Photo courtesy of SDOT: The West McGraw Street end was improved for public access in 2013. Plans now include adding hand rails to the path leading down to the beach.
Photo courtesy of SDOT: The West McGraw Street end was improved for public access in 2013. Plans now include adding hand rails to the path leading down to the beach.

When the City of Seattle was platted in the late 1800s, there were 142 shoreline street ends created.

“Over the course of years, when we first became aware of them 30 years ago, there was no policy, no permit system, and basically the neighbors next to them would take them over,” said Karen Daubert, cofounder of the Friends of Street Ends.

FOSE was formed more than 20 years ago by residents who wanted to see the street ends opened up to the public to enjoy the shorelines, which include Lake Washington, Lake Union, Puget Sound and Elliott Bay.

The Seattle City Council designated 149 shoreline street ends as for “public uses and enjoyment” in September 1996. Those private property owners who wanted to continue using the right-of-way as their own were required to pay a permit fee, which to this day is dedicated to supporting the opening and improving of shoreline street ends around Seattle.

Six street ends ended up being vacated by the council, and the Washington State Court of Appeals found another was no longer city right-of-way.

The Seattle Department of Transportation oversees the Shoreline Street Ends Program, and is solely funded by permit fees property owners pay to use the public right-of-ways.

“A lot of the marine-based industries like along the Duwamish use them as storage,” said program coordinator Omar Akkari.

These marine-based industries will likely keep their permits as long as they remain operational, but there are opportunities to open up more street ends when a property owner no longer wants to pay for the right to use it. Sometimes people will acquire a property and not realize they hold a street-end permit until it comes time to renew. Fees range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars, Akkari said.

“We’re constantly looking to see what’s coming in through these permits,” he said. “They don’t have to apply again, but they do have to pay again. The price goes up or down depending on the value of the property.”

Seattle Parks and Recreation partnered with SDOT in 2013 to improve 10 shoreline street ends, which included the end of McGraw Street in Magnolia.

The Shoreline Street Ends Program now relies on just permit fees, and Akkari is the first permanent position assigned to the program. He moved to Seattle in August from Spokane, where he worked as an urban designer for the city.

“We’d rather just keep this internally funded,” he said, “because it’s a nice closed loop, you never have to worry about the council removing funding.”

Marine-based industries receive a 50-percent discount on permit fees, Akkari said, because they provide public benefits in terms of jobs and neighborhood value.

SDOT evaluated every street end in 2016, and a matrix and ranking system was developed in the work plan. The first was drafted in 2009, and then revised in 2017.

“That’s what I use to do improvements,” Akkari said. “I try to target by opportunity also.”

There are two projects planned for this year in Queen Anne and Magnolia.

SDOT crews will develop the Sixth Avenue West street end in North Queen Anne using a concept design from J.A. Brennan Associates. The project involves expanding the existing beach, adding an ADA parking space, making asphalt repairs, putting in a bioretention swale, native shrub and tree plantings, and adding log seating. The street end has access to the Ship Canal.

Where West McGraw Street runs down to Elliott Bay in Briarcliff there will be railing installed along the steep portion of the gravel pathway. There are also plans for a wooden and earthen staircase that would help reduce erosion of the gravel path.

Akkari tells Queen Anne News more updates on these street-end improvements will be available later this summer.

Community groups wanting to adopt and maintain street ends that benefit the public are allowed to prioritize any areas they like that are technically open but maybe not improved. Less than a third of Seattle’s shoreline street ends are unimproved.