Lora Lake Apartments Coming Down; What Will Replace Them? Take Our Poll... 3by Ralph Nichols

As demolition crews prepared this week to tear down the Lora Lake Apartments – long the center of heated controversy over affordable housing in Burien – near Sea-Tac International Airport’s third runway, attention was focused on possible uses for this prime commercial location.

The Port of Seattle, which owns the Lora Lake complex, wants to develop facilities for airport-compatible activities there, such as air cargo, food service and warehouses, and on other property it owns within Burien’s Northeast Planning Area north of the airport.

But the vacant apartment complex is just inside the Burien city limits and several council members hope this location will anchor economic development in the Northeast Planning Area that will generate additional sales tax and other revenue for the city. Possible land uses include an auto mall and a business park.

City Manager Mike Martin said recently that results of a state Department of Transportation study for a new interchange at State Route 518 and Des Moines Memorial Drive now underway might be available by summer’s end. An interchange at that location would increase the value of the Lora Lake site for business development.

Lora Lake Apartments Coming Down; What Will Replace Them? Take Our Poll... 4

Now boarded up and surrounded by barbed wire and fencing, the 234 Lora Lake Apartments were once affordable housing.

Preparation for demolition includes mitigation of toxic contaminants in the ground at Lora Lake, which were discovered in a 2008 environmental study prior to a planned transfer of the property from the Port to the King County Housing Authority.

When the assay found hazardous chemicals in soil samples taken at depths of 7 and 14 feet, the apartment complex was determined to be unsafe for occupancy and the housing authority abandoned plans to reopen its 162 units. The site was used for commercial and industrial purposes from the 1920s to the mid-1980s. In the 1950s, it was an auto wrecking yard.

Despite the fact that Lora Lake is coming down soon, “Burien still has a major hurdle to overcome” before it can develop that location – and other sites in the Northwest Planning Area – for uses compatible with the city’s vision for economic growth, noted Councilman Gordon Shaw.

“Even after Lora Lake is done and gone, the Port of Seattle owns a large amount of the Northeast Planning Area,” Shaw said. “The Port has bought a lot of commercial and residential land under and near airport flight paths.”

That leaves Burien in the position of having to negotiate with the Port for purchase of Lora Lake and several other properties, or for other accommodations for development that conforms to the city’s comprehensive plan.

“I don’t think the Port will need all the land they’ve got, but why should they give it up?” he observed. “It’s going to be a very delicate thing for the city to work through … I don’t know what the path forward is on resolution, but I’ll be upset if all we get is a food service company and a freight handling company, and then they work with Des Moines on a 90-acre business park.”

Lora Lake Apartments Coming Down; What Will Replace Them? Take Our Poll... 5

A commercial aircraft prepares to land on the third runway, which is less than 1,000 feet away from the property.

Should Burien eventually develop an auto mall in the Lora Lake area, this would vacate the city’s existing auto row along First Avenue. Should that happen, said Deputy Mayor Rose Clark, possibilities for redevelopment of those properties might include a hotel or a convention center, or both, catering to air travelers.

Built in the late 1980s, the Lora Lake Apartments – once a 234-unit affordable housing complex – were bought by the Port of Seattle in 1998. The city, the Port and the King County Housing Authority, which managed the apartments, agreed they would remain open until 2005, at which time they would be removed. The apartments are less than 1,000 feet from the third runway.

When construction of the runway was delayed, all parties agreed the apartments would remain open until June 2007. In late March that year, representatives of the city, the Port and the housing authority discussed the scheduled June closure of the apartments. Although housing authority representatives indicated a desire to keep Lora Lake open, they recognized a “contractual obligation” and were ready to begin phasing them out.

But housing authority Executive Director Stephen Norman then sent a letter to federal and state as well as city officials, citing the need for affordable housing in King County and demanding that the apartments remain in use. Both the city and Port challenged the housing authority’s move to renege on the joint contract, and moved forward with plans to demolish Lora Lake. The housing authority countered with a suit to block demolition on the grounds that it had a legal claim to the property.

Before a hearing could be held in early 2008, the Port agreed to sell Lora Lake to the housing authority. But the sale was delayed pending the outcome of environmental testing at the housing complex.

So…what do YOU think of the future of this once-affordable housing complex? Please take our poll, or Comment below…

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