The Cascade Neighborhood Council's meetings were downright unpopular earlier this year. "Until about three months ago, the meetings were sparsely attended," says Red Reddick, a 23-year resident of the neighborhood just southeast of Lake Union. "Board elections were even put off because they couldn't find anyone to run for office."

But last week's August 21 meeting, held at the white-steepled Immanuel Lutheran Church on Thomas Street, near REI, drew almost 60 people.

It was election night for the council's board, which finally found a few candidates, and most of the people there wanted to vote. The problem, some Cascade residents and activists say, is that most of those prospective voters are developers in the area, not true community members. "The minutes ticked by before we started voting, and more and more of these developers poured in," says one resident.

"I've never seen those people at the meetings before," Reddick says, referring to representatives of such developers as Harbor Properties, Schnitzer Northwest, and NBBJ Architects.

But it's no surprise they were there: There are two big issues brewing in Cascade that the community board could influence, and both concern Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. developments (Vulcan and Schnitzer Northwest are requesting an alley vacation for a new biomedical facility, and Vulcan recently bought the Lillian Apartments, which was a low-income residence). The other developers at the meeting deal with Vulcan on Cascade and South Lake Union projects.

The presence of developers intending to vote irked sev- eral residents and activists, who don't want to see a developer-dominated board. They say the current president and vice president already indirectly work for Allen's company (president Jim Suter is a property manager for Trammel Crow, a company that manages real estate for Vulcan, and vice president Ed Geiger heads the Urban Environmental Institute board, a sustainable-development group that does consulting for Vulcan), and a board with more Allen supporters would be a poor reflection of the neighborhood. "[The developers'] idea is that there's this large plot of prime real estate that can be redeveloped," Reddick explains. "This obviously pisses us off a lot."

Cascade activist and community council treasurer Colleen Dooley says it was clear that Vulcan and the developers stacked the meeting. "Vulcan staged their own coup!" she says. (After the meeting was over, Reddick says Jim Mueller, Vulcan's real estate director, talked to her about the developers at the meeting. "He was quite forthcoming," Reddick says. "Mueller said they had in fact packed the meeting." Vulcan spokesperson Michael Nank says that allegation is "absolutely false.")

And the activists allege many of the developers at the meeting shouldn't have voted at all. Voting is a privilege of membership, and members of the Cascade Neighborhood Council--like most of Seattle's community councils--are people who live, work, or own property in the neighborhood. That's where the August 21 meeting got tricky: Though most of the developers and the people they brought to the meeting are working on Cascade-area projects, Dooley and Reddick say those folks aren't truly members.

"I watched those people voting. I know that their offices are not in the neighborhood. They do not live in the neighborhood," Reddick says.

Alison Jeffries, Harbor Properties' marketing director, says her company wasn't trying to do anything devious. She says Harbor Properties has been involved with the council for a year. "We want to be a responsible member of the community, just like anyone who develops property."

But clearly several residents and council members thought something fishy was going on at the August 21 election. The council usually votes with an honor system--those who feel they are members can vote--but that system fell apart halfway through the voting. About 43 ballots were cast in the races for vice president and treasurer after only 36 people had said they were voting members. One resident called for a stop to the whole election, and the council agreed.

"It was like the Florida [2000 presidential] elections!" says one woman who lives in the area. "Previous to Vulcan setting up camp, the honor system worked."

The elections were postponed until the council discusses membership rules. "Now, everyone interested in defining membership can sit down and discuss amendments to the bylaws that everyone--or at least the vast majority of those involved--can feel is reasonable," Geiger explains.

amy@thestranger.com

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