The site of a vacated homeless encampment behind the Central
District’s MidTown Center is still a mess -— and so is the legal situation
around it being emptied, an official with the city attorney’s office said.
“That is a complex situation to put it lightly,” Assistant
City Attorney Nyjat Rose-Akins told East Precinct Advisory Council attendees on
Thursday, Sept. 22.
Three days earlier, on Sept. 19, representatives of the
Bangasser family signed contracts with squatters who had set up a homeless
encampment on a portion of their property. The contracts required the squatters
to agree never to return to the property.
The Bangasser family has owned the MidTown Center property
on the southeast corner of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street, stretching an
entire block south to East Spring Street, since 1941. Following the mid-September
resolution of a lawsuit resolving ownership rights among the Bangassers, the
family began taking steps toward completing a contracted sale of their property
to Lennar Corp., which has submitted plans to build a 405-unit apartment
building with ground floor commercial space, according to a July 20 press
release published on the Daily Journal of Commerce’s website.
Those plans are not currently listed in the Department of
Construction and Inspections’ online records, which show the Bangasser family still
owns the site.
The Bangassers previously had a deal to sell the property to
California-based Legacy Partners for $23.5 million, but that deal fell through
as the family’s ownership lawsuit dragged on. The price of sale to Lennar
Multifamily Communities is unknown at this time.
Currently the property is site to a U.S. Post Office and
other small businesses.
A corner of the property on 24th Avenue and East Spring
Street is also home to the Umoja P.E.A.C.E. Center, a “community based cultural
center,” which provides arts activities and programs for area youth. Co-founder
Omari Tahir-Garrett had allowed former Nickelsville residents to set up the
homeless encampment on the site of Umoja after the Nickelsville camp below the
confluence of Interstates 5 and 90 dissolved in March.
Rose-Akins said the sale of the property remains the subject
of a number of lawsuits.
Tahir-Garrett filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in April,
which lists Midtown Limited Partners, its managing director Margaret Delaney,
Seattle City Light, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant as chairperson of Seattle
City Light and Council President Bruce Harrell as defendants — alleging the
violation of his first amendment rights via the disconnection of his utilities
and other actions to remove Umoja from the property.
Tahir-Garrett, who is seeking more than $5.6 million in
damages, further alleges in the suit that the defendants were “oppressing and
suppressing Black Culture [sic] … [and] demolishing buildings occupied by
grassroots Black activist [sic] for the sole purpose of replacing black
citizens with white citizens.”
“In essence, he believes he has some right, some interest in
the property,” Rose-Akins said.
The Bangassers have countered with an unlawful detainer
suit, which, if successful, would effectively evict Tahir-Garrett, who
currently remains on the property, she said.
The city of Seattle has also filed for fines against the
property owners for the presence of the unauthorized homeless encampment.
However, the city is waiting to see if the various lawsuits resolve the
ownership of the property before pursuing compensation.
The encampment was considered a violation of the city’s
public health code. The city attempted to alleviate sanitation concerns by
providing a portable toilet, Rose-Akins said.
With the departure of the camp, neighbors and officials have
taken note of the remaining mess.
“My biggest concern has always been around the public health
standpoint of the property not having proper sanitation situations,” said East
Precinct Advisory Council Chair Troy Meyers.
Meyers said police had recovered stolen personal property at
the remains of the camp, but were unable to further investigate in the wake of