The Submerged Parcels, upon which the Steam Plant floating walkway will soon ride, are safe. The three-decade effort to preserve this aquatic open space was won in 2019 when SDOT awarded the Fairview Trestle replacement construction contract. Within that contract is the assurance the floating walkway will return. The floating walkway is assurance the Submerged Parcels will remain open water for all the public.
The Submerged Parcels are owned by Seattle City Light. They were created in 1907 as “Lake Union Shorelands” as a funding mechanism for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (S.B. #101). Water was platted as buildable land, then sold.
The Seattle Water Department purchased the first of these parcels to protect the outlet of its Volunteer Park Reservoir outflow pipe. It transferred Lot 3 and its upland parcel (purchased 1900) to the newly created Lighting Department in 1910. The Lighting Department operated a hydro-electric generating facility on that upland parcel, using Volunteer Park reservoir water flowing to the submerged parcel, from 1912 to 1931.
Submerged Parcel #1 Lots 1 and 2, and all of Submerged Parcel #2, were purchased by City Light between 1925 and 1928. These acquisitions, in combination with Waterway #8 sandwiched between, enabled a fuel barge (the Diamondhead, de-masted) to be moored to supply oil to the Lake Union Steam Plant.
When the fuel barge was replaced by an upland oil tank in 1947, City Light leased Submerged Parcel #2 to Lake Union Drydock. This lease continues today and Parcel #2 does not contribute to the site’s sense of open space. (For on-site reference, the property line between Parcel #1 and Waterway #8 is the northern side of the fueling pier; between Parcel #2 and Waterway #8 the property line is the southern side of Seattle Seaplane’s outer dock.)
The Submerged Parcels were surplussed along with the Steam Plant and Hydro House in 1985. City Council Resolution #28202 was adopted in 1990:
PARA #6: “That the Council shall not consider disposition of the Lake Union Steam Plant submerged parcels without a process which provides significant opportunity for public participation.”
PARA #7: “That the mayor is directed to consider how both Submerged Parcels of the Lake Union Steam Plant property be maintained as open space.”
The zoning is currently Industrial General 1, designed for maritime and railway use. Commercial and retail use is limited to 10,000 sq ft. Residential is prohibited.
Submerged Parcel #1 and Waterway #8 provide approximately 500 lineal feet of Lake Union shoreline and 100,000 square feet of open water.
Submerged Parcels Park
Submerged Parcel Park has been nominated for acquisition to the 1989 Opportunity Fund, the 1992 Shoreline Park Improvement Fund, the 1996 Open Space bond issue, the 2000 and & 2002 Pro-Parks levies, and the 2006 Capital Improvements Plan. It was a UW Landscape Architecture design charrette in 1997.
The Waterway issue is an issue standing in the way of formalizing Submerged Parcels Park. Waterway #8 is for transportation (RCW 91.08.630). By state regulation, its preferred use is for vessels, moored, mothballed, loading, anything. Changing a waterway into something else is virtually unprecedented. As long as Seattle City Light controls construction in Parcels, no vessel can stay indefinitely in Waterway #8.
Another impediment with the transfer of the Submerged Parcels to the Parks Department is the Department of Ecology Consent Decree that must be issued before polluted property can be sold. The lake bottom of the Submerged Parcels might be more toxic than the middle of Kite Hill in Gas Works Park. The costs of study, mitigation and/or clean-up are daunting.
The Submerged Parcels, 2021 and Beyond
SDOT and the adjacent property owners have maintained the Submerged Parcels for the past 30+ years. Parks Departments – local or state – cannot offer better maintenance or improvements.
With the Waterway issue, the Consent Decree impediment, Resolution #28202 and the Spring 2021 return of the Steam Plant floating walkway, an informal open space exists at no further cost to anyone and is free from threat of development.
If Lake Union Drydock gives up its lease for Parcel #2, an opportunity will exist to expand the open space of Submerged Parcels. But until that happens, no action is the best action.