Uptown Alliance members at the 2008 dedication of Counterbalance Park: Jean Sundborg (from left), John Coney, John Gessner, Keith Biever and Kathy Biever. Photo courtesy of Jean Sundborg

Uptown Alliance members at the 2008 dedication of Counterbalance Park: Jean Sundborg (from left), John Coney, John Gessner, Keith Biever and Kathy Biever. Photo courtesy of Jean Sundborg

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In the early days of our republic, a call — “Here ye! Here ye!” — went out to citizens to gather at the commons to discuss current topics of vital interest to the community. Four Uptown residents (who would become the founding members) answered that call from the city: Janis Ford, John Coney, Liza Couchman and Jean Sundborg.

Since 1999, a form of that call has been issued from the Uptown Alliance, a nonprofit volunteer group of Uptown Queen Anne residents, to gather together to have a say about upcoming projects planned for their neighborhood.  

A community forum

Uptown’s founding was triggered by Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan, an intense, sometimes contentious process launched in 1995 in which the answers for growth management — including then-Seattle Mayor Norm Rice’s vision for urban villages — came from Seattle’s neighborhoods.

From that first 1999 meeting and over the next three years of open, monthly meetings attended by 15 to 22 Uptown residents, ideas and suggestions were bandied back and forth and a formal, formidably thick document was drawn up. An urban-planning specialist was hired with city funding; this draft became the final set of guidelines governing growth, land use and containment. Out of that, the Uptown Alliance was born. 

(It’s worth noting, at this point, that Uptown is the historic name for lower Queen Anne; it’s taken some Queen Anne residents time to adjust, but “Uptown,” because of the Alliance, has gradually gained currency. The Uptown geographic area designated by the city is marked by Denny Way to the south; Elliott Avenue to the west; Aurora Avenue north to the east; and a northern boundary that zigzags along the south slope of Queen Anne hill.)

The Alliance has worked with many city and county officialsover the years, as well as with the Queen Anne Chamber of Commerce, to tackle neighborhood issues: illegal drug and alcohol consumption in Kinnear Park, tagging of public properties and sponsoring community cleanup days. 

The Alliance, having obtained the site at Queen Anne Avenue and Roy Street, was seminal in establishing Counterbalance Park, which opened to the public in July 2008. The park has been the center for numerous celebrations — from concerts, art strolls and holiday festivities, to rummage sales and free clothing exchanges, with profits going to fund Uptown neighborhood projects.

Community members who live or work in Uptown are invited to support the Alliance via its meetings and events.

Sundborg, who studied urban planning in college, was quick to point 

out that “the Alliance is not a governing or legislative body…. We offer a forum where citizens, community leaders, and city and county officials can meet to voice concerns, share ideas, make suggestions and come to agreements about issues facing Uptown…. We have always had a mutually respectful and supportive relationship with the city and county, and they always consult us before any changes are planned for the neighborhood.” 

A proactive pride

Standing on the bike/pedestrian bridge at West Thomas and Third Avenue West (a project for which the Alliance and the Seattle Department of Transportation worked to obtain funding), Coney spoke of increasing density in Uptown. 

Coney, a former TV producer and news reporter whose expertise is in transit, said research has shown that “growth for Uptown is projected to increase by 100,000 residents in the next decade…. If we are striving for urban centers as urban villages, we need carefully planned growth, affordable housing and efficient transit.” 

Since its inception, the Alliance has been an advocate and major player for improved transit projects: supporting and advocating RapidRide bus service, light rail and Seattle Streetcar planning. 

“The Alliance has always prided itself in being proactive and project-oriented,” Coney said. “Instead of reacting, we try to plan ahead to stave off possible impasses…. We keep dialogues open, hash things out and come to agreements.”

Concerning the controversy over the stone sculptures at Counterbalance Park, Coney explained that the original sculpture design had to be shelved due to budget constraints. The five standing sculptures now present in the park have received criticism from some citizens, the family of park architect Robert Murase and even some members of the Alliance. But a compromise was reached with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, in which the Alliance paid for the installation and insurance. 

Another issue, the West Thomas-Myrtle Edwards bike/pedestrian overpass, was first proposed to the city in 1992 to establish a connection between Uptown and city waterfront parks. Never-ending delays from lack of funding and budget cuts made it seem as if the project would never be completed. 

Coney gives a great deal of credit to John Gessner, an engineer and one of the Alliance’s early members. “John was tenacious and never gave up on the project,” Coney said. With help from Seattle Department of Transportation director Peter Hahn, the overpass was completed and opened to the public last fall.

Other issues loom, including streetscape projects, the two-way Mercer/Roy Street corridor, the Lake to Bay Trail connecting Myrtle Edwards Park to Lake Union Park, the bike/pedestrian connection from Roy Street to West Prospect Street/Elliott Avenue West through Kinnear Park and continuing plans for mass transit.

In other words, Uptown Alliance has a full plate.

Uptown Alliance’s meetings are held in the community room at EXPO Apartments (118 Republican St.) on the second Thursday of each month. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/SeattleUptownAlliance.

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