ECHO LAKE — The former Street of Dreams neighborhood is finally becoming a reality.
On Tuesday, brokers showcased new luxury homes, around the corner from where mansions were torched a decade ago in an act of environmental extremism that made national headlines. When finished, the Estates at Quinn’s will represent a rebirth not only from the arson, but also from the recession that hit around the same time. The development, like many others, is now emerging from the deep sleep that followed the housing bust.
“We’re just in the process of finishing the 28 homes,” builder Joshua Freed said, highlighting their millwork, high ceilings and large windows. “We’ve been building for about eight months.”
Tuesday’s open house took place under a blazing sun and temperatures well into the 80s. It could not have contrasted more with the dreary morning of March 3, 2008 in this neighborhood southwest of Monroe.
On that day, five homes were set ablaze. All of them had been featured in the Street of Dreams, an annual tour of high-end homes in Snohomish and King counties. Around a cul-de-sac off 214th Place SE, three houses were destroyed and the other two damaged. Authorities at the time estimated losses at more than $7 million.
Federal officials suspected domestic ecoterrorists. To date, no arrests have been made.
The FBI hasn’t given up on the case. Characteristically, the feds aren’t saying much.
“FBI Seattle is actively working this investigation, but as the matter is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment on details such as suspect information or possible links to other acts of arson or vandalism,” spokeswoman Jillian Voigt said. “We have no information indicating specific, credible threats to the new housing development built near the location of the 2008 arson, but as always, we encourage the public to report any suspicious activity to the police.”
A message left at the arson scene 10 years ago was signed “ELF,” an acronym for the Earth Liberation Front. Other parts of the message suggested someone who had closely followed controversies around the development: “Built green? Nope. Black. McMansions in RCDs r not green.”
Many took RCD as a reference to rural cluster developments, a type of subdivision that clusters homes on rural land, while preserving surrounding natural areas as open space. Opponents said that type of housing squanders resources by channelling growth into areas ill prepared to handle it.
The Street of Dreams houses were to become part of a 48-home rural cluster subdivision called Quinn’s Crossing.
The venture was controversial because of its location north of the Paradise Valley Conservation Area and atop an aquifer that supplies local drinking water. In 2007, neighbors from the Echo Lake and Paradise Lake areas sued the county and the developer at the time, Yarrow Bay Development Co. of Kirkland. They worried the homes’ septic tanks might harm nearby wetlands and the aquifer. The developer filed its own lawsuit against the county after the County Council decided the project had to be built over several years. Both sides withdrew their cases in a settlement that allowed the homes to be built more quickly, with added environmental protections.
The development soon became one of several targets of acts of vandalism and arson claimed by the Earth Liberation Front in the region. Of them, the most spectacular included houses set afire in east Snohomish County in 2004 and another on Camano Island in 2006.
In September 2009, two unfinished radio towers in the Snohomish Valley were toppled using heavy construction equipment. Nearby, a cloth banner hung on a fence had a taunting message: “Wassup? Sno Cty? ELF.”
Other acts of vandalism in the Snohomish and Maltby areas since then have fit a similar pattern.
In the Echo Lake neighborhood, there’s no obvious trace of the arson from a decade ago. If you know where to look, there is a vacant lot at the end of a cul-de-sac where one of the destroyed homes once stood.
The backers of the Estates at Quinn’s proudly point to the large stands of trees that will remain intact on all sides, as native growth protection areas. Those areas make up 80 of the 114 acres.
So far, three new homes are finished.
Rich McKee, a broker with Sotheby’s International Realty, stood on Tuesday in one of them, which sold earlier this month. He’s trying to interest buyers in the neighborhood’s other homes, all with lots of at least a half-acre, floor plans of at least 4,000 square feet and prices approaching $1.3 million and above.
“We’re starting to see a market change where people want to get away from that congested market in the Bellevues and the Kirklands, where houses are so close together,” McKee said. “They want to get to a house that has space, has a yard and has privacy, yet is so close to everything.”
By close to everything, McKee meant Woodinville wine country, hiking trails at the Paradise Valley Conservation Area and the Golf Club at Echo Falls down the street.
The FBI asks anyone with information about the 2008 Quinn’s Crossing arson to call its Seattle office at 206-622-0460.