‘We need all the help we can get’: Urban Homestead Foundation working to make dream come true at ex-substation site

(Animation courtesy MyPad3D)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The Urban Homestead Foundation‘s dream for the former Dakota Substation on Genesee Hill is starting to take shape and take wing.

We first reported on this back in May, when the group discussed its plan at a meeting of the Admiral Neighborhood Association.

That was five months after the City Council passed an ordinance addressing the future of local surplus ex-substations, including the one at 50th and Dakota (map), agreeing to give community members until fall of next year to buy it, before they list it on the open market.

So the Urban Homestead Foundation has a deadline. And it has a 3-D animation version of its vision for the site, produced and donated by West Seattle-headquartered MyPad3D, at the top of this story.


We sat down recently with UHF president Katie Stemp (above), under the shady trees out front of the site she and other volunteers hope to transform.

Here’s where they’re at:

“We’re at the very beginning of our public-outreach phase – it has taken 6 to 8 months to get the foundation started and all the paperwork filed … we can now position ourselves to start fundraising and educating the community.” That means plans for events and fundraisers and contacting potential donors, “what companies and family foundations are in the area that would have the interest and funding … to boost our culture here.”

But they’re not just looking for big donors. “We need all the help we can get,” however simple or small, Stemp says. You might have met UHF volunteers, in fact, at West Seattle Summer Fest earlier this month; the Urban Homestead Foundation had a booth in the GreenLife area.

“We’re just a group of West Seattleites that see a grand vision for this property and what it can do for all ages … we’re really excited … I know we have the resources and the people and the experience in this community to make it happen .. it’s just a matter of bringing it to fruition.”

The “Urban Homestead” isn’t a residential project. It will be a place for teaching, learning, and growing. One of the organizations that would use it as home base is Seattle Farm School, which Stemp founded, and which has experienced exponential growth, but far more is planned. The classes would involve home economics through science, math, art lenses, the fractions and measuring of cooking and sewing and gardening, “So much STEM-based stuff you can learn (through) urban homesteading skills.”

The site also would be one of West Seattle’s emergency-communication hubs, in addition to the dozen-plus already set up by community volunteers in collaboration with West Seattle Be Prepared. Preparedness classes and workshops would be offered regularly, including specific skills such as amateur-radio usage. “The better we are prepared, the better we are going to survive and thrive. … People are anxious, fearful, (but) if we can take some of that away (via preparedness), we’ll live happier, healthier lives.”

And preparedness doesn’t just relate to The Big One or some other horrific, potentially deadly disaster – it also can mean being ready for power outages in windstorms.

So what’s the Urban Homestead Foundation planning to do with the ex-substation? Stemp gestures to the space beyond the gates as we talk. The center would be a big L shape, bordering the back side of the lot, “a big, open area with a multipurpose activity, workshop, event space … the rest of the first floor would be a demonstration and teaching kitchen, lots of work tables and counter space and storage, as much natural light as possible …”

Much usage by schoolchildren is envisioned, field trips rotating between indoor and outdoor workshop stations from crafts to life skills (such as budgeting) depending on the ages, even seemingly simple skills that just don’t turn up in home life so much any more, such as addressing envelopes. Afterschool enrichment is planned, too.

On the second story, the West Seattle Seed Library – currently housed in space at a health-care business – would be located, greatly expanded from what it is now; not just seeds, but also books about growing plants, to be available through a resources and study type of area where people can come work on their own plans.

There would be office space, classroom space, and community meeting space. The latter is still hard to find for neighborhood/community groups, especially in the Genesee Hill area. And the “outdoor park-like setting” could be used for gatherings, too.

Then, there’s the food-growing and -sharing vision. Stemp sees fruit trees and berry bushes planted on the grounds, and also drop-off days for farmers via CSA memberships, perhaps a “market day” one day a week when multiple grower groups bring in what they have to sell, as a hub.

The planning continues – Stemp admits she has stayed awake many hours “scheming and dreaming.”

And this isn’t just her. She has “an incredible team” – a board and volunteers to which various tasks of the nascent organization have been delegated, “people who are qualified in so many different ways.” She is president of the board; her vice president is a “writer and philanthropist,” her treasurer “has a great background in business management and organization,” project manager has a background in “grant writing and environmental causes,” there’s another member who is a government lawyer and “fantastic at dealing with the property development side” – someone she met when his family hosted a beekeeping class!

The UHF board still needs a volunteer coordinator – at Summer Fest, Stemp says, they met lots of people who want to help, but “we just need to get them organized.”

Volunteer help is priceless. Eventually, “big money” is needed – for everything from the permitting process to construction. UHF also is looking for an expert to review the zoning and permitting possibilities; “we don’t have that in our skill set” yet, says Stemp. All donations small and large are welcome, and you can donate online, though if you’re planning to give something big, she says they’d be thrilled to pick up a check and avoid the three percent fee that PayPal charges. Until their own tax-exempt status is finalized, their “fiscal sponsor” is the Admiral Neighborhood Association, which because of that status will get a small fee, and Stemp says that’s exciting for UHF, to support a local group (unlike many neighborhood councils, ANA presents events, primarily the Summer Concerts at Hiawatha series).

Back to the future “urban homestead” site:

When local advocates like the Seattle Green Spaces Coalition and Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council were raising awareness about the ex-substation site, they pointed out its trees. Almost all will be staying, Stemp confirms. “We came through here with an arborist, measured the trees, evaluated them for health.” 20 trees will stay, six of them “exceptional.” The only ones not likely to stay are a few “smaller” evergreens inside the site and a tree on the planting strip.

As if to underscore that, a neighbor walking by with her dog at that point in our conversation stopped to ask what’s going on with the site. After hearing a brief description, she expressed appreciation for “the tranquility of green space.”

Want to know more? You’ll find many details on the UHF website (built, Stemp points out, by Jenna Reilly Gavin as a volunteer project), including the plan to raise money in stages – starting with the half million or so they will need to buy the site. (Yes, they’re aware of those two other ex-substations whose prices have been slashed, and working to talk with the city about what that means for the assessment on this one.)

She has one last thought – which goes with this photo of a cherry tree on the site in full spring bloom:

cherry tree

“We want it to be a place where the “old” and “new” cultures of West Seattle can positively blend. A place that honors and carries forward the long history of family orchards and generations of families and gives a space for our new residents to get plugged in and belong to this community.”

12 Replies to "'We need all the help we can get': Urban Homestead Foundation working to make dream come true at ex-substation site"

  • Mary Fleck July 28, 2016 (7:46 pm)

    Love it!  Sign me up for pie-making class!  Great to see this energy across from the new Genesee Hill School!

  • ELLY July 28, 2016 (9:50 pm)

    This is so exciting! I would love for my kids to be able to learn in such an inspired space. I really hope it becomes a reality.

  • John July 28, 2016 (10:20 pm)

    Enviable and ambitious plans.

    Did I miss the cost of the property purchase and development of this parcel?

    Ironic, Mary Fleck’s  Green Space Coalition’s stated purpose is to have the city keep its unwanted excess land as green space, now they want to develop it and remove precious evergreens.

  • Katie Stemp July 29, 2016 (10:58 am)

    Hi John, thank you for your comment and question. Our intention is to create an active green space and sanctuary for the community that also provides inspiration and education, along with a beautiful place to gather.

    The cost of the property purchase is currently assessed at $530,000. The construction of the building doesn’t have a set cost yet until we have an architect who can help us figure out that number. The building itself will go inside the fenced area where the substation building used to be on the gravel pad.

    All of the 20 mature evergreen and deciduous trees outside of the fenced area (including 6 that  have exceptional status) will remain and be maintained, and one tree that is in the parking strip along Dakota that has been damaged will be removed.

    We will add a full understory of food bearing trees, bushes, herbs, perennial flowers and groundcover, along with raised beds for garden planting, vertical gardens and container gardens throughout the property that will all serve as a urban agriculture demonstration gardens and be open to the public for harvesting.

    The property will have at least double the foliage and plant life than it has right now, and will include benches and fountains in several different areas to make it a usable and relaxing place for the community.  You can see the landscape plan in our Facebook album (which you can see even without a Facebook account) at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1767126610200955.1073741829.1705128219734128&type=1&l=dd5f7e328c

    Thanks again!

    Katie Stemp

  • Julie July 29, 2016 (11:03 am)

    What about parking? I live in the area and would hate to fight for parking???

  • Gina July 29, 2016 (11:37 am)

    City Light gardeners always maintained the plantings and grounds beautifully, was a treat to see when I lived just off of Dakota. The flowering cherry tree was especially nice.

  • 4thGenWestSide July 29, 2016 (4:26 pm)

    I like the idea of an open space park as well.  Seems like everything is getting so over built.  Not that I don’t their vision is a great idea.  Maybe they could buy an existing house and remodel it?  Might be a more green and environmentally sound plan.  Just my two cents.  As you were.   

  • Katie Stemp July 29, 2016 (6:08 pm)

    Thank you for your input!!

    Here are a few answers to the above questions/comments:

    The flowering cherry tree is one of my favorite trees in the whole city too!  A big part of why we want to preserve this property is to keep the beautiful landscape that is already a part of this place. Everything outside of the fenced area will be green space, like it is now, but with additional fruit trees, flowers and herbs that produce food that everyone can enjoy, and attract pollinators and birds. We will also put in benches and fountains to enhance the use of the green space too!

    For parking – We live in the neighborhood also and the majority of our programs will happen during school hours on 2 days a week as field trips for Kindergarten through 12th grade students, then some evening classes with light parking usage in front of the substation property and along Dakota in front of the elementary school – not down the neighborhood streets. We are wanting to specifically care for our neighbors and have it be a valuable place for everyone to come and enjoy, learn and be inspired!

  • Mike July 29, 2016 (6:27 pm)

    Julie, 400+ families at the new school will be a bigger issue for parking in the morning and afternoon, this project won’t be more than your neighbors having guests over.

  • Dennis and Donna July 30, 2016 (9:53 am)

    What a great asset to the community this would be!

  • Steffi July 31, 2016 (1:25 pm)

    It looks beautiful! Just in case the design committee is interested in my humble opinion as an event professional….

    Why are there so many shelves in the event space? All I can think of is all the clutter that will be in everyone’s event photos.

  • Katie Stemp July 31, 2016 (4:09 pm)

    Steffi, that’s a great point! We could easily change that to storage cabinets with doors that close so it looks cleaner in pictures. Thank you for pointing that out!

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