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:
*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.
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.