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Slog: Federal Ave homeowners using Volunteer Park as private backyards — UPDATE

UPDATE 6:40 PM:
CHS had an opportunity to talk with Seattle Parks spokesperson Don Harris about the Volunteer Park situation. He says the Slog post didn’t get the situation quite right. “It’s not a legal situation at this time. These families got a lawyer, I think, to represent their needs not to battle,” Harris said.

Harris tells CHS that the situation began when Volunteer Park maintenance workers began noticing more and more play equipment and gardening gear spreading into the park boundary. After a survey, Harris said homeowners were notified about their property lines. Most homeowners along the west edge of Volunteer Park have been quick to act on the request from Parks to vacate the city property, Harris said. “The two [the Stranger] focused on just happen to be the most complicated.”


In one family’s situation, contractors built an addition to the home that actually stretches into Volunteer Park’s property line thinking that the yard that existed when they bought the home represented the legitimate boundary lines. In the other, the family is moving its yard wall to comply, Harris said.

Harris said there was a 30-day deadline for the family to comply with the parks request with a 90-day window before the city took any kind of legal action. Harris said his department believes the 90-day window is very nearly if not already closed but that they are working to figure out an exact date before proceeding. “As long as we continue to see positive signs, we’ll continue to work this out,” Harris said.

This is not the first time this situation has been dealt with by Parks. In 2009, a small controversy erupted when two men briefly fought the city after similar encroachments were found in Seward Park. Harris said the negotiated solutions in that situation worked out just fine for the men — they kept their gardens — and the park.

Meanwhile, in other Capitol Hill parks news, Harris told CHS “there is nothing worth reporting” yet in the ongoing negotiations for the city to purchase the empty lot at Federal and Republican for a new park but that there are “positive signs of progress” in striking a deal with the land’s owner.

Original Post:
The Stranger’s Cienna Madrid
has a fascinating story from the City of Seattle’s civil litigation front about a battle between the Parks Department and Federal Ave homes encroaching on the western edge of Volunteer Park:

Two families along the 1200 block of Federal Avenue East, on Capitol Hill, have lawyered up and are refusing to relinquish 2,813.3 square feet of Volunteer Park property that they’re functionally using as fenced back yards. According to a records request filed by The Stranger with the city, last July, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department became aware of 13 residences encroaching on public space—including a hot tub pavilion and zip line into the park—and on January 15 of this year, residents were informed they had 30 days to vacate park land.


The public records request shows that the home owners removed the zip line and dismantled the hot-tub pavilion. But two families—Ralph and Lesley Althouse, and Charles and Kristen Wilk—have refused to comply, records indicate, still using park of the park as private yard space.

Slog goes on to report that the lawyer for the families is negotiating with the city and says that one possible solution put forward by Parks is a Revocable Use Permit that would allow the families to “rent” the 2,800 square feet of Volunteer Park on which their million dollar homes are encroaching. For $30,000 a year. We’ll see what else we can add to the story.

UPDATE: Before you assume the home owners in this situation are acting like entitled snobs, check out how Parks spokesperson Donald Harris describes the situation in this Slog update on their original story. Harris says the families are “working to comply” with the request to make adjustments to their properties and that one family has already agreed to move their back yard wall.

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18 thoughts on “Slog: Federal Ave homeowners using Volunteer Park as private backyards — UPDATE

  1. Those homes are famed for years of complaints about how other people are using the park.

    I guess they regard the whole Park as their back yard.

    Nice Seattle should not be nice when it comes to taking park land for private use…. and I bet they well know where the property line is at.

    Sorry not to feel benign and fun – sy about this, not my charity day.

  2. I know where the hot tub party is tonight!

    “No officer, I’m in the park!”

    Seriously though, who thought it was okay to zip line into the park? That’s just asking for trouble. Bet it was fun while it lasted.

  3. That’s less than $0.90 a square foot a month. Hells yeah, ninety bucks a month for my own 10 x 10 chunk of private park.

  4. 90 cents??!?!!!

    At that rent rate, I’m laying my claim right now for the watertower portion of Volunteer park: would make an EXCELLENT unique loft apartment. Dear SPRD: I’ll be moved in by mother’s day!

    Thanks Althouses/ Wilks!!

  5. Distinctly different cost analysis issues there.

    Besides, if they had 30 days to vacate, and everyone else was able to comply, then the Wilks and Althouses can too.
    Park moochers. You know, for having such fancy-ass pre-Mcmansions, you’d think they could AFFORD to buy a place with all the yard they need…. but I guess they aren’t really all that rich – especially if they are having to share a lawyer.

    How bout this: let’s all go there and mark the TRUE border of the park, and start enjoying some loud music, stinky BBQ, and frisbee in OUR park until they get the message that their panhandling of our park is BS.

  6. So, let me understand this. In the City of Seattle, I can be arrested or fined for being homeless and asking for change, but if I own a big fancy house on Capitol Hill, I can claim park land as my own? Wow, the wealthy really do live under a completely different set of rules.

  7. Cienna Madrid wrote:

    Harris stresses that vacating is a delicate issue for the Althouse family, whose property line ends 0.2 feet from their living room wall, and not twenty feet away, as they previously thought. I spoke with Dr. Ralph Althouse today, but he declined to comment on record without first conferring with his lawyer. However, Harris says that the family is actively looking into how they can accomplish this without building a wall or fence that leans against their house. “We’re not sure what those options might be,” he says, “but we have a meeting next week to discuss.”

    So we’re to believe that these people bought a multi-million-dollar home next to a park, taking the word of the seller that an existing chain link fence marked the property line, didn’t bother to verify that claim even when they built an addition to the home, and coincidentally built that edition a few inches inside the real property line? I don’t buy it.

  8. I feel no sympathy for these people. This feeling of entitlement on the north end of CH is rampant. They know their property lines and if they don’t they should. They just clearly don’t care and only are “working to change” because they got caught. If it was accidental, why did they hire an attorney?

  9. Talked to a property attorney tonight, dinner friend, and he said, not a legal opinion, that title insurance bucks might be involved here….. when selling, sellers furnish that insurance, at a big cost, and it covers many issues including easements and property lines in many cases … so the issues gets a little more complicated, but might contain a very deep pocket …

    The positive is if the title insurance policy for the sale price or bank loan insured the lot lines and if it did and they are wrong there is mega bucks in the stew ….

    The “plot” thickens …

  10. Just because these people happen to live on Federal Ave on the north end of the hill doesn’t necessarily make them evil. I’m nearly certain that mom, dad, and the two kids aren’t sitting around lighting their cigars with $100 bills, wondering how the other half lives.

    Somebody goofed, it’ll get sorted out, live goes on.

  11. Who said evil?

    They just took over public space for their own use which is not cool. Sure it will be sorted out, they have no defense.

    I understand easy going, and Seattle nice, but, Seattle nice means you don’t convert any park space to your own use … not nice.

    Remember when the Starbucks mogul, Howard Schultz, used park space for his driveway to his mansion???. It got resolved, he had to build a new drive on his own property.

    Same resolution coming here, the parks dept. has all the face cards.
    No game is left for the encroachers.

  12. BCampbell wrote, “Somebody goofed.”

    So you believe that they honestly thought the line between their property and the park was at the fence line, and that when they built the addition to their home, it was pure coincidence that the addition stopped 2.4 inches short of the real property line? I don’t know these people, so I’m reluctant to guess what their intentions were, but it seems likely that when they decided to add on to their home, they knew where their property ended, hoped to continue using 2000 square feet of the park as their own, and built the addition right up to the property line just in case the true property line was someday revealed.

  13. Why always assume people have the worst intentions. What a terrible way to view people in your own community. Not to mentioned how you make judgements based on limited information.

  14. Folks should really get a survey done on the land they hope to buy before buying it. Seller/agents will say a lot of things to help sell a piece of property but it is ultimately up to the homeowner to know where their property line exists. Also I thought that part of the permit process was to show the property lines and to submit plans for construction before building proceeds. Also aren’t there regulations as to how far you can build from the property line? The living room being .2 feet from the line shows that there was an error made by multiple parties: homeowner, surveyor, city planning dept, contractor. I’m just glad that’s not me with the home so close to the line.

  15. You need to read.

    The city does not have the resources to verify property lines for every permit they grant. That is part of simplifying the permit process for homeowners. The responsibility is on the property owner to make sure their plans are accurate.

    Whomever the homeowner contracted with to design their addition probably took a shortcut.

  16. So, anonymous commenter, you, too, suspect that the owners did not know where the property line actually ran, and that it was pure coincidence that the addition they built onto the house ended just inside the line?