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Originally published September 6, 2013 at 8:15 PM | Page modified September 6, 2013 at 8:58 PM

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Apartment builder gains control of blighted Roosevelt properties

A real-estate partnership called Roosevelt Development Group now has long-term ground leases on almost five acres near Sound Transit’s future light rail station in the neighborhood.

Seattle Times business reporter

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A local apartment developer has gained full control of a large swath of land stretching over three blocks near Roosevelt High School that was assembled over the decades by one of Seattle’s most infamous landlords.

A real-estate partnership called Roosevelt Development Group has long-term ground leases on almost five acres near Sound Transit’s future light-rail station in the Roosevelt neighborhood.

The partnership envisions hundreds of new apartments in the Northeast 65th Street corridor that will boost ridership at the future station and help the city manage its rapid growth.

The properties, some of which are boarded up, are owned by Hugh and Martha Sisley, who city officials say have refused to pay more than $658,000 in court judgments related to substandard housing — more than almost any other landlord in Seattle.

The ground leases recorded this week by Roosevelt Development Group, a partnership led by apartment developers Jon Breiner and Ed Hewson, have a 10-year term with a 99-year renewal option.

They’re already seeking approval for a seven-story, 220-unit residential building with 8,000 square feet of ground-floor retail at 6505 15th Ave. N.E., according to city records.

“We have a long-term vision for the Roosevelt neighborhood,” said Breiner, who declined to offer a timetable for the redevelopment of the entire area, some 51 properties.

Under a ground lease, a property’s owner typically receives a small percentage of the revenue generated by a new development over the lease’s term. The developer leasing the site builds and manages the property.

“What it indicates is someone is going to develop a lot of apartment buildings in that neighborhood,” said Tom Graff, president of the commercial division of Ewing & Clark, a Seattle real-estate brokerage. “That could transform the neighborhood.”

Other developers also see the catalytic potential of the future Roosevelt light-rail station: Mack Urban opened Kavela apartments at 845 N.E. 66th St. last spring and is planning more at Northeast 68th Street and 8th Avenue Northeast, said Jim Atkins, the developer’s managing director.

The principals behind Roosevelt Development Group also run HB Management, which oversees about 5,500 apartments in Seattle and has developed small apartment complexes over the past decade, Breiner said.

Breiner and Hewson recently developed two of their biggest apartment projects to date. One is 206 Bell, a 122-unit project that opened over the summer, that is full already even with monthly rents ranging from $1,400 to $3,800. Another apartment building at 4th Avenue and Denny Way is under construction, Breiner said.

Last year, the city rezoned the area near the planned light-rail station, lifting height limits to as much as 85 feet for housing. Roosevelt Development’s proposed building at 65th and 15th is just under 65 feet high.

The Roosevelt station, which is slated to open in 2021, is expected to have 8,000 daily riders boarding there by 2030, according to Sound Transit.

On a city blog, City Councilman Richard Conlin wrote in December 2011 that the Roosevelt rezone was “the first step towards eliminating the blight created by the Sisley properties” and giving the city lots of affordable housing.

He noted the irony: “I am aware that there is an undercurrent of resentment because zoning changes will lead to Mr. Sisley making more money.”

Assistant City Attorney Patrick Downs said Friday that the Sisleys have exhausted their appeals on the judgments.

“If the Sisleys won’t pay cash, and their only asset is those properties, we have to move against those properties,” Downs said.

Jeffrey Grant, who represents the Sisleys in the matter, said Friday that the Sisleys haven’t paid because the legal battle wasn’t over, saying he planned to argue before an appellate court about the judgments’ validity and enforceability.

“One of the arguments here is these judgments are unconstitutionally excessive,” Grant said. “They’re just disproportionate to what we were all arguing about.”

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @sbhatt

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