One Last Chance to Stop Luxury Homes at Talaris and Gain So Much More for the Whole City

by Laura Loe, Gregory Quetin, and Andy Katz

The lack of affordable places to live, fueled by rising rents and home prices, has pushed many people out of the city, and some people out of stable housing altogether. Building a lot more housing in North Seattle won’t solve South End displacement, but we, members of Share the Cities, believe it is a piece of the housing crisis puzzle and will take some of the gentrification pressure off areas at risk of displacement throughout Seattle. Share The Cities is asking you to take action by October 24 on the Talaris Master Use Permit. This historic open space should be used as the catalyst for a more affordable community, with abundant housing choices.

Ink has already been spilled — in The Urbanist, Daily Journal of Commerce, The Stranger, Sightline, and Seattle Times — on the expensive new homes, and the lost opportunity for a mix of public green space and mid-rise apartments at the site of the Talaris Conference Center in Laurelhurst. Share the Cities believes the current plan is inadequate and short-sighted during a period of accelerating climate change and a housing shortage of historic proportions. It didn’t have to be this way, but the Seattle City Council rejected a chance for affordable housing on this site in 2013.

The Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) has fought for decades to preserve the Talaris Conference Center site as a private park for their morning walks. They even joined a frivolous legal appeal designed to block affordable housing at Fort Lawton in Magnolia, simply because an environmental review of the Fort Lawton site mentioned Talaris as a point of comparison. (They dropped their appeal once their terms protecting “their” turf were met).

A troubling land use application is under review through October 24th that would convert Talaris’ tranquil park-like 18 acres into approximately 60 oversized suburban-style houses. It would birth an exclusive homeowner association, embedded in the already wealthy and exclusive (and exclusionary) neighborhood of Laurelhurst, and governed by a quasi-public/private legal agreement among the future owners, the city, and the LCC. The LCC’s advocacy agenda and 2017 budget reflects their exclusionary values. Here’s a list of what LCC funded in 2017, including proudly fighting the common-sense U District upzone, and providing “private security patrol subscription service.”

Historically, this community’s exclusion was codified with racial covenants that read: “No property in said plat shall at any time, directly or indirectly be sold, conveyed, rented or leased in whole or in part to any person not of the White Race. No person other than one of the White Race shall be permitted to occupy any portion of any lot in said plat or of any building at any time thereon, except a domestic servant actually employed by a White occupant of such building.” The current zoning and land use restrictions — laws the LCC have lobbied to preserve — dictate what can and cannot be built in Laurelhurst, and who can and cannot afford access to the neighborhood. It may not be conscious, but the LCC is perpetuating past land use injustices through their fight to remain exclusive today.

Could Talaris be centerpiece of a more equitable plan that brings more open space into public hands, and welcomes more people to the surrounding area to enjoy it?

Share The Cities is a made up of a few dozen volunteers advocating for geographic equity, access to open space and land use justice. We are developing an anti-racist framework for our organization. We ask that the city designate the area around Talaris an urban village. Rather than put luxury houses on Talaris’ 18 acres of liquefaction-prone soil, wetlands, and the long-buried Yesler Creek — begging to be returned to its natural meandering channel on the surface — let’s put many more homes around Talaris. We agree with the Laurelhurst Community Club’s concerns related to wetlands, replacing invasive species with native species, and preserving key historic buildings. Rather than lock away Seattle’s wealthy neighborhoods behind a wall of exclusionary zoning, let’s unlock this as truly public open space on the Talaris site and unlock the community around this for homes for people of all incomes. By designating this an urban village, people of all kinds, from all over, will find community near University of Washington, Children’s Hospital, and our renewable-energy-powered light rail.

Please add your voices to the conversation!

Please join us in writing to the city by October 24 to ask that the Master Use Permit be delayed till the area around Talaris is designated an urban village and funds can be secured to establish Talaris as a community space and open green space for the public. This is our final chance to get this right for future generations. Public comment ends October 24 for Talaris. Please send comments today to PRC@seattle.gov, Subject: Master Permit 3030811.

Share The Cities

A Shared Vision for Sharing Cities

  • We believe housing affordability is a regional issue and that equitable urban land use is interconnected with access to education, opportunity, and righting past land use wrongs.
  • We acknowledge that Seattle is on the stolen land of the Coast Salish Tribes, including the unrecognized Duwamish peoples, as well as the Muckleshoot peoples.
  • We are passionate about preserving wild spaces and access to abundant open space in urban environments.
  • We hope that our conversations foster collaborations throughout Seattle.
  • We hope our work leads to strong, resilient, welcoming communities for everyone who wants to live in Seattle.
  • We plan to engage around land use discussion prioritizing land that was formerly restricted through racial covenants and redlining.
  • We want people who have already been displaced to realize that they can come home again, and we want people who were long excluded from certain parts of Seattle to feel welcomed.

Featured Image: Google Map of the Talaris site.

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