Message from UUC Leadership on Neighbor Concerns

Rev. Jon Luopa and Board President Gayle Childers recently sent an email, “Our Neighbors Voice Frustration.” It updated UUC congregants on concerns neighbors have expressed with our renovation and how the church has responded:

Our Neighbors Voice Frustration

In any major construction project, unexpected circumstances leading to changes and delay are inevitable. Such is the case during our renovation. For most of us the impact of these changes has been a delay in our return to our church home. [Our Physical Space Implementation Team] PSIT and our staff have dealt with the impacts of these changes on a day-to-day basis for months. And our neighbors to the east have lived with the impacts of a now 16-month-long construction project directly behind their homes.

Recognizing the impacts on our neighbors, we have worked hard since early 2018 to keep them informed about the construction process and have given them opportunities to share their perspective. In response to direct inquiries from neighbors and through letters to every homeowner, we passed along information as circumstances changed, especially when the change involved an area in which they have expressed interest. Understandably, one of their areas of interest has been the fence and landscaping adjacent to their backyards.

In letters to the homeowners this summer, we described a revised plan for a new chain-link fence with privacy slats along the eastern property line, which was a change of materials necessitated by the budget. In response to their concerns, we modified our plan to accommodate their existing wooden fences that were on the property line. Regarding their concerns with aesthetics and safety of chain link, we could only respectfully disagree. Several neighbors were further disappointed when the contractors removed existing hedges and shrubs (many had grown as tall as trees) to make way for installing the fence and necessary storm water control systems along the property line. These removals exposed their yards to more of the church building and parking lot than planned, and they felt the loss of privacy keenly.

Further frustration came from the loss of additional trees this summer. We followed Seattle’s tree permit process throughout the project and received approval for our original plan on August 7, 2018. After last year’s winter storms, our arborist reported that the scotch pine tree we planned to retain was badly damaged and needed to be removed. And this summer, the arborist identified that a birch tree was diseased and also in need of removal. As the tree permit was in revision, we contacted our neighbors to explain the results of these reports, the need to remove the two trees and the additional trees we proposed to plant to mitigate some of these losses. We also let them know when the City accepted our revised plan and approved the amended permit. Despite these communications, in the past few weeks, some of our neighbors say we broke trust by removing the pine and birch after saying we intended to keep them.
Our neighbors have been very direct in voicing their opinion that we must replace the trees and plantings that we removed. We have assured them that while we are leaving the current conditions as is so we can complete our construction project, by February we will create and share with them a project plan to amend our landscaping along our eastern boundary which, for now, is somewhat sparse. Some of them believe that this is too little too late and that we are acting in bad faith toward them. They have expressed that they will share their concerns with our entire congregation and local media outlets if we don’t satisfy them now. If they do choose to picket or demonstrate in some manner on church property or elsewhere, we will treat them with kindness and compassion, but we also will make sure that their actions follow the law and don’t distract from the joy of our return home.

We understand that construction projects are disruptive and inconvenient, and we have apologized to our neighbors for the impacts this project has had on them. However, it is evident that the actions we have taken have not assuaged their frustration. As we complete the final steps to ready the church for our return, there may well be additional unexpected challenges in our relationship with our neighbors. If you have questions about what is happening, we ask that you bring them to any member of PSIT.

Thank you for your patience as we work to take this project over the finish line and return to our beautiful new church home.

Rev. Jon Luopa, Sr. Minister
Gayle Childers, Board President