SPU surprises neighbors with sale of Queen Anne rec property
Seattle Pacific University says it never heard back after notifying the city Parks Department and the Seattle Public Schools that its Queen Anne tennis courts and parking area were for sale.
Seattle Times staff reporter
On maps of the city, the green of David Rodgers Park on North Queen Anne Hill stretches northward to include the Queen Anne Bowl track and sports field and the adjacent tennis courts.
Seventy-year-old big-leaf maples, Western red cedars and Douglas firs surround what neighbors long have known as parkland. A gravel parking lot, across Third Avenue West, provides 28 spots for the soccer, lacrosse and football players and their families who swarm over the field on afternoons and weekends.
The 2-acre tennis-court site and the parking lot have been owned by Seattle Pacific University, a private Christian college, but now have been sold to help fund a planned $74 million performance hall on the campus three blocks away.
Neighbors say they didn't learn of the sale until this month, after the property had been purchased by Aegis Living for $9.5 million. The company plans to build a 100-unit assisted-living and memory-care center on the tennis-court site. It doesn't have plans yet for the parking lot, said Michael Derr, Aegis vice president of development.
The college says it isn't required to provide notice to neighbors of the sale of land outside its campus, but in October it did inform its advisory committee, made up of Queen Anne residents, that the property was being offered for sale.
"We attempted to provide notification. I don't know if it was enough," said Don Mortenson, senior vice president for business and planning for Seattle Pacific.
He said the sale to Aegis fulfills the wishes of another group of neighbors, members of First Free Methodist Church across from the campus, who had previously approached the college about building senior housing.
"When we had the opportunity to sell to Aegis, we thought, 'Boy, it's a win-win for us,' " Mortenson said.
North Queen Anne residents said they would have liked the opportunity to work with Seattle Pacific and the Seattle Parks Department to try to buy the property. They fault the university for not doing more outreach or giving residents time to raise money and support.
"This is a significant loss of parkland for the entire city," said Denise Derr, who lives a block from the play field. "SPU is not legally bound to offer citizens the opportunity to save these parcels, but as a Christian university, you would hope loving your neighbor includes your actual neighbors."
By all accounts, the sale of the land happened quickly.
The sale was on the Nov. 14 agenda for the committee, where it generated no controversy, said Steve Sheppard, who manages the advisory committees that the city requires for major institutions such as colleges and hospitals.
He said meeting notices typically are sent only to people who have attended previous advisory committee meetings. In contrast, changes to the campus itself require notification of everyone within a quarter-mile, Sheppard said. Seattle Pacific said it also contacted the Parks Department and the Seattle Public Schools, which leases the former North Queen Anne Elementary School just east of the tennis-court property. Over the years, both had expressed interest in the parcels, but Mortenson said the university didn't hear back from either.
Aegis signed a letter of intent to purchase the properties in late November, said Michael Derr (no relation to the neighbor, Denise Derr).
"I was amazed at the speed that this happened," said Don Harper, another north Queen Anne resident. Harper is the chairman of the Queen Anne Community Council's Parks Committee and also serves on the 2008 Parks Levy Oversight Committee.
He heard about the sale from the Parks Department in October, but said Parks "doesn't move fast" when it comes to acquiring land or tapping levy funds to acquire open space. Typically, he said, neighborhoods line up for funding, and planning is well under way before a purchase goes forward.
He said Seattle Pacific didn't notify the Queen Anne Community Council or its Parks Committee.
The university also didn't inform Northwest Center Kids, a preschool for developmentally disabled children that leases the former elementary school. The center's handicapped-access path to the track and field crosses the tennis-court land, said Jane Dobrovolny, executive director.
Neighbors say they're concerned about increased traffic. Denise Derr has pictures of half a dozen accidents in the vicinity, including a rollover that occurred when a speeding college student lost control on the steep descent of Fourth Avenue West. Residents also are worried about increased noise and say the bowl play field, a former gravel pit now heavily forested around the perimeter, acts as a natural amphitheater. An assisted-living center likely will mean frequent delivery trucks and emergency medical vehicles, Denise Derr said.
Aegis says it will save the large trees on the property.
Others regret the lost opportunity to mobilize residents and sports groups to try to save the tennis courts and parking lot.
"There's so many things that could have happened here," Harper said. "A basketball court, a playground for little kids while their siblings are at the bowl. I just don't think SPU gave the community enough time."
Lynn Thompson: 206-909-7580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.