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Seattle’s Discovery Park could be latest locale for low-income housing

Fort Lawton at Discovery Park. (Joe Wolf, Flickr Creative Commons)

Have you been to Discovery Park lately? It really is a magical place. It’s so close to the core of the city, and yet it feels like you’ve escaped into a coastal oasis. It’s a great respite from the hustle and bustle of life: A place to run through the woods, or contemplate life on a bench overlooking the sound.

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So, how do you feel about the revival of a plan to house up to 600 homeless and low income folks right on the edge of Discovery Park?

After going dormant for a while, this decade-old plan is back on the front burner. And yes, there is significant opposition from some in the neighborhood. We’ll get to that in a minute.

A few details are needed so we know what we’re talking about. The U.S. Army has about 34 acres adjacent to Discovery Park. In days of yore, it held military troops at Fort Lawton. You may have seen some of the shuttered buildings and wondered what they were.

The Army currently leases the land to Seattle, but could avoid tax burdens if it transfers the acreage to the city. One catch: The land must be used for parks or homeless housing to get the tax breaks.

According to The Seattle Times, the 13 or so acres that will be designated for housing will have “85 apartments for formerly homeless seniors, 75 to 100 affordable rental row houses and about 52 Habitat for Humanity-built row houses and townhomes for sale.”

There are a bunch of hoops like median income, population caps, and parking spaces in there too, because, you know, Seattle.

On the other side of this prickly conversation, opponents would like to keep the homeless out of Discovery Park, and they have proposed everything from a wildlife corridor to reincorporating the land back into the park.

Critics also point out that Discovery Park is not that easy to get to and from on public transit, and that crime and drug use could go up. Do I need to point out that this land is directly across from a very affluent neighborhood? The well-heeled neighbors are prepared to defend their position with expensive lawyers as far as they need to go.

So, if you had a vote in this, what would it be? I doubt that formerly homeless seniors would mount much of a drug and crime spree. Of course, I could be wrong about that. I’ve volunteered with Habitat for Humanity building this type of row house, and in my experience, the families that navigate the Byzantine maze of governmental agencies to qualify for this type of program are highly motivated and make for solid neighbors.

The other row houses could even be sold to first responders like firefighters and policemen, or even to teachers.

On the other hand, it is a spectacular piece of real estate and I can definitely understand the urge to keep it pristine.

With the information we have now, I’m at 70 percent in favor of building it. I would like to see some more on what kind of support will be included for the seniors, and how transit will connect these folks with the system.

What say you?

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