Archive for August, 2008

Will Belltown soon become Belltown?

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Since most of it was regraded a century ago, the area we now call Belltown has always been on the way to some fantastic destiny. The current vision has been clear since the 80s: Belltown should be a dense spinoff from Downtown proper, primarily residential but with offices too, and with lots of amenities.

Plymouth Housing's new project at at 2119 Third

I’ve always thought Belltown was just one more wave of projects away. After a few waves it’s not there yet. But it’s getting closer.

In many ways, Belltown is a huge success already, and I love living here. It’s vibrant to a point, and every convenience is either here or nearby. Young adults, empty-nesters, and a large poor population mix with less difficulty than some imagine. Half of us walk to work or use transit.

Traffic and street width are a hurdle. Belltown is “on the way to” Ballard in addition to destiny. The narrow streets and low traffic of Portland’s Pearl District magnify the feeling of people out and about, while Belltown needs lots of pedestrians to seem right, and busy crossings discourage strolling. Some avenues are probably unfixable, but Second and Third are low-volume toward the north and could be narrowed, perhaps replacing a lane or two with greenery.

We should concentrate our retail. Belltown is populated enough to have a couple good retail avenues, or one great one, but instead it has a lot of “sort of” retail streets. The culprit is code that favors/requires retail everywhere, and doesn’t require it to be wall-to-wall anywhere. We ought to pick a couple avenues for retail, and sharply reduce requirements elsewhere, leaving space for corner stores of course.

For those wishing for a bigger-city feel, another lesson is that a few hundred new housing units won’t have much effect in such a large area. That’ll take thousands of people, which will take years. Luckily some of us enjoy the journey.

Perhaps we can talk about amenities in another post!

Housing boom, interrupted

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Some are making lemonade from the housing bust’s lemons. The New York Times had an interesting story today on cities buying up foreclosed property to prevent blight from seeping into their towns. Boston, Minneapolis, San Diego and others are busy buying up land with public and private dollars, then redeveloping and flipping it.

Housing bust not a bad deal for all

On Morning Edition the story this morning was the “green lining” on the cloud of bad housing news. Nature and land trusts have taken advantage of falling prices and foreclosures to get good deals on properties or areas they plan to turn into open space and preserves, including a significant stretch of coastline on Oahu that will be turned into a wildlife preserve.

And, if you haven’t yet heard through the grapevine, two very non-serious new news sources have hit the Seattle media. One is about (supposedly) ugly condos, the other is Seattle’s own Onionesque fake news site, the Naked Loon that touches on development, politics and just how silly it is to be a Seattleite.

Dead trees on Burke-Gilman likely injected with herbicide

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Seven mature trees along the Burke-Gilman trail were likely injected with herbicide and are dead or dying, Seattle Parks and Recreation announced this morning in a press release.

Staff on a routine maintenance visit found three silver poplars and four Douglas Firs along the trail at NE 77th St. had quarter-inch holes drilled into them, and the speed of their death suggests they were likely injected with herbicide.

It's not easy being green

The three poplars are already dead, two of the Douglas firs are dead, and the other two are starting to turn brown.

Parks staff have submitted a police report and said in the release that the crime could be prosecuted under the State Malicious Mischief statute or under the Timber Trespass Statute. Anyone with information is asked to call the Seattle Police Department at 206-625-5011.

The trees are valued at $40,000 to $60,000 and it will take up to 30 years for replacement trees to reach maturity.

Ode to the corner store

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Greater Downtown seems awash in supermarkets these days, including new stores at Eighth & Madison, Third & Pike, Westlake & Denny, and Fifth North & Mercer. You’re always near one…except in poor ol’ north Belltown. We’re truly the gap in the Downtown supermarket smile.

One stop shopping

The thing is, as a resident of the area, I don’t really care. North Belltown is corner store heaven.

That doesn’t mean dives plastered with cigarette posters that mostly sell chips and six packs. I mean places that not only sell cereal, but several kinds. Places with extensive ice cream collections, and everything you need to make cookie dough. And frozen calzone. And plenty of sauces. Plus a few kinds of fruit and vegetables, because one serving of those can remove a lot of guilt. Actual groceries.

The real value is convenience. For one, there’s no line! I’m always astonished at the waits people tolerate at supposed “high end” supermarkets. Two, getting there probably takes one or two minutes.

Ok, so the prices tend to be…somewhat high. But isn’t your time worth something? And you’re generally supporting a small owner-operator, like the family that owns my favorite store.

If the choices get a little repetitive, there’s another corner store advantage — Belltown has many of them, and each has different food! The one a block west might have apples and pepper jack cheese, while the one a block north has pesto and pears. And let’s not forget that we corner store shoppers like takeout places too, and some of us binge at the Pike Place Market, so nobody is living on 100 percent corner store.

PS: Now I want cookie dough. Great.

SLU coffee shop wants giant Allen statue

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008
Image from the campaign's Web site
South Lake Union’s copiously irreverent Kapow! Coffee is collecting signatures to erect a 300-foot statue in mock tribute to SLU uber developer and Microsoft founder Paul Allen.

As reported in the Seattle Times today, the coffee shop that also brought us those naughty T-shirts that mock the unfortunate acronym for the South Lake Union Trolley has now launched a petition drive to “Build the Giant Paul.”

They’re also holding a design contest for the statue, which they propose should stand in South Lake Union’s Cascade Park.

This news comes just days after the unveiling of Fremont’s new J.P. Patches statue. Fremont is also home to a Lenin statue, and of course, the Fremont Troll. Capitol Hill has a tribute to Jimi Hendrix on Broadway, Alki has its Lady Liberty, Leif Erikson stands over the marina at Ballard’s Golden Gardens and Seattle’s name source stands at the crossroads of Belltown and Lower Queen Anne.

News flash: Seattleites pay more at PCC

Monday, August 18th, 2008

Most readers probably won’t be too surprised to hear that food at PCC costs more than it does at Safeway. Buyers there put the premium on local, organic and whole foods and those just cost more than the Kraft Mac and Cheese and Frogurt you won’t see there.

Getting what you pay for

It probably also won’t come as a shock that the same brand of grocery store charges different prices in different neighborhoods. According to a P-I Article that ran today, a group of volunteers studying grocery store prices in different neighborhoods found a $31 split between identical items sold at the White Center Safeway and the Admiral Safeway in West Seattle.

That can probably be explained by a combination of land values and market factors, though company reps told the P-I that the company doesn’t alter prices by neighborhood.

But those two “identical” green peppers they compared weren’t actually the same. The story gets interesting when the surveyers comment on the quality of the food they found at the stores, a factor that they didn’t actually survey.

One person is quoted as describing the cheaper stores as “the place where food goes to die.”

I also expected the survey to find more of the FDA’s recommended 68 basket items missing from the cheaper stores. But those were actually relatively comparable, with four foods missing at that White Center Safeway, 1 at the Safeway on Admiral– and 5 at PCC. Trader Joe’s had 22 items missing.

Surveyers also noted some of the unhealthy placement they saw at cheaper stores– like a Hershey’s chocolate bar display standing in front of canned vegetables.

They love you, Portland, they really do

Friday, August 15th, 2008
Portland, you make it look so easy
Portland’s historic Heathman Hotel already knew a thing or two about sustainability.

As I rode the elevator up to my room there last year, the doorman noticed me admiring the Brazilian rosewood paneling. “We have to be careful with it,” he said. “It’s endangered so we can’t replace it.”

So how does the historic luxury hotel in downtown Portland keep its cache in the midst of a changing world? It goes green, of course. Green Building Elements has a story today on the undertaking.

USA Today also got smitten with the Rose City. A story in today’s paper marvels at how carefree and car-free you can be in our compact little cousin.

Portland rocks, and many of us here have long known it. But an even better descriptor found in the piece: “studiously hip.” So true.

MODA: hot or not?

Thursday, August 14th, 2008
Moda model in 2006

So MODA is now going rental. After starting out as a smoking hot, trendy urban condominium that “sold out” within a week in 2006, many buyers are jumping the ship like rats.

The developers of this bulky, wood-frame, rabbit warren, packed with units having less than 300 square feet (or now less than 250 square feet, it seems) touted the project as bringing “affordable” units to the market. At $500/sf, that was hardly an accurate claim.

Perhaps this was just a bad idea. It certainly is for the neighborhood and the block where it sits. The developer managed to avoid neighborhood design review — which would have surely resulted in a better design — by reviving an old permit from the early 90’s, before design review was required.

The original rendering showed a generous ground floor — if one is to believe the scale implied in the rendering — with large, high bay windows ostensibly filled with cool Belltown galleries, cafes and shops.

What we see in fact are a row of low height storefronts, some barely 8 feet to the header, which cannot possibly house any truly interesting retailers. I’m sure what we will now get will include an inevitable chain hoagie shop, a real estate office and a branch of some obscure bank.

I’m sure that more than a few of the supposed buyers who now have cold feet, or couldn’t secure financing, never intended to live in MODA at all, but rather envisioned flipping their purchases in a few years to make a massive profit.

Sometimes life is just a big casino. You can leave the place a little sorry and a lot broke.

New bicyclist is a convert

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

It took moving – and cleaning out a storage locker – for this pedestrian to think about bicycling again. I thought of biking as something other people did, people with farther to go, in great shape, and more skilled with flat tires than I. But the idea grew, and after $200 of fixes at Elliott Bay, I was off as a recreational biker.

It has been AWESOME.

Getting Converted on the Sammamish River Trail

There’s something exhilarating about heading off to new places and doing it under your own power. Biking is a great mix of the “I’m here now” feeling you get walking, the changing scenery you get in a car or bus, and just enough risk. And our region is splattered with destinations – from pleasant town centers in places like Mercer Island (yes, really), to the Issaquah Alps, to close-in nirvanas like Green Lake.

In some ways it’s been easier than expected, and in in other ways it’s been a challenge.


They’ve gotta go: Seattle toilets back on Ebay

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Seattle’s five automated toilets are back on Ebay.

And this time, they’re priced for quick movement: The highest one (Capitol Hill’s) is now at $1,025 and the lowest (the waterfront’s) is at $449 with a little over seven days to go.

Pioneer Square's toilet is now at $1,025

The German-made Hering-Bau toilets are being removed by the city because of maintenance costs and problems with drug use and prostitution.

They were first listed on Ebay July 15 with a minimum bid of $89,000 each. There were no bidders.

Comparable new units are now selling for around $200,000, said Hugh O’Neill, Hering International’s North American sales director.

Pat Miller, who handles disposal of public property for the city, said at least 20 cities are in the market for the automatic toilets. The single-stall stainless steel units are accessible and have sensors for hand-washing and flushing. They are designed to seal their doors to clean the floor and toilet after every flush, and to prevent people from entering while in use.

The city council overrode a mayoral veto in 2001 to get the toilets installed throughout the downtown area for use by tourists, shoppers and the homeless.

But a report released in March said the toilets are the least cost-effective way for the city to provide public restroom services and said they were magnets for illegal activity. Read more about it at

Kudos to Citizen Rain for catching this one first.