to stroll the grounds, until 2013, when Talaris suddenly put up "No Trespassing" signs and installed a four feet chain link fencing in 2013, as well putting up a main driveway barricadefence on northwest side and a surveillance camera.  Neighbors were no longer allowed to use the large grassy meadow area where generations of kids practiced soccer and the past few years the grounds facing NE 41st Street are often neglected and grass not consistently mowed. 

The Laurelhurst Community Club, has been involved with the site forover 30 years, working to ensure the property is well integrated with the neighborhood by closely monitoring proposed development.  LCC has also worked with current owners in lobbying for better property maintenance

LCC's other priorities in partnering with the owners are maintainingopen space, the eagle's habitat and valuable mature trees, supporting and enhancing property values and character of the entire Laurelhurst neighborhood and minimizing traffic impacts on all neighborhood streets and access points.

The Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) recently printed this information in their newsletter:

Talaris Redevelopment Concepts Still Just That
On March 16, Talaris owner representative Nathan Rimmer, Talaris and Quadrant legal counsel Jack McCullough, architect Bill Bain, and Quadrant Homes Director of Land Development met with the Architectural Review Committee of the Seattle Landmark Preservation Board to discuss their preliminary plans to develop the Talaris site for single-family residential use. They presented a plan for adding 63 homes on 5,000-foot lots, consistent with the underlying zoning for this parcel of land with the exception that the conditional use was granted as a “An Institute for Advanced Study” in the late 1960s.  
Bill Bain was one of the original architects for the Battelle Research Insitute in conjunction with Dr. Burke Thomas at the University of Washington. He said the design concept manifested in a group of structures with strong, metal clad roofs layered and spread out among the trees. The overarching theme was an “envelope of buildings surrounding an inner sanctum, a place to sit and think.” The architectural team created the pond as a focal point. Bain reflected, “as word spread, many of the researchers wanted to come from all over the world, and, with their families to experienced Battelle Institute, a place isolated from outside influences."
Bain was very concerned that the “arrival” to the site from NE 41st St. would be obscured with the dense development of homes there, and noted that “when you enter, one should be leaving another world behind, and stopping to view the pond and eagles’ nest.” He stated that this “arrival” should be retained on the site as an essential element of the design. Quadrant agreed to work with this information.  
SLMPB board members pressed hard for a comprehensive plan for the total site development and would not allow two buildings to be demolished without a full set of plans. Members also requested alternate uses for existing buildings E and G, plus A, B, and C.  
The SLMPB Chairperson gave a reality check to all parties, stating, “We need to think about how much dirt needs to be moved here. What about the grading, roads, and retaining walls?” She requested that Quadrant do a grading scheme before further consideration of developing the site. Storm water and drainage will be a big factor, but the site should have capacity to service the new homes. 
Eugenia Wu from Historic Seattle stated that the density and disturbance that a single-family development requires would ruin the landmark status of this parcel and does not offer a good solution to preservation of the site. Also, she asked the SLMB to consult with Rich Haag, the landscape architect, whose vision has not been heard on Quadrant’s proposal.  
Bonnie McGregor, founder of Orion Sky Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness, said that for the past few years she has used all of the space in Building G, which is very well suited to their work of improving the lives and mortality of their patients.  
LCC trustee Colleen McAleer stated that LCC continues to be open minded as it has with all prior development proposals. LCC, too, wants to see the entire development scheme with all buildings and their uses defined before agreeing with a plan for the site. 

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