Gary Blakeslee, president of Thrive Communities, the new management company for the Fort Lawton homes, spoke at the meeting about the upcoming plans for renovation. Photo by Sarah Radmer
Gary Blakeslee, president of Thrive Communities, the new management company for the Fort Lawton homes, spoke at the meeting about the upcoming plans for renovation. Photo by Sarah Radmer

The Magnolia community members who attended the May 29 Department of Planning and Development (DPD)’s meeting on the Fort Lawton housing at Discovery Park (3801 Discovery Park Blvd.) opposed the changes nearly unanimously.

The new owners have applied to the DPD to subdivide the historic home lot into 22 individual properties. There are also DPD applications for SEPA environmental determination for areas that have a steep slope near the Montana Circle properties.

Gary Blakeslee, president and CEO of Thrive, the properties’ new management company, said the deal for Rise to purchase the property hasn’t closed yet. There are still “some internal commitments and due diligence commitments” that need to be made. He guessed the deal would go through by mid- to late summer. He couldn’t provide information about how much Rise would pay for all of the properties or how much new homebuyers would pay for the individual lots.

It’s important to subdivide to define what land is owned by each homeowner, Blakeslee said. In a low-density neighborhood like this one, it’s important to clarify where the property line is to “facilitate response for maintenance.” It’s the practical thing to do, he said.

Blakeslee said he expects a DPD decision within the next couple of weeks. Community members packed the meeting to make public comments before DPD project manager Lindsay King. People can continue to submit comment by mail and email; those comments will be considered as the decision is made. 

Planned renovations

Before the homes are sold, there will be some renovations done. Thrive and Rise plan to make major renovations inside the homes. The exteriors won’t stay the same either: The current owners have worked with the city Landmarks Board to get two certificates of approval for replacement garages and trash enclosures. The properties already have garages, but they’re too small to fit modern cars, so those will be updated, and a carport will be added to the Montana Circle properties.

The Landmarks Board also approved a few modifications, such as filling in cavities at the backs of the homes and roof line and window modifications that Thrive won’t do to all of the properties because it doesn’t see the changes as necessary, Blakeslee said.

If everything goes through as planned, Blakeslee expects the homes to be on the market by late fall. Some of the current residents have expressed interest in buying the properties, but most plan to leave, he said.

Even if the subdivision of the properties isn’t approved, the homes will still be sold to private owners, Blakeslee said. The difference would “just be how their title for that home is described,” he said.

The way the homes are used now will be identical to their use in the future, Blakeslee said. The new properties will be under a homeowners’ association and property manager who will refer to the Landmarks Board guidelines, Blakeslee said. 

Preserving the ‘jewel’

Thrive has been working on the property for the last nine months, and it’s been well aware of the interests of the Magnolia community. Blakeslee said he’s glad there’s a forum where people can voice their concerns.

Those who stood before King and opposed the changes were often met with thunderous applause from the audience. Many community members called upon the DPD’s criteria for approval, specifically item No. 4, which states, “Whether the public use and interests are served by permitting the proposed division of land.”

Many talked about how Discovery Park is a “jewel” in the city and how the park and native habitat have already been affected by those living in the park.

Some community members voiced concerns that this would only be the start of development in the area, citing proposed Discovery Park developments in the past like a golf course and casino.

Blakeslee said he doesn’t share that concern. He thinks it would be easier for a large landowner to apply for changes than a small homeowner and he knows how difficult it is to get things approved under the “very specific and restrictive” guidelines from the Landmarks Board.

“It’s hard to imagine someone being successful to get approval of any modification [in] those guidelines,” he said.

Community members also called for the homes and land to be returned to the city and residents and suggested a variety of purposes they could be used for. Blakeslee said he believes the historic homes should stay homes.

“The opportunity for the city [and others] to buy it has come and gone,” he said.

Blakeslee said he’s convinced private ownership will be a benefit to the homes, park and Magnolia community. “Private owners are the best citizens in terms of preserving the quality of the homes and...[are] stakeholders that have more to gain or lose than anyone [concerning] the caretaking of the park,” he said.

Blakeslee envisions the new homeowners starting an “era of high-quality community” in Discovery Park. But he said he understands that’s something the community is going to need to see to believe.

For more information on the homes, visit fortlawtonhomes.com.

To comment to the DPD regarding the project, email prc@seattle.gov.

To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.