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Thursday, April 22, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bill Gates' Million-Dollar Garage -- Tale Of Irked Neighbors, Construction Glitches

MEDINA - One million dollars for a garage?

Yes, if your name is Bill Gates and you're building a house maybe worth $35 million.

The garage for the home Gates is building on the Medina shoreline is shown at 105 feet long and 56 feet wide in drawings, and is valued at $1.1 million in an inspection report filed with the city.

Why so much for a garage? It might have to do with its arching concrete entrance sunk into a hillside so that it resembles one of the tunnels dug for Interstate 90 through the Mount Baker Ridge.

Or maybe it has to do with the costs of including an exhaust system and skylights and then covering the whole thing with dirt. And changes add up - a cistern was noted as costing more than $60,000.

Or it might just be the size. Neighbors who've been inside compare it to a basketball court.

Take their word for it. Chances are the closest most curiosity-seekers will get to this or any other part of the home is a glimpse from Lake Washington.

From that vantage point, the house, under construction for about three years, appears as a huge gash on the shoreline about a mile south of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge.

Describing it as a "house" is stretching things a bit. What's there now is mostly a level area near the shore, a series of enormous retaining walls, and the garage. Eventually, the house, which will be more like a series of pavilions, is to be built in front of the retaining walls and mostly underground.

There's no question curiosity abounds about the Microsoft billionaire's abode.

"It's extremely popular," says Capt. Chris Toney, a Kirkland tour-boat operator who will begin offering cruises past the site May 1 for the second summer. "As a matter of fact, the boat leans to that side because everybody crushes over to see it."

A signboard on Northeast 18th Street lists a two-week work schedule. The signboard was put there to keep neighbors up to speed on construction details. This week it tells how the swimming pool is being built.

But beyond that, no one has much to say about how work is progressing or when the house will be completed.

Papers on file with the city run to thousands of pages, however, and indicate the house is now proceeding in its full scope, with an estuary, caretaker's residence, theater, pool and nanny's quarters. (Gates announced his engagement only this year, but apparently was exercising his full foresight in planning the house.)

Specifications show a level of detail that's nearly incomprehensible for most homeowners, even giving such details as what grade of sandpaper (No. 120) will be used on exposed wood.

The filings suggest there have been tense relations with neighbors, and building techniques that didn't work as expected.

While Medina's city manager, Joyce Papke, has publicly thanked Gates and crews from the builder, Sellen Construction, for help in recovering from a January windstorm, some neighbors have not been so pleased.

Sigrid Guyton, who's also a Medina City Council member, says she remains bitter about her famous neighbor.

"This was our dream home," she says of her own house. "It's been desecrated," she said last week. "My reaction is one of nausea. His privacy can go to hell. He already zips in and out of here in his little cigarette boat."

The construction itself also seems to have had some problems.

In November 1990, delays in issuing a shoring permit to hold up embankments were estimated as costing $2,000 a day.

By October 1991, work under way on a driveway turnaround was delayed by problems with the earth-anchoring system. By March 1992, shoring costs alone had reached $1.056 million, permits indicate.

One neighbor expressed what's probably a common feeling.

"Basically, we wish them well and Godspeed," she said. "We just want to get through it."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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