by 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.

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.”

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…

[poll id=”34″]

Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.

10 replies on “Lora Lake Apartments Coming Down; What Will Replace Them? Take Our Poll…”

  1. Again, I can’t leave this without comment. I remember that property before it was even an auto wrecking yard. If anyone had cared enough in the 1970’s and 1980’s rush to develop freeways, apartments and just coincidentally, airports, in our immediate area, they would have taken the contamination into consideration before building an apartment complex there in the first place. However environmental concerns and damage didn’t count at that time. If it had there would be no highways 509 or 518 in this area as 509 follows a creek bed and 518 took out several creeks and a small lake or two. Lots of wetlands and wooded areas went bye-bye and pollution of all kinds skyrocketed. Now our yards and trees and plants are covered with a greasy, black residue and we are afraid to plant food gardens or fruit trees in our yards as we did when we were younger. It is not the Burien it was when my family moved here in 1941 and gardens were safe, but truthfully, I still wouln’t want to move from the family property. It is home.

    1. By the way, one other thing. “Adult entertainment” and it’s accompanying crime elements is the LAST thing we need on Des Moines Way near appartments and single family housing starting on the other side of 8th Avenue South. No, no, a thousand times NO!!

      1. Dixie – The reference to the “adult entertainment club” in the poll is a JOKE, based on a story we did for our April Fool’s issue that fooled a lot of Readers (see Please accept my apologies for any misinformation regarding this; I am a former comedy writer who is still trying to reform his errant, jokey ways…

        scott schaefer

  2. If the site is too contaminated for occupation, why should anyone be required to work there 8 plus hours a day? Is it much better to prepare (airline) food most people won’t eat, or store air cargo and share the toxins world wide? Perhaps a better use would be to serve as a mostly passive site for a renewable energy facility, or some other use that minimizes human exposore to the toxins on the site and the dispersal of the contaminants into other areas.

    Of course, if there is truly an “away” maybe we could get the toxins sent there….

  3. Thank you, Scott! When I first read it I thought “you have got to be kidding”, but then Burien has changed a lot………………………………One never knows for sure anymore what may come down the pike around here. My own vote is for what Burien wants done with the property, not necessarily the Port. I think (hope) that would be the most resident friendly for those of us living nearby.

  4. please i am looking for a light skinned man named anthony…don’t know his last name but he stayed with his mom and i think his cousin and brother also lived in the same apartments..he lived there around 2001 2002 stayed near the basket ball court..lora lake apartments..i really would love to find him and i need a last name for him..does anybody know him

  5. please my name is nicole and i am looking for anthony his mom moved out after and he stayed there for a few weeks or even a month or two after she left please email me if u know thnks god bless

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