For the past few years, the handful of residents on a short stretch of 23rd Avenue Southwest—a rudimentary, one-lane, dead-end road, just north of Southwest Brandon Street—have been trying desperately to get the city's help. Their road is crumbling away on both sides. Cars have to carefully maneuver into a ditch or a driveway to pass each other. There are severe drainage problems: After it rains, the lane—which cuts across a steep hill—drowns in runoff water that overflows an inadequate ditch. In order for their drainage system to work, neighbors joke, water would have to run uphill. Instead, the standing water attracts mosquitoes and even rats. Mail carriers and delivery services, neighbors say, have refused at times to visit the homes on 23rd Avenue, because it's too treacherous.
"It's like a country road," explains Shannon Payne, who has lived with her family at the north end of the troublesome street since 1993. "It seems like we're in unincorporated King County. I've had people ask, is this part of the city?"
For years, neighbors have been locked in a battle with the city—and a developer who neighbors say exacerbated the street's issues—to fix the problems. If the city doesn't step up soon, frustrated residents plan to sue.
Payne and her neighbors' complaints have bounced between several city departments. The City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD), Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle Public Utilities have all been involved. Neighbors are most frustrated with DPD. Starting in 2002, the department issued permits allowing a developer to build five new homes on the already problem-plagued street. Residents complain that DPD didn't ensure the street had adequate infrastructure to support the new homes. "It seems that should be a requirement," says Payne, who is also upset with the mayor. She says the mayor's office created "a bottleneck" when neighbors tried to get help via city council members.
Over the past three years, construction of the homes made conditions on 23rd Avenue even worse. The new structures compounded the hillside drainage problem, neighbors say. (The developer's phone number as it appeared on city permitting documents was disconnected. The Stranger could not reach the developer for comment.)
Then last week—as an invite to the neighborhood meeting circulated, alluding to legal action—the developer showed up with a construction crew. The city departments had apparently negotiated and approved a plan calling for the developer to regrade the asphalt in front of the new houses, a move that took neighbors by surprise.
But neighbors still plan to meet: While they're happy that the developer cleared up some of the newest problems, they still want the city to address the larger drainage problems. Also, residents noticed this week that another developer has applied to build a few more hillside homes off of tiny, still inadequate, 23rd Avenue. Neighbors are bracing for another round with the city. "We're going to start over again," says an exasperated Payne.