by Devin Chicras
This abandoned, burnt out, graffiti-ridden eyesore in West Hill’s Skyway neighborhood is more than a nuisance – it’s an issue of public safety & equity.
When King County Fire District 20’s Engine 22 arrived at the corner of 74th Avenue South and Renton Avenue South in Skyway around midnight on September 20th of last year, they found flames shooting out of the second story windows. It took additional units from Renton, Tukwila, Kent, King County Medic One and Zone 3 Rehab to get the situation under control. Many suspected the blaze had been accidentally started by squatters who had been seen coming to and from the long vacant, unsecured property. The fire was investigated by the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) Fire Investigation Unit as arson. By January of this year, the cause was labeled “undetermined” and damages were estimated at $70,000.
Previous to the fire, code enforcement complaints had been filed in January and April of 2014 about squatters, hoarding, rats, garbage and dumping. The West Hill Community Association (WHCA) along with KCSO Community Service Officer (CSO) Scott Dungan monitored the situation by documenting with photos and sending frequent updates to the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (DPER).
While some boards and some tarp now cover the giant hole in the roof and the smashed out windows and doors, it has continued to attract dumping and graffiti. WHCA learned upon inquiring at a Fire Commissioners meeting that the prosecutor’s office had been involved, so we contacted them.
Our inquiry led to the setting of a deadline by the prosecutor and a DPER abatement officer with the owner for a meeting to arrive at a solution for the dumping problem. This is the agreement that was reached with the owner on March 2nd:
“[The owner] has agreed to amend the Settlement Agreement we have with her, to allow us to place fencing along the easement road side of the property, and across the driveway to try and curb further dumping. We will be preparing an Amended Settlement Agreement, then will work with our contractor to complete the work once the new Agreement is in place.”
On March 13th, we learned from King County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Hepburn of the Civil Division, Land Use Section that:
“We now have an agreement with the owner to allow for removal of the illegal dumping of rubbish and debris, and for fencing off the external premises. Next week we will meet with a contractor who will collect and analyze materials we discovered at the site for hazardous materials. That testing will need to be completed before the cleanup. We are hoping to get the fencing in place as a priority to discourage unauthorized entry.”
That leaves the issue of the graffiti that covers much of the house. While it doesn’t appear to be gang-related, it’s still a shockingly out-of-place display of vandalism in an otherwise quaint little block in Skyway that largely takes pride in keeping their homes and yards looking nice. On March 16th, we heard from King County that:
“Graffiti is not something that King County enforces. It would be up to you to obtain permission from the property owner to enter the site to paint over the graffiti.”
WHCA has written to the owner asking if they have a plan, or could give us permission to paint over the graffiti. We’ll do our best to keep you updated and to continue pushing for progress. While the recent success stories regarding dilapidated buildings in Seattle give us hope, as residents of Unincorporated King County, we simply do not have all of those resources – which is why we’ll continue to work twice as hard for our community.