Large Seattle ‘oasis’ up for sale as market clamors for rare home-building sites

Developers could conceivably put about 80 homes worth $60 million on the site, though questions remain about whether the city and neighborhood will allow that much building in the “urban oasis.”

In built-out Seattle, a huge pocket of undeveloped private land is going up for sale in a prime neighborhood, with the rare potential to build a big batch of single-family homes or a research center — but only if the buyer can overcome concerns from the city and neighbors.

The parklike Talaris campus in Laurelhurst spans 17.8 acres between the University of Washington and the hospital complex of Seattle Children’s. Originally built for Battelle Memorial Institute in the 1960s, it later became home to the Talaris Research Institute, an organization that was sold off in 2012.

It now holds a small conference center, offices and a lodge, but the vast majority of the land is green open space and water. The company running the conference center calls it “Seattle’s best kept secret” — hidden behind large trees and a fence on back streets, next to quiet single-family homes, and a popular spot for wildlife.

Last week, the property’s owner — an entity linked to telecom billionaire Bruce McCaw, who funded the Talaris Institute — put the property up for sale, noting the campus was ripe for potential redevelopment for homes or a research institute. There is no asking price.

Tom Pehl, a senior vice president at CBRE, which is selling the property, said the firm has already fielded “significant interest” from potential buyers. He said it’s one of the largest, continuous swaths of land in the city owned by a private firm.

The interest isn’t surprising given that home prices are rising faster here than anywhere in the country, while developers have virtually run out of land to build new houses.

“It’s a logical conclusion that the homebuilders would be all over this,” Pehl said. “But we do have foreign and domestic institutional-type uses looking at it” for education or research facilities.

In theory, the site could fit 80 to 90 single-family homes on 5,000-square-foot lots, or some sort of research institute run by a nonprofit, or a combination of the two.

But the property is no guaranteed cash cow. When the owners tried to develop the site in 2013, the idea met with fierce opposition from the Laurelhurst community.

Area residents for years had been free to stroll through the tranquil grounds, until the site was closed to the public earlier this decade.

Unhappy neighbors succeeded in getting the city Landmarks Preservation Board to deem the site an official city landmark, which could limit development options. (The campus was designed by Richard Haag, who also designed Gas Works and Victor Steinbrueck parks.)

The owner’s previous effort to rezone the area to allow for as many as 300 apartments also failed, as did prior redevelopment attempts by other owners.

Pehl said the exact…

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