Ethiopian Church Bids for Surplus Property

by OCP on May 3, 2012

in News

3/5/2012

When Seattle City Light visited the May 1 North Beacon Hill Council meeting looking to sell a small and unused plot of land, representatives witnessed an overwhelming and unanticipated turn-out by the Ethiopian Church eager to build.

Vacant since 1993, the former substation at 2107 14th Ave S suffered lead exposure until City Light cleaned it up. The Debre Medhanit St. Emmanuel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, located next door, wants to buy the property to expand their already limited facilities. “We’re over full capacity and growing like crazy,” said church member Maikele Mengesha. He added that the Church wants to build a big structure similar to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption on Capitol Hill. “We want it to be a landmark,” Mengesha added.

Right now the vacant lot is all cleaned up and covered by a thick layer of wood chip mulch.

Neighbors poured into Beacon Hill Library last night as Steve Louie, South Region District Coordinator at the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, and a couple other guys placed an additional three rows of chairs. They seemed to anticipate the crowd.

Friends of the Seattle Public Library Meeting Room has an occupancy of 100 people, but the over 70 individuals and families with children packed the meeting space like a tin of sardines. An obvious majority of these people were from the Ethiopian church.

Despite the dreary weather, many people were chatting with each other, filling the room with friendly noises. People quieted when NBHC co-chair Judith Edwards punctually started the meeting at 7:00PM.

Edwards said that NBHC meetings don’t have a lot of people unless there’s a hot button issue. “What a marvelous turn out,” she said.

Maikele Mengesha, a real estate agent at Preview Properties, addressed the crowd at the Beacon Hill Library as representative of his church. He explained what Seattle Ethiopians had been through immigrating to the United States. He spoke of Ethiopian Christianity and the hardships him and his people experienced fleeing Muslim persecution in countries like Sudan. “The City of Seattle is up for diversity and culture,” he said. “Our strive is consistent with that.”

“Our church is a spiritual place. No partying,” Mengesha added. “We are willing to pay what needs to be paid [for the property].”

After the meeting, a church member approached me. He told me that the Ethiopian Church wanted to buy the surplus property to add day care units and educational spaces. “This is for the children,” he told me. He said that children of immigrants needed to learn about Ethiopian history and culture.

The problem is money. City Light requires that sales of utility-owned properties must be paid at full market price. No bargaining. City Light representative Dave Barber insisted that City Light wanted the surplus property “fully utilized.” He wants the community to have it. The community just has to follow the City’s rules.

Barber said the property’s estimated value was a couple hundred thousand dollars but refused to disclose the assessed value. Barber scanned the crowd at the end of his presentation. “I’m pretty convinced that the church is interested in this property,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith was supposed to deliver a presentation on the Mountain to Sound trail and city plans for the greenbelt and its homeless population. As of this post, Smith could not be reached for comment. His absence was conspicuous. Steve Louie joked he was “activated.” The entire Mayor’s office seemed to be occupied with the May Day celebrations downtown. “They’re doing crowd control,” Judith Edwards joked.

King Country Aging and Disability Services representative Marsha King, Beacon Hill Merchants Association organizer Robert Hinrix, and Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse Subcommittee member Roger Pence also spoke. Hinrix announced the line up of ROCKiT events this summer, while Pence pleaded council members to hold a space where the community could protest the demolition and rebuilding of the Jefferson Park golf clubhouse. Pence said the current redesign of the clubhouse looked like a strip mall turned on its side. “The City considers this a done deal,” Pence said.

When the meeting adjourned, Judith Edwards reminded community members about NBHC elections. There are new spots on the board to fill. Board member Matt Stubbs had the last word. He addressed the majority Ethiopian crowd and asked them: “Please, join our board.”

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