Chris Hansen: beware your new neighbors

This morning, I turned on the internet to discover that Chris Hansen, multi-billionaire [I’m pretty sure] and local hero [less uncertain], reached a deal with City Council for a new arena that would allow Seattle to bring back the Sonics and possibly attract a brand new NHL franchise.* As I understand it, the announcement came as something of a surprise – people knew the parties were talking, but I don’t think anyone realized just how close the two sides really were.

*I vote Steelhead, but it will probably be Thunderbirds.

But while most of the city celebrated, not everyone is ecstatic.

You see, the new Sonics arena is likely to be built in SoDo, in close proximity to the Port of Seattle and existing stadia that currently house the Mariners and Seahawks. And some of those neighbors are on record with concerns that the Sonics might not be the best neighbors. From an article published April 3 in The Seattle Times:

In a strongly worded letter to city and county leaders, the Seattle Mariners say to find another spot for a new sports arena.

“The proposed Sodo location, in our view, simply does not work,” wrote team Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Howard Lincoln, in a letter Tuesday to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine and members of the Seattle and King County councils.

“It would bring scheduling, traffic and parking challenges that would likely require hundreds of millions of dollars to mitigate.”

The Mariners brought up serious issues that seem to have been partially – though not wholly – addressed by concessions Hansen made in reaching a final deal with the City Council, and reiterated their concern in a September 12 letter to the City Council.

But while it’s cute that the Lincoln is concerned about the behavior of his new neighbors, Hansen shouldn’t let the Mariners paint him as the neighborhood bully. Indeed, another article published just two days ago in the Times serves as a timely reminder that the Mariners don’t make for such great neighbors either:

Retired Seattle Mariners player and Clyde Hill resident John Olerud wants his neighbor across the street, the Rev. Bruce Baker, to cut down a tree that partially blocks his view of the Seattle skyline.

Olerud, a former Seattle Mariner, one-time American League batting champ and three-time Gold Glove winner, has been asking the Bakers for more than two years if he can pay to have the tree cut down.

For two-plus years, the Bakers have refused.

Now the Oleruds want the Clyde Hill Board of Adjustment to order their neighbors to cut down the tree, saying it unreasonably obstructs the view from their $4 million property facing Lake Washington, Seattle and the Olympic Mountains.

So Olerud wants to drag his neighbors before the ‘Board of Adjustments’ on the grounds that his view of nature [and the Seattle skyline] is obstructed by a tree [a part of nature]. So who was there first? This one’s easy:

The tree, with a 2-foot-thick trunk, was there long before the Oleruds built their home.

And what of Olerud’s previous long-standing relationship with Rev. Baker?

The conflict has strained the relationship of two men who have been in each other’s homes, coached their sons’ soccer team together, and put their Christian faith at the center of their lives.

The Oleruds lived in the Bakers’ house for eight months in 2008 and 2009 while the Oleruds were building their own 6,680-square-foot home and Bruce Baker was working on his doctorate at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews.

Closing arguments, Mr. Olerud?

“You guys saw the trees,” Olerud said at the board hearing. “They’re not attractive trees. I would say they’re the kind of tree that only an arborist would love. …

“I’m just making the point that if you’re willing to cut down your own trees to maintain your view and yet you aren’t willing to offer that to your neighbor, how is that being a good neighbor?

“The Bible says, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.’ That’s Jesus’ commandment.”

Sorry, Ole, but if you have to argue your Reverend neighbor ought to chop down his tree by invoking the WWJD, you’ve already lost.

And while it’s tempting to believe the Olerud case is an isolated incident, this is hardly the first time a former Mariner has been embroiled in a neighborhood environmental controversy. You may recall that Edgar Martinez – of Edgar Martinez Drive fame – once ran into trouble after announcing plans to build a bridge that would span a small creek on his 15 acre property:

Martinez and his wife, Holli, have applied to build a single home on about 15 acres adjacent to a new, 38-home development called Chestnut Lane, said Kelly Robinson, Sammamish’s director of development. The proposal also calls for the possibility of a small guesthouse.

To access the land, Martinez wants to span Ebright Creek, which runs through a steep gully, Robinson said. He proposed building a private, 20-foot-wide gated bridge leading from a future road in the Chestnut Lane development.

Sounds pretty straightforward. What’s the problem?

Neighbors are worried Martinez will instead decide to build a public, 28-foot-wide, two-lane span, which could be used to open the area to more development.

“They got suspicious because the only thing that protects this whole area from development is this creek,” [neighbor Vali] Eberhardt said. “Why would Edgar want to pay millions for a big old bridge to get to one home? It just doesn’t make sense.”

No, that doesn’t make sense – but why exactly do the neighbors oppose all this new development? That doesn’t sound very neighborly. We turn back to The Seattle Times:

The two projects are Chestnut Lane, 35 homes to be built on 35 acres by William Buchan Homes; and The Crossings at Pine Lake, 132 houses on 56 acres, to be built by John F. Buchan Homes.

The builders applied for permits three years ago and got King County approval last year, but now they’re facing opposition from eight groups and residents who have filed environmental appeals with Sammamish’s new city government. Opponents fear runoff from the new homes will contaminate [Ebright] creek and trigger more development.

According to the erstwhile Seattle Post-Intelligencer, local opposition was sufficient to halt plans for development on environmental grounds:

“Ebright Creek is one of the last streams (perhaps the last) flowing off the plateau into Lake Sammamish that is still relatively undamaged in terms of the water quality and fish habitat that it provides,” [hearing examiner Wick] Dufford wrote. “The broad question posed in these proceedings is whether a subdivision can be built and maintained in the location proposed, consistent with the preservation of the existing environment in and along this rare and valuable natural stream.”

The examiner concluded that increased erosion and sedimentation into the creek is possible. He imposed numerous conditions, including a requirement that the city of Sammamish monitor drainage at the site.

“Monitoring alone is inadequate,” said Ilene Stahl, president of Friends of Pine Lake, a group opposed to the development. “Once you get erosion in the (creek) bed and all the salmon eggs are dead, it’s a little late to go back and make adjustments to drainage.”

And as a result, Edgar’s two-lane bridge was never completed – plans for construction were dropped in November 2000, along with all plans for development along the creek’s west bank.

Maybe a chunk of Edgar’s transportation surplus can be funneled into SoDo to help ease the inevitable congestion.


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