Who’s Destroying the Lillian?

The city, or Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc.?

The city will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, June 26, to discuss whether it should force Paul Allen’s real estate company, Vulcan Inc., to demolish the Lillian—an old wood-frame apartment building that Vulcan recently purchased in the Cascade neighborhood, around the corner from REI.

But despite the outrage of housing advocates, destruction may be a done deal. According to the housing building and maintenance code, residential buildings that need repairs exceeding 50 percent of the building’s value must be torn down, and the city has a long list of problems with the Lillian.

But housing advocate John Fox didn’t know any of this on June 4, when he and a group of low-income housing advocates met with Vulcan Inc. to try to save the Lillian. Vulcan had convinced the building’s tenants to move out by giving them $5,000 apiece in exchange for not talking about the deal publicly. Activists worried that with the tenants gone, Vulcan would demolish the 33 units of low-cost housing without replacing them.

“There was a lot of New Age jargon thrown around the room [by Vulcan] about how we can work together,” says Fox. “But what’s so disgusting and despicable is that while they’re feigning concern and supposedly reviewing our request [to save the Lillian], what they’re really doing is buying time to pull out the building’s heating and plumbing systems.”

Vulcan spokesperson Michael Nank calls Fox’s claims “absolutely false and reckless allegations.” But in fact Vulcan had started the abatement process a month earlier, on May 9, by asking the city to come inspect the Lillian for problems. The ensuing city inspection, on May 22, found numerous “high hazard conditions,” including cracked foundation walls, a crumbling roof, and rotting balconies. Giving weight to Fox’s claims that Vulcan sabotaged its own building, the city inspection also found “several plumbing fixtures missing,” “radiators missing,” and a “lack of approved cooking appliances.”

Nank says that Vulcan has removed lead paint and asbestos from the Lillian. He also says that there were “bathtubs in units not being used that were salvaged and donated to the Union Gospel Mission” but denies that Vulcan removed any radiators from the building. Nank says that Vulcan started its work on the building at the city’s request, but he changed his story when told that city records contradicted this claim.

In any case, Nank says, Vulcan representatives at the June 4 meeting “told [Fox’s group] directly that it was too late for the Lillian.” But meeting participants say that Nank is exaggerating and that Vulcan left the possibility of renovation on the table until June 21, when the company began sending out letters to the community saying that “the building is unsound and beyond its useful life.”

Earlier this month, over 160 people, including King County Council member Larry Gossett and state Rep. Maralyn Chase, signed an open letter to Vulcan demanding that it not demolish the Lillian. City Council members Peter Steinbrueck and Nick Licata, as well as state Speaker of the House Frank Chopp and state Rep. Ed Murray, each sent separate letters to Vulcan about the issue.

Their outrage, more than anything, may fuel subsequent appeals and court challenges if Vulcan gets its way.

Trevor Griffey


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