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Friday, June 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Luxury homes for old mill's site

Seattle Times business reporter

One of the largest remaining untapped pieces of Lake Washington waterfront is to be transformed into 114 units of luxury housing.

Longtime local homebuilder Conner Homes is buying the 22-acre Barbee Mill site in Renton for roughly $35 million, the firm's owner and president, Charlie Conner, said Thursday.

"I'm really excited about the Barbee community because of the great location," Conner said. "It's one of the last pieces on the lake, so we can provide something special there."

The property and its mill have been owned since 1945 by the Cugini family.

"The property has been underutilized for a number of years now, and it will be nice to see something happen on-site," said Robert Cugini, vice president of Barbee Mill.

His family made the parcel available early last year, along with its vision of how it could be developed.

Conner was among the suitors and the one whose vision closely matched Barbee's.

The land is zoned for high density but will contain far fewer homes than allowed, Conner said. Space is being set aside for walking trails, a new pond and waterfront open space for residents to use.

The 114 homes will face Lake Washington, a restored May Creek or the pond. In keeping with zoning requirements, most will be duplexes. A few will be fourplexes.

Sizes will range from 2,600 square feet to 4,000 square feet.

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The two- or three-story homes will have modern wood-and-glass exteriors and such interior amenities as elevators (or room for one).

"We're really trying to create something that stands alone, that's unique, because it's just such a memorable piece of property," said Leah Schedin, Conner Homes' marketing manager.

Pre-sales will begin in the winter, with construction expected to begin in the spring. Prices haven't been determined but likely will begin around $1 million.

The Barbee Mill operated for more than 50 years before a 2002 fire shut down the last of its operations. In its heyday, it cut about 100,000 board feet of wood a day — mostly fir and hemlock — that came from all over the region.

The site along Lake Washington Boulevard North has long been coveted because it's on the water and close to Interstate 405. But environmental concerns stemming from old manufacturing processes plagued it and the two neighboring parcels to the north.

The northernmost parcel, 20 acres owned by Vulcan, has been refurbished and in 2008 will become home to the Seattle Seahawks training camp.

The middle portion, the old Quendall Terminals site, contains creosote and other chemicals. Its 25 acres became a federal Superfund site in April.

A significant amount of arsenic-tainted soil was removed from the Barbee Mill property in a cleanup that exceeded government standards, Cugini said. The arsenic was used experimentally in the 1940s to treat green pilings.

The news that Conner Homes is redeveloping the property is exciting, said Alex Pietsch, Renton's development chief.

"Obviously, the city has been working hard over the past several decades to see redevelopment of this industrial site," Pietsch said. "Now, the second piece of the puzzle is coming into shape with what looks like it will be a very well-planned, high-quality residential development."

Bellevue-based Conner Homes has built houses throughout the region, including hundreds in Snoqualmie Ridge, Talus and Klahanie. It also builds condominiums.

Architects for the yet-to-be-named Barbee property are Seattle's Hackworth Group and Bassenian/Lagoni of Newport Beach, Calif.

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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