Last Saturday’s “Wake for Fremont’s Affordable Rental Houses” invited community members to mourn and learn about the increasing number of rental and historic homes being demolished in Fremont. Despite the tempting sunshine, guests assembled at the Fremont Baptist Church filling approximately half of the pews. Guests were invited to dress in mourning attire and touches of black throughout the crowd including several black hats and a boa showed both a serious and playful approach.
Organizer Leo Griffin opened with the ground rules, “Be civil, be brief, and be respectful of grief.” Griffin’s open welcome and lack of microphone lent a casual atmosphere to the proceedings. He delivered a brief “sermon” explaining why organizers chose to host a wake rather than a more traditional civic gathering. Griffin noted the increasing number of single family homes being “scrapped for increased density” in a neighborhood that had provided affordable rents for more than fifty years. He observed there is little protection for current low and middle cost housing, concluding “the neighbors are upset.” The wake intended to mourn the historical homes already lost in the process and discuss an important community issue.
Concerns ranged from the affect on Fremont’s property values and taxes to losing an eclectic neighborhood that singles of all ages, families, and retirees can afford. As with other Seattle neighborhoods Fremont has already exceed growth targets set forth in the Urban Village Strategy. Those tracking the changes in Fremont estimate the area is currently losing two historical houses a month. Griffin feels Fremont is not fighting for the “right” kind of growth and acknowledges this is not an issue neighbors can solve themselves, that is where the Fremont Neighborhood Council comes in. He concludes that it is a “difficult and emotional issue” which will be reflected on throughout the wake.
Next, readers took turns reading profiles of the historic homes being mourned. Griffin kicked things off, “I am 3625 Linden Avenue N, I was built in 1890.”
Each description included the address, estimated year built, and a summary of residents. Some houses had extensive records and stories about residents, others remained a mystery. The first six houses presented, referred to as the “Linden Ave Six” are currently impacted by a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Appeal filed by the Fremont Neighborhood Council.
The next speaker, Fremont Neighborhood Council member and resident since 1973 Toby Thaler is on the organization’s Land Use Committee. One of his tasks is to make heads or tails of the proposed land use action notices which are increasingly common signage in Fremont. While reviewing the notices for three proposed projects on Linden Ave, a block from the Fremont Troll and the Fremont Baptist Church, Thayer noticed all together the projects would replace a whole row of houses built between 1890 and 1950. Upon further investigation he became increasingly concerned about the impact these projects would have on Linden Ave and the neighborhood.
One project will demolish two homes, both built before 1902 with eight town house units and a surface parking spot for each unit. The project next door will demolish one house from 1950 and another built in 1900 with a 3-story structure containing 35 residential units. The last project will demolish two homes built in 1906 to build another 3-story structure with 35 residential units.
The last two projects caught Thayer’s eye as the plan to add 70 residential units, where there were previously 10 units, does not include any additional parking. The projects were also not subject to a design review. All three projects are currently delayed by the SEPA appeal although only one project is directly being appealed. Thayer continues to pursue the SEPA appeal for the Fremont Neighborhood Council, there is a hearing tentatively scheduled for March 2nd.
Clearly familiar with the appeal and a long-time member of the Land Use Committee, Thayer spoke confidently, informing the new and familiar audience members about the appeal. He expressed concern that the “cumulative effects will overwhelm the neighborhood.” Despite speaking frankly about the appeal process Thayer also touched on the emotional aspects of the issue. He passionately stated, “if we had real neighborhood planning we wouldn’t have to be at a wake for these houses.”
Following the SEPA update the readings resumed. Volunteers presented nine more historical houses for a total of 15 examples. Six houses have already been demolished. The last historical building introduced was not a house but the former Fremont Tile Company Building located on the corner of N 35th Street and Evanston. Currently the building is a two-story structure containing retail space and apartments. This will be another significant upcoming project proposed for Fremont. Currently under design review, the project proposes demolishing the 100 year old building and replacing it with a six-story structure containing 45 residential units and retail space on the ground floor.
Following the presentation comments were welcomed from the audience. Current and past community members stood up and expressed outrage, despair, and anger over recent changes in Fremont. Others offered encouragement, appreciation for the organizers, and suggestions of additional resources. The crowd appeared largely sympathetic but concerns varied from affordable rents, the character of the community, and the fate of Fremont’s historical houses.
The upcoming municipal elections were mentioned, development and increasing rent are expected be a campaign issue, and several City Council candidates were present. Current Speaker of the Washington House of Representatives, Frank Chopp attended and spoke briefly at the end of the wake. In addition to currently representing the area, Chopp is a resident of Wallingford and the former executive director of Fremont Public Association (now Solid Ground). A representative for Nickel Bros, house relocation specialists or a self-described “house adoption agency”, attended to assess the plausibility of saving the “Linden Ave Six” by relocating the homes in lieu of demolition.
The Fremont Neighborhood Council is eager to hear about any cases of tenant relocation or possible demolition (especially before a house is demolished while records are still available). The group intends to keep tracking the changes and following proposed projects. Members of both the Fremont Neighborhood Council and Fremont Historical Society expressed a desire to see Fremont’s history and diverse community be carried on as Fremont continues to grow.