Police target South Seattle rave site as 'chronic nuisance'
The Othello neighborhood in South Seattle got a reprieve from the rowdy crowds, drug deals, fights and trash that have accompanied rave parties at The Citadel when Seattle police Capt. Mike Nolan, commander of the South Precinct, announced Wednesday night the department has declared the vacant building-turned-sometimes music venue a chronic nuisance property.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Ron Momoda has called 911 more times than he can count and has spent sleepless nights listening to the thumping bass of rave music.
He's stepped over puddles of urine and vomit, nudged awake teenagers passed out on sidewalks, and spotted discarded underwear among the liquor bottles and beer cans that have littered the streets of South Seattle's Othello neighborhood.
"The throbbing sound just penetrates into the building," Momoda says of the house where he's lived since 1969.
Momoda and his neighbors were bracing for another night of mayhem on Saturday, when the 17th rave in the past year was scheduled at The Citadel, a 20,000-square foot building at 4200 S. Othello St., east of Martin Luther King Jr. Way South.
But the neighborhood got a reprieve from the rowdy crowds, drug deals, fights and trash when Seattle police Capt. Mike Nolan announced at a Wednesday community meeting that the department has targeted The Citadel as a chronic nuisance property, bringing to bear a "powerful" city ordinance aimed at forcing the owner to clean up or close down.
Nolan, who commands the department's South Precinct, said his detectives have documented drug overdoses and sales, street robberies, assaults and even a stabbing around the venue. Criminal investigations into some of those incidents are ongoing, he said.
"There will be no rave Saturday night," Nolan said at the meeting, which drew about 60 people to the Southeast Seattle Senior Center. Nolan said the city has denied a special-events permit for the event.
The "chronic nuisance property" designation was used successfully to force the closure of several seedy motels on Aurora Avenue North last year, City Councilmember Tim Burgess told residents.
The ordinance "is so powerful and so effective" because it allows police to compel property owners "to ensure criminal-activity stops" and to impose stiff fines if problems aren't addressed, he said.
While pleased with the news, residents questioned why the raves were allowed in the first place, with many events drawing crowds up to 1,500 people ages 16 and older.
Real-estate developer Steve Rauf, who owns The Citadel property, told residents at the meeting he would need to make $50,000 worth of seismic upgrades, improve access to fire exits and do other improvements to get a permanent, assembly permit from the city.
"It's not in the budget," Rauf said.
He said the raves have brought in needed revenue to carry the $30,000-a-month property, which he plans to redevelop next year.
"We won't have any more raves out there. That story has come to a close," Rauf said.
But when pressed for a promise that raves were a thing of the past, Rauf responded: "We won't do them more than quarterly."
Special-events permits "are granted to buildings in the city, for things like weddings and large catered events, in places that don't meet the code," said Alan Justad, the deputy director of the Department of Planning and Development.
Though a particular property isn't typically allowed more than one special-event permit per quarter, Justad said, when applicants "make progress toward a (permanent) permit, we allow them more" special-events permits.
Justad said the city's "land-use code doesn't address patron behavior and doesn't get to the complaints we're hearing" about raves in the neighborhood.
But now that the Police Department has stepped in with the chronic nuisance-property designation, Nolan said, he thinks the Othello neighborhood will get more uninterrupted sleep — and wake up to fewer issues.
The biggest problem with the raves, he said, is that Ecstasy, or MDMA, is the drug of choice for partygoers.
"If you took that out of the rave scene, you'd have 40 kids show up. It's part of the culture," Nolan said.
Raves at The Citadel have tapped the resources of the South Precinct, said Nolan. They have also led to at least one big drug bust.
On March 22, two weeks after undercover Seattle detectives bought drugs from rave attendees at The Citadel, police arrested five suspects in Snohomish and seized $42,000 worth of Ecstasy and $15,000 cash.
"Raves are inherently dangerous and it will be in his best interest to stop having them," Nolan said of Rauf. "If I was in his shoes, it'd be a no-brainer."
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