October 7, 2004

Tough Seattle neighborhood reinvents itself

  • A new area of mixed uses is transforming the neglected Park Lake Homes neighborhood in White Center.
    King County Housing Authority

    elementary school
    Photo courtesy King County Housing Authority
    A new elementary school was the first phase of redeveloping Park Lake Homes into a new neighborhood called Greenbridge.

    Park Lake Homes is quiet these days, with nearly half the residents relocated, but that's just the calm before the storm. Backhoes will begin demolishing the World War II-era duplexes early next year, clearing the way for a new, mixed-income development called Greenbridge.

    Starting in 2005, the King County Housing Authority will replace worn-out, rent-subsidized housing located on a 100-acre site in White Center, just south of the Seattle city line, with larger townhomes and flats, while expanding human services and adding parks and trails to the site. The 1,025-unit development will feature view homes for sale and workforce rentals as well as comfortable, rent-subsidized homes.

    King County Housing Authority was awarded a $35 million HOPE VI grant from HUD in 2001 for the project. Using these federal funds along with an additional $163 million in public and private funds, KCHA can make Greenbridge a model for urban living and a catalyst for revitalization of White Center, a neglected, unincorporated pocket of King County.

    "We are looking at the broader picture," said Stephen Norman, executive director of the housing authority. "With the support of residents, community members and other key partners, we can make Greenbridge's success White Center's as well. Together, we will create a better place for people to live, work and raise their children."

    Greenbridge will be economically and ethnically diverse. Neighborhood retail, community services and a village plaza on a tree-lined boulevard will anchor the community and invite residents to gather, learn, shop and play.

    "I haven't heard from anybody that this project would be anything but a positive impact on the community," said Tim Healy, president of the White Center Community Development Association. "People believe property values will go up as a result of the new development."

    KCHA's largest and oldest development

    Built in 1943 as temporary housing to give newcomers building Boeing warplanes a place to live, Park Lake Homes Site I is the housing authority's largest and oldest development.

    Park Lake Homes is a vital community whose physical plant has worn out. Current residents are a diverse group. For many of them, Park Lake Homes was their first home in the United States after suffering war, starvation and persecution in other countries. The preferences of residents for ground-related housing, open space, services and diversity heavily influenced housing design, public art and the final master plan.

    A community vision

    KCHA hired an architectural and engineering team led by Seattle-based GGLO to design Greenbridge, starting with a new network of streets more integrated with the surrounding White Center neighborhood.

    GGLO's team includes the civil engineering firms of Goldsmith Associates and KPFF. Tonkin Hoyne Lokan was hired to design the community facilities for the project.

    The team's ambitious master plan features an integrated mix of housing types, including townhouses, flats, detached homes and cottages, with one- to five-bedroom units. A four-story building will serve seniors and people with disabilities.

    Eighth Avenue Southwest
    Rendering courtesy GGLO
    Eighth Avenue Southwest will be pedestrian-friendly and serve as the heart of Greenbridge.

    Taking advantage of the varied topography and to meet residents' preferences, GGLO designed most units to provide direct ground access.

    The development will feature 300 rent-subsidized units, 353 workforce rental units and 372 for-sale homes. The 269 rent-subsidized units not being rebuilt at Park Lake are being replaced on a one-for-one basis with newly subsidized units in suburban areas of the county where the existing supply of affordable housing is extremely limited.

    Eighth Avenue Southwest will be the heart of Greenbridge, with a remodeled community center, the new White Center Heights Elementary School and a county branch library.

    Social services will share space around a village plaza with businesses in mixed-use buildings. There will ultimately be 10,000 square feet of retail space and 36,000 square feet of community space.

    KCHA is going green with Greenbridge, using sustainable designs appropriate for the site. Aiming for a three-star Built Green Community rating, the housing authority will preserve trees where it can and use drainage ponds and bioswales to absorb runoff at the site. Impervious surfaces will be limited with narrow streets and driveways. Existing asphalt and foundation material will be recycled in the new streets and utilities.

    Keeping the community going during construction

    The first phase of construction of the new community is complete. The Highline School District opened White Center Heights Elementary in September, just in time for the school year. With a "community school" program that makes the building available to parents and other area residents after school hours, the new school is a harbinger of the child-oriented vision that is driving the design process.

    Interior renovation of the community center for the Boys & Girls Club and Neighborhood House began last month.

    One goal in transforming Park Lake into Greenbridge is to keep the existing community vital during the extended construction process. To accomplish this, KCHA is staggering relocation, demolition and construction in three phases, from January 2004 to November 2012.

    This year, with the help of a team of multi-lingual relocation specialists, residents in housing on the west side of Park Lake have been moving out. Using Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers, many have moved to private-market apartments in White Center or to elsewhere in the county. A high percentage also stayed at Park Lake, relocating to units on the east side of the development from which other residents volunteered to leave for other locations with the assistance of the housing authority.

    To pay tribute to residents whose lives and personal histories are linked to Park Lake, there will be a decommissioning ceremony in November.

    Starting in 2005, the west side of Park Lake will be razed, with construction of the first new housing, utilities and facilities to follow. The first new homes are targeted for completion by 2007.

    A similar progression of activities will occur in the middle of the site, dominated by community facilities, starting with resident relocation in 2005. Finally, in the third phase, the eastern side of Park Lake will be transformed.

    If all goes well, some people will be moving into new housing on the west side of Greenbridge before the last house is torn down on the east side.

    Phased relocation, revitalization and re-occupancy is vital to keeping service providers such as Neighborhood House and the Boys & Girls Club in business.

    "It was very important that Greenbridge be built in phases," said Mark Okazaki, executive director of Neighborhood House. "An interruption of services would have had a detrimental impact on the residents of public housing and the surrounding community. In fact, we could have lost some funding forever based on a temporary cessation of services."

    Neighborhood revitalization

    Creating Greenbridge is not the only action KCHA is taking to revitalize White Center. In 2003, KCHA acquired two large, troubled apartment complexes -- Mallard Lake and the Cones.

    The first property, a 332-unit complex, was leased to a new owner, renovated and renamed Coronado Springs. KCHA renovated the 97-unit Cones, inside and out, and celebrated the complex's rebirth as Arbor Heights. Additionally, KCHA's Housing Repair and Weatherization Department, working with the city, King County and local utility companies, has repaired and weatherized 110 of White Center's single-family homes.

    Deborah Gooden is the Greenbridge general manager. John Eliason is the Greenbridge development manager. KCHA administers a range of affordable rental and homeownership programs for King County residents.

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