Laurelhurst Community Club                                                     

Serving 2800 Households in Seattle’s Laurelhurst Neighborhood

 

June 7, 2005

 

 

 

Mark A. Emmert

President, Office of the President

301 Gerberding Hall

Box 351230

University of Washington

Seattle, Washington 98195-1230

 

RE:  Maintenance Expense for Mary Gates/41st Street Median

 

Dear President Emmert,

 

            Thank you for taking a few minutes to talk with me after the “Community Partnership Town Hall” on May 24th regarding the University’s responsibilities to share in the maintenance expense for the planted median on Mary Gates Memorial Drive and NE 41st Street abutting the University’s property.  The records we have indicate a commitment on the part of the University to share these expenses, yet no assistance has been provided since the project was implemented beginning in 1988/1989.  The Laurelhurst Community Club and adjacent neighbors other than the University have paid the maintenance expenses since installation of this community and University asset, including the maintenance expense on the irrigation system on your parking strip.  We are asking you once again to meet your obligation.

 

            In 1998, we approached the University about this issue.  We were basically told that the University cannot assume the costs of maintaining City owned streets.  This is despite the fact that the University maintains parking strips and other areas abutting its property that are city-owned and mitigation measures required by the City as a result of University development.  And, this is despite the University’s commitments outlined in Neighborhood Matching Fund grants.  In 1998, we had asked that you consider other possibilities such as University maintenance of the boulevard and a LCC contribution to that effort or a joint effort with the Center for Urban Horticulture.  The latter possibility could have been a way to integrate the educational mission of the Center for Urban Horticulture into our community.  You rejected these options and in our view, continue to neglect your obligations.

 

We do not believe that the University’s position in 1998 took into account its involvement and commitment to the Boulevard Project.  Nor does it consider the great benefit the median provides in promoting pedestrian and vehicle safety to the University and its faculty and students who live in the neighborhood and use that area, as well as those who frequent the Center for Urban Horticulture.  Aside from obligations under the City grants, we hope you will consider that other property owners maintain areas fronting their property.  Why should the University not be held to a similar standard? 

 

On a related matter, we have recently been negotiating with the Talaris Research Institute regarding amendments to a settlement agreement governing future development of its 18-acre site.  One provision of the amended agreement states that the owners agree to share in the maintenance expense of the portion of the planted median abutting its property and the pedestrian refuge island across the street.  This was not even an issue.  Talaris recognized that it was their responsibility to maintain the median and refuge island abutting its property.  Why is it different that the University would not recognize its similar responsibility?

 

Below is information regarding the history of the Boulevard Project and the University’s commitment to share in the maintenance expense. 

 

            History of the Project:  The boulevard project was a joint effort between the City’s Engineering Department, the University of Washington and the Laurelhurst Community Club.  Records indicate that the City awarded four Neighborhood Matching Fund grants in 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1993.  We have enclosed copies of the 1989, 1992 and 1993 grant applications.  The Department of Neighborhoods continues to search its files for the 1990 grant application.  There is reference to a 1988 grant to design and construct the irrigation system, but to date we have found no documentation about that component of the project although the irrigation system was installed years ago. 

 

            After initiating discussions with the City Engineering Department and the University, the Community Club created the boulevard plan as a traffic control strategy.  Records indicate that the Engineering Department helped complete the concept and final design.  At about this time, the Engineering Department constructed a sewer catchbasin along NE 41st Street between 38th Avenue NE and Union Bay Place as part of the City’s commitment to the project.  This involved installation of approximately 600 linear feet of six-foot diameter pipe under the street.  Thereafter, the Laurelhurst Community Club was successful in obtaining funds through the Neighborhood Matching Fund.  Records indicate discussions with the City Council about the project.

 

The multiphase project was intended to address pedestrian and vehicle safety problems and to calm traffic speeds.  At the time there were spillover parking problems resulting from early fillup of the University Montlake parking lots and conference activities at the Center for Urban Horticulture and the Battelle Research Center.  Speeding was a major problem on NE 41st.  Due to the width of the street, drivers often passed on the right and many made unsafe u-turns in the middle of the block.  Due to the curve in the roadway where NE 41st Street meets what is now Mary Gates Memorial Drive, there were also visibility problems impacting both vehicles and pedestrians.

 

            The boulevard project and its traffic safety improvements not only benefit the Laurelhurst community but also the University of Washington—which is why we partnered on the project.  In this highly traveled pedestrian area, students living at the University’s student housing at Five Corners are ensured a safer means of walking along Mary Gates and NE 41st and crossing the street in traveling to campus.  Faculty, staff and students in the neighborhood who walk to the University are also ensured a safer trip as are the many who frequent the Union Bay Natural Area and the Center for Urban Horticulture. 

 

            University Involvement and Responsibility for the Project:  Records we have indicate University involvement in early discussions of the traffic safety problems with the City Engineering Department and the Laurelhurst Community Club. 

 

            The University is listed as a joint applicant on the 1989 Neighborhood Matching Fund grant application along with the Laurelhurst Community Club.  In that application, Christine Knowles is listed as the University contact person.  The project is listed as NE 41st Street and Union Bay NE Boulevard Project.  Since that time, the portion of the street from Five Corners to NE 41st Street has been renamed Mary Gates Memorial Drive in honor of our neighbor Mary Gates.

 

            The 1989 grant application indicates that the University “would help extend the project along Union Bay Place NE as it has its own activities on the opposite sides of this street.”  While this language is unclear, we find no records that indicate the University has undertaken any responsibilities relating to the boulevard.  The application goes on to state that “the operation and maintenance of the boulevard itself would be the responsibility of the immediate neighbors.”  As an adjacent landowner, the University is one of the “immediate neighbors.” 

 

            The 1992 grant application to replace damaged Holly Oak trees and repair the irrigation system specifically asks the question about plans for providing ongoing maintenance.  In response to the question, the response states, “The maintenance of the NE 41st Street Boulevard Project is the responsibility of the adjacent property owners, the University of Washington, and the Laurelhurst Community Club.”  The 1993 grant application to continue work on the project includes the identical reference to University responsibility to share in maintenance expenses.

 

            Conclusion:  On behalf of our community, the Laurelhurst Community Club requests that you review this issue and reconsider your obligations regarding maintenance of the planted median abutting your property.  The Laurelhurst Community Club has been very conscientious in meeting its responsibilities.  We provide the opportunity for our neighbors to pay an additional sum on the annual dues statement specifically for boulevard maintenance.  The Community Club pays the amount that is not raised through dues returns, including the share that we believe you are obligated to pay.  The amount we pay also covers maintenance of the irrigation system on your parking strip.  It is only fair that the University pays its share of the boulevard maintenance expense.  Sixteen years is long enough for the University to ignore its obligations!

 

We invite you to a future meeting of our Board of Trustees to discuss this further.  We meet the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at St. Stephens.  In the meantime, we would appreciate a written response.  Please let us know when you are available to attend a future trustee meeting.

 

Sincerely,

Jeannie Hale, President

                                                           3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE

Seattle, Washington  98105

206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631 jeannieh@serv.net

 

ENC:  1989, 1992 and 1993 Neighborhood Matching Fund grant applications; listing of NE 41st Street projects from the Department of Neighborhoods

 

cc: David Mabberley, Director, Center for Urban Horticulture; Dr. Kern Ewing