Sunday, November 7, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Erik Lacitis

Irene Wall And The Waterfront: Port Weighs In With Its Own View

Seattle Times Staff Columnist

"Dear Erik: A very big thank you to Irene Wall for saving our view along the waterfront! It's so nice to see that one person can have the talent, intelligence and stick-to-itiveness to change what many thought could not be changed," wrote Pat Riffe.

"Dear Erik: Would you please pass on to Irene Wall my thanks? As a citizen of Seattle, I have spent many hours sitting and enjoying the view from Steinbrueck Park. The computer simulation picture with your column really shows what would have been lost forever," wrote Chris Chalupa.

I think they're still a little befuddled at the Port of Seattle at how all of you are making a hero out of Irene Wall, 45, of Phinney Ridge, who works in marketing for an engineering firm. She's the one who put in hundreds of hours by herself to stop that proposed $65 million, nine-story, 400-room Marriott Hotel along the waterfront. The hotel's windowless, concrete rear wall would have blocked the view for an entire block as you drove out of the Battery Street Tunnel onto the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

I think the Port believes its efforts on behalf of all of you have been misrepresented and misunderstood. I mean, what is the Port trying to do but help make Seattle a world-class city?

The Port was ready to sell public land so the structure could be built, but the state's Shoreline Hearings Board listened to Wall's arguments about whether the mammoth building really was in keeping with the "small scale" and the "waterfront character"

designated for that area. It reversed the building permit.

I always know when a column is going to get strong reaction, because within a couple hours of the paper landing on your porches, or being posted on our Web site, the e-mails begin arriving. That's what happened on Sunday, Oct. 24.

I faxed the Port a bunch of your letters. I was hoping for something that'd explain its aggressive promotion of that project, something I could show the likes of Jim Nageldinger, for whom the hotel is the latest example of what's taking place in this town. He wrote:

"I just finished your article about Irene Wall. It is the best news I have read this week. Thank you, thank you, Irene, for saving some of the visual legacy for the rest of us. I had started to think I was the only one who noticed the eroding view. . . .

"I sometimes have the feeling that the people who make decisions that affect us all cannot believe that everyone doesn't lead the privileged life they do. We have to preserve what is left for us here in the city. I felt so powerless and angry, for example, when the Adobe building was put up, the extra story obscuring a wonderful sense of openness in the lower Fremont district. It was built in the `ass-in-your-face' manner we see today. What happened to common sense, courtesy, consideration and good neighborliness?"

Here are excerpts of the Port's reply, provided by spokesman Imbert Matthee and which I think it best to reprint verbatim to retain the tone:

"Irene Wall and the port basically agree on the issues surrounding the central waterfront. We are both passionate stewards of public view. The port took a dirty, neglected and unsafe portion of the downtown waterfront where few dared to go and created popular places where the public can now enjoy panoramic vistas of Elliott Bay, the Olympic Mountains and the city.

". . . Together with the new public views and public access, the Marriott Hotel is the result of a 10-year public review with community and various public agencies. This review resulted in a design that has been downsized and set back to accommodate concerns about view impacts. . . . We believed, and the city agreed, that we had a design that protects public view from (Steinbrueck Park); is clearly within the 85-foot height limit set by the city in 1985 and approved by the state; and, at the same time, allows a developer to build an economically feasible hotel that's appropriate for the site."

I hope that reply made things clearer, and explains the Port's actions.

What I really think, though, is that Irene Wall had better make room in her calendar for a few more hundred hours of civic activism.

Erik Lacitis' column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. His phone number is 206-464-2237. His e-mail address is:

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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