New details on church’s plan for townhouses in part of its ‘park’

September 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm | In Development, West Seattle news | 14 Comments

(Newest site plan for proposed development at 5911 42nd SW; click image for full-size PDF version)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The big evergreen trees are staying.

That’s one of the messages the West Seattle Church of the Nazarene wants to share with the community about its six-townhouse development proposal, first reported here back on Monday – a plan that would require a “contract rezone” and therefore City Council approval.

We sat down with Pastor Shaun Mattson and associate pastor Terry Mattson Thursday afternoon to talk about it; they shared the updated “site plan” you see atop this story.

The somewhat-sprawling site to the south of the 42nd/Juneau church and its parsonage is zoned as three potential single-family-home lots but is known as “the park,” and used like one – even outdoor movies in summertime. While some of the plan includes keeping it in a park-like condition, the church leaders say that “doing nothing was not an option” – their church’s future depends on it.

While the plan is in the early stages of the relatively long public process, the idea is not a new one.

Regional leadership of their denomination gave approval about a week and a half ago, said Shaun Mattson, after a long round of talks and of negotiating with the developer, nearby resident Joe Paar. Then the congregation – which currently numbers about 50 regulars – voted this past Sunday, and “overwhelmingly passed” the development proposal.

“We’re not talking about sale of the land,” Shaun said. “It’s an LLC with the developer – we retain 50 percent of the management rights.” They’re expecting it to be a “short-term” LLC, and say that setting it up means they will get money from the sale of what’s built on the site, rather than from just handing over the site to a buyer. And that enables them to retain some control of the project.

Now, as for some specifics: The only tree that’s coming down, the church says, is the “apple tree at the back of the parsonage” – and it will be replaced. They say an arborist was brought in to evaluate the other trees, large evergreens, and declared them safe to keep in the project, so it’s been reworked to show them staying, as you can see in the newest site plan, above.

They believe the plan is the best thing they can do for the neighborhood as well as for the future of their relatively small church. “I’ve been pastor since March 1st,” said Shaun Mattson. “We’ve been talking about all sorts of renewal … Our building is the ugliest building on the block. For a small congregation of 50 or so to remove a building, and take care of the ‘park,’ we don’t have the money. Our options were to sell everything and relocate, or sell the park itself.” Terry Mattson chimed in that they’ve had offers over the years to buy just the “park” site: “We always refused because part of the mission of the church was to retain green space.”

(As noted in our Monday story, the site also once was eyed for possible city purchase as green space; Seattle Parks pursued the Short Stop/cleaners site next to the existing Morgan Junction Park instead.)

The partnership and development, Terry said, will give them “the ability to create a green space and really create a park – one that wraps around the church.” The church itself needs a variety of improvements including plumbing, electrical, and heating/cooling.

With just a “site plan” so far, the townhouses’ exteriors remain a question mark for the community, but the church leaders say they have faith in the architect, David Neiman, describing him as “skilled at creating layers of privacy … One of the goals is to protect the feel of the neighborhood … not (build) uber-uber modern-looking things that don’t seem to fit.”

Why not build single-family homes, which wouldn’t require rezoning? we asked. This plan, they say, “allows (more) green space, and retaining trees, and wrapping around the back of the church. It also fits into what is across the alley” – multi-family housing and businesses fronting the next street to the west, California SW. And, Shaun acknowledged, two houses would not “have given us everything we needed” in terms of potential revenue.

Why not relocate? “We believe we have a mission in this community,” Shaun Mattson says. “The idea of relocating takes us away from who we think we’re supposed to be.” Adds Terry, “Our perception is that at the end of the day, with a restored parsonage and building and par, we will have enhanced aesthetically and financially our neighbors’ value, and hopefully will be a living presence of Christ at some level.” The congregation is “historically very involved” in the community, Shaun notes, and they hope revitalization will enable it to be even more so. In recent years, the church has hosted meetings from crime prevention to emergency preparedness, and on the latter topic, they’re hoping that seismic upgrades could even make them a place for neighbors to go if needed in time of disaster.

But if you are skeptical – or just want more information – you don’t have to wait for them to make the rounds of neighborhood groups such as Morgan Community Association and Fairmount Springs, as they say they will be doing. “We would be happy to sit down for coffee with people,” Shaun says. To take them up on that offer, you can e-mail him at shaunmattson@gmail.com and/or reach them at the church by phone, 206-932-4581. “We need and want our neighbors’ input,” he reiterates.

A timetable is hard to evoke at this stage, but construction isn’t likely before 2015, given the layers of approval required, from design to zoning.

ADDED MONDAY: Architect David Neiman has written more about the background of the plan on his website.

14 Comments

  1. This plan is MUCH better than what was previously described. Thanks, WSB.

    Comment by AG — 2:36 pm September 27, 2013 #

  2. I don’t think their building is “ugly”, it just needs a bit of maintenance. I hope this project will provide enough funds to carry out their vision.
    It’s certainly a lot more “home grown” and considerate than what a true money grubber would/could do with the space.
    I wish them all good fortune.
    And yes, a prayer for the same as well.

    Comment by old timer — 2:45 pm September 27, 2013 #

  3. That lot is not very big. Can’t really be to scale can it? Unless the buildings are going to be very tiny they should come a lot closer to the front of the lot.

    Comment by Uhoh — 3:16 pm September 27, 2013 #

  4. I second your sentiments, old timer. I’d rather live next to this than the 5 story, 30 some unit building with only 5 kitchens and 5 parking spaces going up near me. Wish more landowners would consider the neighborhood as these folks appear to be.

    Comment by sgs — 3:42 pm September 27, 2013 #

  5. weird. tax free church building townhomes? weird.

    Comment by flimflam — 4:24 pm September 27, 2013 #

  6. So if this is being developed by the church are the homes subject to property taxes?

    Comment by curious — 5:21 pm September 27, 2013 #

  7. You’ll get over it.

    Comment by robespierre — 5:46 pm September 27, 2013 #

  8. I abhor all the development that is going on in West Seattle, but this one makes sense. I love that old church and the “park” which I have lived near all my life, played in, and climbed the trees, and do not want to see it lost to greedy developers. I support this plan.

    Comment by Ray West — 6:59 pm September 27, 2013 #

  9. I don’t like that a church that pays no taxes, is developing rental property so they can prop up the church. Would like to know more about how the funding for this development came about too. As its a new pastor though, I can see them wanting to revive the place, but as the building has not been treated well in recent years it might just be a money sink.

    Comment by cj — 8:43 pm September 27, 2013 #

  10. I like and support this project and the idea behind it.

    Comment by Long time Westsider — 10:35 pm September 27, 2013 #

  11. Churches, like other non-profits, do pay many type of taxes based on a very complicated jumble of state and federal laws. It is extremely common for a church to sell/develop/purchase properties as needed and there is a well established basis for what gets taxed. I am not an expert, but what I know from being in church budget groups is that while a church does not pay property tax on properties directly associated with its service – like the church itself, a fellowship hall, or clergy homes, it does pay full taxes on property rented out to earn money for the church, as well as income tax on the rent if the property is mortgaged and all applicable taxes when sold. Non-profit tax is complicated; a friend is an a accountant for Goodwill and that is a huge tangle, the organization is a non-profit, however, they pay property taxes on many buildings but not all, depending on what they are used for and such.

    Comment by Thistle — 8:17 am September 28, 2013 #

  12. Reading WAC 458-16-190, it seems like the church can’t get WA tax exempt status on the portion of property used for commercial purposes (rental) unless monastics or groundskeepers live there. The IRS rules are similar.

    Comment by clinker — 8:46 am September 28, 2013 #

  13. At least it looks like there will still be some green space, unlike other developments that maximize the housing footprint with token ‘yards’.

    Will the park area be zoned as such or could it be purchased later for more development?

    Comment by Civik — 10:47 am September 28, 2013 #

  14. I appreciate the thoughtful answers to the snide tax questions above. Looks like a plan that is thoughtful of the neighborhood while keeping the church viable. Good luck.

    Comment by Les — 1:10 pm September 28, 2013 #

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