By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Those four “free” parking lots in The Junction aren’t really free.
As you are probably aware, the West Seattle Junction Association – area merchants and other businesspeople – pays to rent them.
And now that rent is in danger of skyrocketing out of their reach.
Today, representatives of WSJA and the parking lots’ ownership organization, West Seattle Trusteed Properties, met with King County staffers to make their case against a property-tax bill that has doubled – a bill that is entirely passed on to WSJA to pay, by terms of their lease for the lots; a bill that’s now at a sum that would drain the association’s finances quickly.
WSJA executive director Lora Swift brought this up to the merchants at their February 28th meeting at the Senior Center/Sisson Building (the same one at which a different parking issue, the city’s street parking study, was another big topic, as we reported that night). The 2016 taxes for the parking lots – again, entirely factored into the rent WSJA pays – totaled $53,000, she told the merchants. For 2017, that went up more than 50 percent, to ~$80,000. And this year, the tax bill has almost doubled, to $158,000. This isn’t just because of the higher tax rates that have affected so many; it’s also because a mitigating factor called “cost to cure” was applied for 2014, 2015, and 2016, but has expired.
And, Swift noted at the merchants’ meeting, the $158,000 is not the entirety of the rent – which would be “well over $220,000” for the coming year if the higher rate stands.
The 228 spaces offered to visitors for 3 hours of “free” parking represent a “source of civic pride,” as she put it, something unique to the West Seattle Junction. “For us to lose (them) would be tragic.”
That would describe a variety of effects. Lyle Evans, executive director of the Senior Center, said at that point that it would “die if there’s no parking.” The largest of the four “free” lots is behind the center, off 42nd/Oregon; the other three, if you’re not familiar with them, are at 44th/Oregon, 44th/Alaska, and 44th just north of Edmunds.
She asked the merchants to consider the question of what should be done if the new valuation stands. Increase Junction Association dues? Charge for parking (not currently allowed under terms of their lease)?
There were many questions. Could validation or vouchers be used somehow? Could the parking lots be considered nonprofit properties? (No, because while WSJA is, the ownership organization is not.) Could the Junction Association become a different type of Business Improvement Association with wider jurisdiction, more revenue?
The meeting didn’t include much discussion time – for now, it was brought up as an issue to consider, pending what happens with the valuation.
But in the meantime, the Junction Association doesn’t even get to wait until the first due date (first half of the year taxes are due in mid-April). Trusteed Properties is seeking to collect the increased rent immediately, and has served the WSJA with a five-day notice to pay it or “vacate” the lots, Swift says.
The Junction Association has a ten-year lease for the lots, signed one year ago, with potential for two 5-year extensions. The lease terminology has long stipulated that the association is on the hook for whatever the taxes turn out to be. Meantime, research on other parking-lot property in the area suggests no others have seen this kind of valuation/tax increase.
The organization’s assessments from local merchants only covers half the annual costs as it is, and struggling to pay the doubled bill would “effectively cut all our other programs,” Swift said in a followup conversation, from maintenance to events such as West Seattle Summer Fest. The base rent before the tax passthrough is $72,000, and so rent would total almost a quarter-million dollars; the association’s entire annual budget is $320,000.
There is no deadline set for a decision to be reached about whether the bill can/will be lowered; the deadline WSJA faces right now is the one in that rent-due notice from the lot’s owners (an organization with more than three dozen individuals, businesses, and organizations holding varying amounts of what total 1,000 shares).
It should also be noted, this is all separate from ongoing questions about the lots’ long-term future as developable land in the heart of a rapidly densifying city-designated urban village. For now, the lease guarantees their current status for at least another nine years, and includes language about replacing the spaces if any part of the lots were developed.
We’ll be following this situation closely; updates to come.