pla | Phillip Lehn Architect
“Greenway”, GTi’s first project, was successful in several important ways and not so successful in others. GTi conceived an innovative community of 28 affordable townhouses sharing a duck pond and forested wetlands preserve and successfully challenged and improved Snohomish County’s conflicted site development standards to permit the realization of Snohomish County’s first “Low-Impact Development”. Most importantly for Rinpoche, Greenway’s ~$70,000 profit helped restore Tibetan monasteries destroyed during the Chinese Communists’ violent political and cultural revolutions. Regrettably, only a few meritorious jobs were created for local Dharma students and the financial investments an embarrassed Migyur Rinpoche expected at least one of his top three Taiwanese benefactors to make in GTi’s first project never materialized. As a result, GTi was compelled to sell the project before it could realize its plan to design and build Greenway’s more advanced architecture. Greenway’s architecture could have generated even more profit and demonstrated to the nation’s more conventional builders and bankers how much more appealing their homes could really be. Given this mixed verdict, Migyur Rinpoche and Phillip Lehn were both eager to initiate another project and when Lehn inherited ~ $250,000, they decided to create what became known as “Greenness”, GTi’s second project.
Greenness’ original two lots were discovered in late 1994 and purchased soon after. They included a larger (1.25 acres) flag lot stretching from the street to the protected native growth area along the bluff with an existing, 3 bedroom Early Northwest Modernist house built originally in 1962 for the Lehns’ growing family, and a smaller (0.5 acre) undeveloped lot on the ridge along the street. Both lots enjoyed expansive, unobstructed views of northern Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, National Park and Forests, and Peninsula, Whidbey Island, and Admiralty Inlet, Puget Sound’s gateway to the Pacific and Asia. Soon after Migyur Rinpoche and the Lehns purchased both lots, the Lehns met individually and collectively with the thirteen other property owners sharing the street to present and discuss GTi's plans to improve the street and subdivide their two lots into four. The City of Edmonds required a widening of the street to increase the number of lots served by it and due to steep slopes on both sides, strict compliance with the City's street standards was not always possible. A previous developer had tried to subdivide the upper half acre lot but failed to win the neighborhood's critical support. After multiple meetings with his neighbors listening to their concerns and ideas and getting a better sense of what could and should be proposed, Lehn designed an alternative street improvement plan that his neighbors supported unanimously.
Soon after the neighbors' vote, GTi and the Lehns formally contested the City's street standards in a well-attended public hearing and won a variance permitting the neighborhood’s alternative street improvement plan and the subdivision of GTi's and the Lehns’ two lots into four. The alternative plan widened the street to the extent that its steep slopes permitted. It also removed three ugly, view obstructing power poles and their heavy wires and undergrounded all four lots' utilities (power, gas, telephone, and high-speed cable); it directed storm drainage with new paving, thickened edges, three new catch basins and their connecting pipes, and it improved water and emergency fire service with a new 600-foot-long 8" (previously 4") round water pipe and hydrant.
site design, construction, and landscaping
Lehn invited Rich Haag, his former professor and longtime friend, Beijing Olympics’ site design finalist, Founder and Professor Emeritus of the University of Washington's Department of Landscape Architecture, and the world's only landscape architect to win the American Society of Landscape Architects' gold medal twice - Seattle's Gas Works Park and Bainbridge Island's Bloedel Reserve - to help design a special site plan for the special place. Together, they envisioned the plat as the existing residence and up to four new dwellings sited to share the whole plat as a lightly landscaped park, which Lehn named Greenness. Rather than simplistically contriving the shape of each lot from a typical cul-de-sac and street grid, Greenness was envisioned without visible lot lines and fences to allow each dwelling to be designed in more perfect union with its unique location, orientation, views, topography, natural features, and unique character. Blessed with such extraordinary high bluff views of northern Puget Sound, Greenness was designed to interconnect the existing, early modernist residence with up to four new dwellings sharing the private park’s common open spaces and amenities.
common open spaces and amenities
Greenness' common open spaces and amenities included a steel reinforced concrete pad and piles for a future view pavilion, a landscaped garden, fish and duck pond, a small residential orchard with several varieties of delicious fruit trees, interesting walking paths, Bamboo Tunnel, and Fire Pit Point, a popular gathering, grilling, and gazing spot with one of the park's most expansive panoramic views. Located at the end of a safe, quiet and lightly traveled street, nearly surrounded by tall trees and cradled by terraced slopes, it's a place that invites you to relax, smell the sea, listen to a seal bark, and behold nature's ever-changing spectacles.
In 2013, the Lehns' transferred ~ 7,000 SF of their property to enlarge GTi's lower lot and GTi subsequently won the City’s preliminary short plat approval to subdivide it into two lots. Both lots would enjoy expansive panoramic views and share part of the orchard, duck pond, view pavilion, and Fire Pit Point. GTi’s preliminary short plat approval is vested until 7/18/2020, and if the City’s final approval is obtained by that date, a total of five lots, including the existing residence and four undeveloped view lots, could share the private residential park.
His Eminence Ngawang Migyur, his grandnephew Gnendak Shak, and Phillip and Mariam Lehn ultimately invested over 23 years and $1.9 million to purchase, design, permit, develop, maintain, and market Greenness. In 2014, GTi's three (possibly four) undeveloped view lots were repossessed and the plat's Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions (CC&Rs), which were written and recorded to establish and preserve the park's shared open spaces and amenities, were dissolved. To learn more about the people and circumstances that led to the undeveloped lots' repossession and Greenness' dissolution, see GTi's Epilogue. To view GTi's preliminary designs for the park's four new dwellings see Greenness lots B, C, D & E. To learn more about GTi's preliminary plans to develop Greenness into a sacred neighborhood park, see Tara Wellness Center and Tara Memorial Park.
regional urban / suburban / native context
The site is centrally located. In light traffic, it’s within a ~ 30+ minute toll-free drive of all three of the region's major urban centers - Seattle, Bellevue, and Everett. It's also within a ~15+ minute drive of six large grocery stores and a world class shopping mall and a ~ 30+ minute walk uphill to nearly new public primary, middle, and high schools and a newly revitalized intermunicipal sports park and downhill to a large and largely native County Park and Puget Sound Public Beach (very rare!). The special site's unobstructed panoramic views are preserved, protected and made more private by the many large trees surrounding the park, the site's dramatic changes in topography, and the largely inaccessible and undevelopable expanse of native forest and wildlife habitat extending along the bluff for several miles. Given their many precious attributes, Greenness' undeveloped and relatively secluded view lots are among the last and most coveted in the Greater Seattle region.