Katie Lawson, president of the board at Fremont Community School (in Wallingford), alerted us to some changes happening to a property at the corner of 36th and Interlake. Here’s her account of the situation:
Fremont Community School (FCS) is a preschool that is a half a block away on Interlake towards the transfer station.
A couple of years ago, FCS—known in the neighborhood as the “pig school” due to the presence of a pig and chickens in the play yard (the pig has since left us, but chickens, a dog, and sometimes a bunny still live there)—was invited to build garden beds on the corner property. The children have been gardening there as a part of their school day ever since.
The owner of the property sold it to a developer for $1.2 million that included a $150K discount for the promise to preserve a large tree on the property.
After the purchase, the developer presented plans to the city that included six townhomes and involved the removal of the tree (the discount was apparently a part of a non-contractual negotiation).
The neighbors protested the developer’s arborist’s report that said that the tree was dead, and the city stalled the permit in order to assess the tree’s health (it’s clearly alive).
In the meantime, because of the interruption of progress, the developer became open to the purchase of the property by the school (the school has a site about a half block away).
We have been increasingly aware of the pressing need for a daycare that runs from birth through preschool for ten hours a day (currently, the school is a licensed preschool where children can come for a maximum of four hours a day from ages three to five). We have families come who love the outdoor and play-based focus of the school’s programming, but, because both parents work, they need more extensive care than we and our next door partner, Tara’s Tots, can provide. This property is the perfect home for a full-time daycare program for a number of reasons, including the fact that the large lot allows for the outdoor focus of the school. We have met with the licensing people and with the fire marshall and have obtained financing for the purchase of the building. We have even built in the possibility of a sliding scale to our financial feasibility plans. It’s all very doable.
Recently the city re-examined the tree and, based on a questionable assessment of the tree, allowed the developer to move forward with the original plans. However, the assessment contends that the tree is at risk of becoming unhealthy due to fungus. This fungus apparently appears in wet years and does not impact the overall health of the tree. The city has noted that mature trees like this one are critical to the city’s “urban canopy” and is working to preserve them whenever possible. The neighbors plan on contesting the report by the arborist.
The developer has remained open to our making an offer, which we are now in the process of doing. Negotiations are ongoing. We feel hopeful that the developer will see the ways in which the sale of this property to FCS would generate goodwill in the neighborhood and for his business while avoiding the headache of dealing with the protest from the neighborhood.
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the magical place that FCS is. These are people who are called to be with children and who let kids discover the world in a context that is loving and so appreciative of the natural world. There’s some great research out there on the value of both play-based and nature-based education for young children. My daughter went to FCS, and I’ll say that it’s a rare place in an increasingly busy city.
Another piece of our motivation to purchase the property is to have an even greater stake in that corner of the neighborhood as the city solicited proposals for the use of the space right next door to us. Currently, it is a parking lot but is slated to be the end point of a big drainage tunnel that will run between there and Ballard to handle overflow runoff. The surface of the property can be used for any variety of things. We are hoping to have some say in how it is used.