‘Big changes’ ahead for Admiral UCC Church, pastor tells Admiral Neighborhood Association

(King County Assessor’s Office photo)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

With more than a century of history, Admiral Congregational UCC Church is looking to the future with talk of redevelopment.

Exactly how the church will redevelop, its congregation has yet to decide, but its pastor briefed the Admiral Neighborhood Association last night in hopes of getting community dialogue going early.

The ANA also heard from Department of Neighborhoods director Andrés Mantilla in his ongoing mission to visit every neighborhood group in the city.

First – the church. Admiral UCC happened to be the ANA’s meeting site last night – as it was years ago, though the group has met for a while at a former church instead, The Sanctuary at Admiral. Pastor Rev. Andrew Conley-Holcom said the ANA’s presence is just one more example of how Admiral UCC’s facilities are used as a community hub; he ticked off a long list of groups that meet there regularly, as well as describing its philanthropy and “community education/enrichment programming,” not to mention its longtime status as home to A Child Becomes Preschool (WSB sponsor). Plus, he said, the church provides space for “values-based” organizations, from community theater to political advocacy. It even serves as a comfort station for bus drivers taking breaks, “a safe, warm place to use a bathroom that’s clean.”

With all that in mind, he said, the church also realized that “we’re sitting on about $4 million worth of property” on a 27,000-square-foot site that is seriously underutilized. Some of the ideas they’re considering so far:

*Preschool expansion?

*Second-story addition (for the meeting area on the west end of the campus)?

*Add another worshipping community (they’re looking around to see if other communities are looking for worship space)?

*Or would it be more efficient to raze and rebuild? If they did, they would consider:

*including low-income housing
*including senior services (they would do a needs assessment for the community)
*including an “Admiral Commons” (someplace more central, “more of service to the neighborhood”)
*including underground parking (“you better believe we would include (that)” – Rev. Conley-Holcom observed how difficult it is to find parking in the neighborhood, and their current 15-space lot is an “asset,” so they might consider an underground lot)

“We wanted to bring this to you first,” before taking it to the rest of the community, the pastor said. “None of this stuff is fleshed out now but we have teams working on it.”

He said they’ve talked to City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who is “desperate to find someplace in the district for performance low-income housing” – “performance” meaning as part of a project, rather than funded by fees from projects elsewhere. The church site is not currently slated to be part of HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning, but Conley-Holcom said they’re interested in finding out how the could be.

Q&A included:

Where would Admiral Church go if it had to move while redeveloping? Not settled yet but they would find space that would include the preschool.

How could people give input on these ideas? The congregation’s annual meeting is at the end of January, he said. The congregation makes the decision, not the pastor, so they hope to decide what general direction they’d go in, and then have some town-hall type meetings. Any actual construction would likely happen around 2021-2022.

Please respect the neighborhood design guidelines, he was urged. (You can see them here.)

Could you build on part of the site while continuing to use another part? The pastor said that parts of the site are almost continuously in use.

Not changing is not an option, he was clear. And yes (we asked), he’d heard about the California Place Park debacle a decade ago, and the reason he was speaking to ANA this early is part of a plan for this process to be as transparent as possible.

The meeting’s other guest:

DEPARTMENT OF NEIGHBORHOODS DIRECTOR: Andrés Mantilla said he’s making the rounds of neighborhood groups to develop relationships. He’s been a West Seattle resident (Highland Park) for two years, and been leading Neighborhoods for six months. He said the city’s relationship with district councils was broken (by a previous administration) in a way “that didn’t really respect the work out that you all had been doing … and that our staff (had been doing).” He said the department is looking to re-establish connections but also figuring out to work with “other diverse organizations” around the city. He noted that he’s been working on outreach, engagement, and budgeting, and that the DoN “fared fairly well” in this recent budget cycle. “Our core mission is providing you all the tools to forge your own solutions …. it’s our role to bring the resources to you.” Another mission is “to bring City Hall to you,” he said. Coordination and collaboration are “essential to us as a department,” he said, trying to help people answer questions such as “we don’t know where to go, we don’t know who to call.” He expects the department’s community engagement coordinators – Yun Pitre, in our area – to be even better supported in helping communities in the year ahead. He hopes for two-way dialogue and relationships.

Asked by ANA president Larry Wymer about some of the tools DoN can offer, Mantilla acknowledged “the city’s been really good at saying ‘we did this one thing one time’,” and indicated that the focus is now on a suite of tools. He mentioned, for one example, the trusted community advocates – about 85 liaisons across the city who are “independent contractors” who help, at all sorts of levels including cultural and language-based. He also mentioned that the Community Hub, city Event Calendar, and Neighborhood Snapshots are ways the group could help get word out about its existence.

Matt Hutchins asked about the new DoN component in Design Review – Early Community Outreach – and Mantilla noted that’s a space where they’re trying to facilitate community conversation between neighbors and developers. He said they’ll be having some focus groups coming up to try to fine-tune the process, but so far, he said, the feedback has been good, and the department is open to further criticism/complaints/feedback.

Has his department been involved in the homelessness crisis? Mantilla also was asked. Short answer, yes, particularly in neighborhood conversations. He also was asked about how the department could better facilitate neighborhood representation in grant programs, and he talked about their work to try to help both with the application process and with ensuring that projects enhance what neighborhoods already are working on.

Other notes from the ANA meeting:

LEADERSHIP: This was Larry Wymer’s last meeting as president. The new president is David Hancock, who’s lived in the area for six months (and, for those who think neighborhood associations are all run by homeowners, Hancock noted that he is a renter).

SUMMER CONCERTS AT HIAWATHA: The series will happen again next summer! Organizer Stephanie Jordan sent word that bands are already approaching her.

ADOPT-A-STREET CLEANUP: 10 people this quarter, which Wymer said was one of the best turnouts in a long time. Next one, first Saturday in March!

The ANA usually meets every other month but is planning a January meeting – watch for updates.

5 Replies to "'Big changes' ahead for Admiral UCC Church, pastor tells Admiral Neighborhood Association"

  • John December 13, 2018 (10:39 am)

    WOW – With so many options being ‘considered’, the Pastor, congregation and activist Admiralites are pursuing a decision akin to herding cats.Underground parking, “you better believe we would include (that)”,  very impressive until reality of costs weigh in.

  • Mark Wainwright December 14, 2018 (9:51 am)

    A huge thank you to Larry Wymer for his years of service to the ANA and to the Admiral community! It’s not easy keeping a neighborhood organization running, and Larry has done a great job. And a warm welcome to David Hancock, the new president of the organization!And yes… “debacle” is the right word to describe that unfortunate park development project so many years ago. A group of well-intentioned neighbors got together to bring some good change to a misunderstood (not many realize it is a park) and underutilized piece of land, and they were shouted down by an angry group of (other) neighbors. It was sad to watch.

  • Maria December 15, 2018 (9:40 am)

    A couple of suggestions respectfully submitted to the UCC congregation members to consider as they decide on how to redevelop their $4 million property which they have owned for over a century, which is currently underutilized, and which, one assumes, has enjoyed tax-free status during their ownership. Please consider casting your net a little wider when considering the needs of the community that your redevelopment project will help meet.  A quick read of the WSB over the last couple of weeks has highlighted the following under/unserved populations:- The homeless – as  any part of any residential development, include a certain percentage of units for the homeless, as well as the lower-income.  e.g. if 10 units @ 150 sq. ft. were included (replacing one  1,500 sq. ft. unit), you would be giving shelter to 10 of  those most in need. And if those 10 residents were to be “adopted” for a year by the members of congregation and helped to meet their other needs, the ripple effect would be enormous.- Those who are living in their vehicles/RVs. Permit overnight parking in your parking lots for these individuals, with access to bathrooms, free water and charging stations. Model this program on the free services offered by Walmart, which is quietly meeting these needs at their larger store locations.- Provide free parking (with donation boxes) in your parking lot Mondays through Saturdays – an easy way to provide for a universal need and gain the goodwill of neighbors.Merry Christmas and may your good works in the community closely reflect the spirit of Jesus Christ.

  • 22blades December 15, 2018 (9:46 pm)

    Hate to be a cynic but when words slip out like “ “we’re sitting on about $4 million worth of property” on a 27,000-square-foot site that is seriously underutilized.”, experience has shown this to be window dressing for an upcoming sale to keep talk at bay for potential buyers. When the deal is signed & demo permit is issued, we have been betrayed buy those words repeatedly & the character of the neighborhood is an afterthought. The sense of “community” doesn’t “pencil out” in the end, even if you’re a church. Go ahead & shrug your shoulders saying it’s just “progress”. Nobody’s here for the long haul. They’re just passing through.

    • Maria December 16, 2018 (9:43 am)

      Change will happen, but the character of that change will be driven by the UCC congregants. How many of those congregants are neighborhood residents? And conversely, how many neighboring residents of that property are members of that congregation? A possible action plan: Since the Pastor attended the Neighborhood Association meeting in December to brief the neighbors of a decision to be made by the congregation in late January, call a special Neighborhood Association meeting right after the holidays to collect input and recommendations from neighboring residents and submit the input and suggestions received to the committee members who will be preparing their report to present to the congregation in late January. I’m sure the WSB staff will be there to report on every step of this unfolding story of a neighborhood’s engagement in the future development of their community.

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