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Growing pains at Port Madison

A view of the club’s main dock. - Julie Busch photo
A view of the club’s main dock.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

Expansion plans by a yacht club have neighbors worried about traffic, noise.

Some say the neighborhood on the southeast side of Port Madison already has a split personality.

“It’s Jekyll and Hyde,” said Spargur Loop resident and Seattle Yacht Club member Craig Compton. “It can go from silent to a huge party in 24 hours.”

But proposed upgrades to the club’s 7-acre Port Madison outstation could push the Spargur neighborhood over the edge, attracting more revelers during the club’s half-dozen annual events and a widening flotilla of boaters during the busy summer season.

The club plans to transform an over-water residence into a sailing instructional facility, reconfigure its docks for wider vessels, expand parking to hold 50 vehicles, and build a large recreational deck. Other upgrades are planned, including improvements to lighting and septic systems.

“Any growth causes problems because this is a quiet little loop,” said Compton, a member of the club who opposes many of its development proposals. “It’ll wrench this street open.”

But for Dick Haugen, chair of the club’s outstation’s committee and a Spargur Loop resident, one only needs to look out at the bay to see that many concerns have swelled out of proportion.

“Normally, this is how it looks,” he said, pointing down at the club’s empty marina. “Nobody’s here and it’s quiet.”

Club member Jamie Gifford agreed, adding that much of the club’s activity occurs in short bursts.

“It’s about 10 percent of the year that we get 90 percent of the traffic,” he said.

The Madison Bay outstation was established in 1945, as a satellite of the Seattle-based club. The organization has grown to almost 2,500 members with about 50 residing on the island.

The club purchased the neighboring “Springer property” in the early 1990s and is making moves toward buying the city-owned T’Chookwap Park east of the club.

The club’s development proposal, which last week passed a state environmental review, would increase piers and other over-water fixtures by about 62 percent. But the club’s 30-vessel berthing capacity would grow by about three boats, said Haugen, who oversees the outstation’s development projects.

“It’s really to accommodate the widths of boats,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for boats today to be 15 feet wide, and we’re having trouble fitting them in.”

The planned renovation of the Springer family residence on the club’s west end will facilitate a new instructional sailing program. Set on pilings over the bay, the home will be used for small vessel storage, classes and will feature a rebuilt 120-foot dock.

“For me, (the upgrades) are about teaching sailing,” said Gifford, a club member for five years. “We live on an island so it stands to reason that this will be a nice thing to offer.”

Many of the 12 classes expected in 2007 will be open to the public and taught using 12-foot vessels owned by the club.

A few of the club’s planned upgrades are aimed at appeasing some neighborhood concerns.

“We’re going to change the lighting so it’s not so bright and move the playground to improve views,” said Haugen. “We want to be a good neighbor.”

Disquiet

But that won’t be enough, according to some Spargur Loop residents.

The club has provided “incomplete and misleading information, particularly with respect to parking and traffic data,” wrote Spargur Loop property owner Thomas Robertson in a letter submitted to the city’s planning department.

According to a study included in the club’s development plans, the upgrades could increase the club’s auto traffic by almost 60 percent, adding about 14 new trips per day to the present 25.

Compton believes these numbers don’t accurately portray traffic patterns at the club. Some days, he said, the club may generate one or two trips. But on one of the club’s 10 yearly events, Spargur Loop is gridlocked with hundreds of cars from members, caterers and other service vehicles.

It’s the same on the water, Compton said, with boats clogging the narrow bay.

“Hundreds of boats descend on this quiet hamlet,” he said. “We endure their use of bull horns, loud music and overall drunken revelry well into the night.”

Haugen and Gifford say many of these complaints are overblown.

“The bullhorn is used to say, ‘ready, set, go’ during one event out of the year,” said Gifford. “That’s the entire extent of the bullhorn – four hours a year.”

In his 31 years as a member of the club’s outstation, Haugen has never heard overly loud music by members.

“I don’t buy it,” he said. “It’s never come close.”

Haugen stressed that the club has an established code of conduct for members which bars them from disruptive behavior.

As a resident of Spargur Loop, Haugen said it’s in his interest to ensure the club does not substantially alter the neighborhood or overrun its quiet roads.

“I’m intensely interested in keeping the character of this place as a residential neighborhood,” he said. “I think some of the complaints are overplayed. We’re not the bad guys.”

Gifford agreed that the club aims to improve life on the island, not take it over.

“The club was here before the neighborhood and it’s been well-represented in the (bay),” he said. “We’re a sailing group. This is an island. There’s a water focus here that we’re a part of.

“This is not a takeover from an intergalactic yacht club.”

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Yachts, see

The city planning department will present its recommendation for the Seattle Yacht Club property expansion proposal to the hearing examiner on April 27 at City Hall. The examiner will also take public comment. The hearing begins at 10 a.m.

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