A ceiling in one of The Princeton residences.
A ceiling in one of The Princeton residences.

Residents of Capitol Hill’s The Princeton Co-op are facing a high price to relocate a power pole Seattle City Light is requiring in order for fixes to the 111-year-old building to be completed.

The Princeton, at 1726 15th Ave., had been permitted to perform a roof-resurfacing project, co-op members saving up for several years to afford it, said resident Ben Palmer. About 75 percent of the work was completed before City Light notified the co-op it needed to stop.

“What we found during our review is their roof sits too close to power lines to allow workers into that space safely based on what the codes are today,” said City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen. “This happens. There’s a lot of older construction in Capitol hill because it’s one of our first neighborhoods.”

The power pole at issue has a line hanging within 9.5 inches of The Princeton, and was installed back in 1961. Since then, the clearance required to allow for work on the roof changed in city code to 14 feet.

Thomsen said the code change didn’t require compliance until The Princeton applied for a permit to fix its leaking roof. The Princeton is being required by City Light to pay half the cost of relocating the power pole and line, which is $28,000.

“We’ve worked with the folks at Princeton to get their costs as low as possible,” Thomsen said, “but it’s still going to be a chunk.”

Palmer said repair work to a hatch to the roof that is most prone to leakage has not been able to be repaired, which is causing ceiling damage for a number of residents, many using buckets to capture water. Palmer, who has lived at The Princeton for more than a decade, said his unit has not been affected.

“I just can’t stand when our neighbors are crying at our board meetings because they can’t sleep soundly,” he said, adding prior to the resurfacing project, rainwater accumulation on the roof was removed using brooms.

The co-op has been making a number of maintenance improvements to the old building, Palmer said, and had already spent around $180,000 on the roofing project before it was stopped almost four months ago. The project is already over budget, he added, and there was some rot mediation required.

Thomsen said City Light has been working with the co-op for several weeks to keep project costs down for the pole replacement, and whether The Princeton could make installment payments is under consideration.

“The question of whether payment arrangements can be made has been asked and is being discussed,” he said.

Palmer said there has been discussion about low-interest and no-interest payments for the work, but the co-op has not heard from City Light what such a compromise might be.

The Princeton has no records of being involved in the city’s decision where to place the pole and power line back in 1961, Palmer said, adding other residences share the line, but only the co-op is being asked to cover a portion of the relocation costs.

“I think it really must be said, and I don’t think most people want to say it about our homes, but it really is affordable housing,” Palmer said, adding the residence has dues low enough to accommodate younger residents with “less-affluent backgrounds.”

After some discussion, Palmer said it might be cheaper to seek legal action against the city to restart its roof project.

Thomsen said the entire issue comes down to safety.

“It’s a safety issue because those lines carry 26,000 volts of electricity,” he said.

Palmer said City Light has been making equipment and service upgrades around the city, but he feels the agency is passing costs to the co-op for its own deferred maintenance.

“It feels like they’re holding our project hostage,” he said.

Co-op treasurer Julia Peña wrote in a Facebook response to City Light that The Princeton, during a Jan. 12 meeting, is still waiting for the agency to provide several documents, including how many options City Light considered and associated costs, a rationale for the relocation decision, the impact to the neighborhood should power be shut down to allow the roofing project to continue and where in the code it states power pole upgrades are the responsibility of a building owner.