The 364th ESC soldiers carefully fold the flag during the flag casing ceremony as the unit leaves historic Fort Lawton. The ceremony took place in September of 2011. On Feb. 25, the Army Reserve will have the official closing ceremonies.

The 364th ESC soldiers carefully fold the flag during the flag casing ceremony as the unit leaves historic Fort Lawton. The ceremony took place in September of 2011. On Feb. 25, the Army Reserve will have the official closing ceremonies.

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   After years of debate and a few lawsuits, the U.S. Army Reserve will hold ceremonies on Saturday, Feb. 25, to officially close Fort Lawton.

   The Army is inviting the public to attend the ceremony, to be held at 10 a.m., Feb. 25, at the 2nd Lt. Robert R. Leisy U.S. Army Reserve Center at 4570 Texas Way W. There also will be a reception following the ceremony at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center, 3801 W. Government Way. Historical bus tours of Fort Lawton and Discovery Park will be available at the Daybreak Star facility.

   Guest speakers at the event will include Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, Congressman Jim McDermott and Maj. Gen. William D. Frink, Jr., the Commander of the 79th Sustainment Support Command. The special guest speaker will be Maj. Gen. (Retired) James Collins, the Civilian Aid to the Secretary of the Army for the state of Washington.

   But exactly what will happen to the 28 acres of land that housed the Reserve Center remains a mystery. Initial reports, including an article published in this publication, incorrectly stated that the land would be turned over to the City of Seattle. According to city officials, the land remains with the U.S. Army. Officials with the Army have yet to say what they plan to do with the property.

Saturday’s ceremony will end the military involvement on nearly all of the land that has been known as Discovery Park for the past four decades. The Army vacated 85 percent of the 2.8 square kilometers of land that was the original site of Fort Lawton in the early 1970s.

   What remained was a number of small parcels of land, including about 28 acres along the northeastern border of the park. That land has been the home to various Army Reserve units until September of 2011 when the 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command moved to a new headquarters in Marysville, Wash.

Saturday’s service will be a ceremony marking the official end of any military activity on the property, but it will remain in the Army's hands until military officials decide how best to move forward with the site. There are a number of different methods by which they could transfer or "convey" the rights to the property to Seattle. But it isn't clear yet how the Army would like to move forward.

   According to park officials, the remaining property under military control includes a building being renovated by the Veteran's Administration for outpatient care in the army reserve area and the military cemetery.

The Army is advising local residents that military cannons will be fired during the ceremony and this could set off nearby car alarms.

 First opening on Feb. 9, 1900, Fort Lawton has played a role in most of the major wars during the past 112 years. According to the Army, the facility was the second-largest deployment site on the West Coast during World War II, deploying nearly 1 million troops overseas. Fort Lawton also held more than 1,100 German prisoners of war and was the staging area for more than 5,000 Italian POWs to be sent to Hawaii.

   After decades of community effort, federal officials announced in 1964 that about 85 percent of Fort Lawton’s land would be given back to Seattle for no cost. However, turning the land over to Seattle proved more difficult than many had expected. The surplus acreage at Fort Lawton finally became Discovery Park about nine years later. The park was among a number of army surplus properties around the country that were returned to local jurisdictions. It was officially dedicated in October, 1973, by then U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson, who championed legislation to return the surplus properties.

   “The whole country owes you a debt of gratitude,” he told the citizens gathered for the dedication ceremony. “You pressured me, and I pressured Washington. As a result of the Federal Lands for Parks and Recreation, over $100 million of surplus lands–38,000 acres, have been deeded to cities for park use.”

   The closing ceremonies are bound to begin a new round of debate about what to do with the former Army Reserve Center.

   A separate piece of property where 26 officers’ houses stand is owned by the Navy and has been turned over to Forest City Military Communities, a private real estate company that specializes in selling homes to military personnel. These homes in Discovery Park are considered historical sites and must be preserved. Any changes to the property or houses are greatly restricted.

   As for the Reserve property, many Magnolia residents want the land to be added to Discovery Park. However, Seattle officials in 2008 put forward a plan to build between 108 and 125 new market-rate housing units that will include single-family homes and townhome duplexes to be spread throughout the property, adjacent to the Kiwanis Ravine neighborhood. Larger lots will be located along 36th Avenue West and at the north end of the site.

   The plans calls for building six Habitat for Humanity “self-help” town homes, 30 units for homeless families and a 55-unit building for homeless seniors.

The Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have accepted Seattle’s plan for the site. But city officials say the Army has not yet responded to the proposed plan.

   The Magnolia Neighborhood Planning Council, led by Elizabeth Campbell, protested the development as inappropriate for the area. The group sued the city, maintaining that Seattle’s plan violated a previously written Master Plan for the site. The suit also maintains that the city failed to complete an environmental review of the property as required under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The courts have, so far, ruled in the council’s favor.

   Campbell said the case was appealed all the way to the State Supreme Court, but Washington’s highest court refused to hear the case in 2010. And, according to Campbell, that is about where the case now stands. To her knowledge Seattle has not gone forward with a SEPA review of the site.

   The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods website listed the last update as January of this year, and stated “Any decision about the sale of land at Fort Lawton remains in the Army’s hands, as Congress intended. City officials will continue to consult with Army officials about the future of this important area.”