Dave and Anne Ellison welcome the development of 21 homes behind their University Place house located just off Sunset Drive near 44th Street.
“It was just brambles before,” Dave Ellison said. “It was just a big mess.”
The couple hoped the homes, which are advertised as starting in the low $400,000s, would boost their property value. But after construction started, their excitement turned to fear as the couple’s crawlspace filled with water.
Looking at the development from his second-story bedroom window Saturday, Dave Ellison blamed the construction for the increase in water. Just beyond the Ellisons’ fenced backyard sits a pool of muddy water. The water level continues to rise.
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“What if it keeps filling and overflows?” Ellison said. “That comes into our yard.”
The Ellisons know their property is part of a “delicate water balance” in the area. The ground does not absorb water quickly because of dense soils. But in the 12 years they have lived in the house, a residential sump pump had kept the crawlspace dry.
Their pump was working overtime before it broke in December; they replaced it with an industrial-grade pump that an expert said was needed to keep up with the increase in flow. After additional work to dry out their crawlspace, Dave Ellison figures he will have spent $8,000 to $10,000 in all to fix the problem.
I just don’t see how any right-minded engineer with the city could look at this and think it’s OK to build.
Dave Ellison, University Place homeowner
“I just don’t see how any right-minded engineer with the city could look at this and think it’s OK to build,” he said.
The Ellisons met with UP building officials to express their concerns. They weren’t given many answers, Ellison said.
The housing development was permitted in 2010. It has building permits for two of its 21 allowed homes. One is already standing; the foundation is poured for the other.
Sunset Bible Church previously owned the land. Years ago, when the church wanted to build a ball field on the land, the city questioned the project, UP development director David Swindale said.
The city believed the land was a wetland. The city hearing examiner ruled in favor of the church and said it wasn’t a wetland, Swindale said.
Without a wetland designation, special restrictions that limit development and require mitigation don’t apply, Swindale said.
But the housing development, called The Village at University Place, does have to adhere to UP stormwater regulations. That includes introducing no new water runoff from the site, UP engineering director Jack Ecklund said. The developer also will have to remove standing water before the city will give building permits for the lots that lie underneath the pond.
In that part of the city, we’re close to the glacial till and water doesn’t go through very fast.
Jack Ecklund, University Place director of engineering
“Once the houses are finished, more water will be leaving the site than previously,” Ecklund said, explaining an underground system that will route water into the city’s stormwater system.
Until then, it will gather on the property.
“In that part of the city, we’re close to the glacial till and water doesn’t go through very fast,” Ecklund said.
Couple that with record rainfall in December and it’s hard to determine whether construction caused the water under the Ellison’s home, Ecklund said.
Ellison thinks the increase is more than a coincidence but said he can get past it if the development is built the way Ecklund describes. His concern is that people who buy the homes know about the water issue.
“All we really care about is that they become quality homes and that they’re not flooding my yard or under my house,” he said.