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Proposed affordable housing at Fort Lawton draws support—and familiar opposition

Could affordable housing in Magnolia be stalled for a second time?

An aerial photo of Fort Lawton from 1973, when a large portion of the fort became Discovery Park.
Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, record 172087

The City of Seattle has proposed a few options for the former Fort Lawton by Discovery Park in Magnolia, which officially closed in 2011. Its preferred option: A park, plus affordable housing that includes supportive services for seniors, rentals for families, and affordable homeownership opportunities that would add up to 238 apartments, townhouses, and rowhouses.

With other options including just a park with no housing, a park and market-rate housing, and doing nothing (which would open the site up to sale to a private developer), affordable housing seems like the biggest crowd-pleaser. But a vocal group of neighborhood advocates has come out swinging against the city’s proposal—for a second time.

A mixed-income development at the site was first proposed about a decade ago, but was cut short after a lawsuit tied the project up for two years. Now, redevelopment is back on the table, and some familiar voices have surfaced in opposition.

Former mayoral candidate and neighborhood advocate Elizabeth Campbell led the charge ten years ago, and is still fighting the affordable housing proposal this time around. (If that name sounds familiar, Campbell has many pet projects, recently including suing over a proposed site of Tent City 5 and filing a complaint against a proposed levy for homeless services.)

Campbell is firm in her belief that a park—and only a park—is the only acceptable option for the site. “People have the right to determine the level of growth their neighborhood has, and I think they’ve said clearly that this type of use for this site is inappropriate,” Campbell told the Seattle Times back in June.

While some have backed up Campbell’s view, “people”—broadly—have been sharply divided. City documents tallied 57 unique commenters supporting only a public park on-site back in 2008 (and 14 supporting no action at all), but more than three times that, 189, supporting affordable housing and a park.

“At a time when land prices are skyrocketing and our affordable housing dollars buy less and less, it is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the 28 acres of land in one of the most high-opportunity neighborhoods in Seattle,” said one commenter referenced in city documents. “Magnolia has high-performing schools, low crime and lots of open space—all things positively correlated with social advancement. If we’re serious about being an equitable city, this is exactly the kind of neighborhood we should be opening up to people of all income levels.”

Some opposing affordable housing keep the scope of their comments to the park—many comments summarized by the city reference the tree canopy, for example. But other commenters imagine a much more dramatic scenario: “Can you imagine the heartbreak of addicts with knives wandering around in Discovery Park?” asks one homeowner, continuing, “we buy here for a reason.”

The City is currently in round two of this, and is in the middle of public comment for a new draft environmental impact statement. Those both for and against the affordable housing development are gearing up for a public hearing on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. at the Magnolia United Church of Christ.

Affordable housing advocates fear neighborhood backlash will stall the project once again. Groups like the Housing Development Consortium, Seattle Tech 4 Housing, Real Change, and Seattle for Everyone are organizing to make sure the proposal has support at the public meeting.

“By turning this unused public land into affordable homes for residents of our city, we can take one important step toward living out our shared values,” read talking points distributed by the Housing Development Consortium. “In order to address our affordable housing crisis, each neighborhood needs to be part of the solution.”

Fort Lawton

4570 Texas Way W, Seattle, WA 98199

Discovery Park

3801 Discovery Park Blvd, Seattle, WA 98199 (206) 386-4236 Visit Website

Discovery Park

3801 Discovery Park Boulevard, , WA 98199 Visit Website