Farms give way to housing

Lea Hill, a residential community in South King County, might have seemed like a whole other world a few years ago.

Johnny Gannaw, 21, recalled being shocked by the countrylike atmosphere when he moved there from Seattle.

"My first thought was, I'm in the forest," said Gannaw, a student at Green River Community College in the Lea Hill area. "There were cows right down the street."

But more development is changing the face of the community. Driving through the area, you'll find new housing developments on one side and green fields bounded by white fences stretched out on the other.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the farmlands are gone," said Danielle Rios, 42, a Lea Hill resident.

Those farms are being replaced mostly by single-family houses, which comprise the majority of new developments. Other major projects in the area include a 19-acre retirement home that's scheduled to open this fall.

"[Lea Hill is] still affordable compared to some other communities near the Seattle or Bellevue area," said Joe Bauman, broker and owner of John L. Scott Real Estate in Auburn.

Lea Hill's median home price was $210,800 in 2000. Houses on the market today range from a little more than $150,000 to about $670,000.

"It's a pretty diverse makeup," Bauman said.

The median price of a home in the area that includes Lea Hill was $288,250 in June, up 24.3 percent from a year earlier, according to figures compiled by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Despite the signs of growth, Rios wants to stay right where she is, away from the hubbub of the city. "It's small, neighborhoods are clean, [and] people are friendly," she said. "You don't have Boeing in your backyard."

Students who live in the dormitories at Green River Community College say it can be hard to find things to do in the area if you don't have a car.

"We play [video] games most of the time," said Gary Chan, who is from Hong Kong.

Gannaw, who is student vice president, said that campus events do help to bring some entertainment to the community.

One of the key issues in Lea Hill is its complete annexation to Auburn.

Five years ago, Auburn annexed part of Lea Hill that had about 3,000 residents.

The rest of the community, which has about 9,000 residents, remains in unincorporated King County.

"We've been doing outreach on Lea Hill for the better part of the decade," said Paul Krauss, director of Planning and Community Development in Auburn.

The primary cause of delay in annexation is the cost of improving Lea Hill's infrastructure.

"There is a very large infrastructure deficit," Krauss said. "Roads are developed to country standards ... [they're] undersized and parks have not been developed."

Auburn wants this problem remedied so that it can "cost-effectively" annex the rest of Lea Hill, Krauss said.

Bibeka Shrestha: 206-464-2436 or

Development in the Lea Hill neighborhood is slowly changing the face of the community. New housing developments may line one side of the road, while grassy fields stretch out along the other side. (PHOTOS BY KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Lea Hill

Population: 11,561

Schools: Lea Hill is served by the Auburn School District

Housing: Of the 4,113 total housing units, 76.7 percent are owner-occupied; 18 percent, renter-occupied; 5.3 percent, vacant

Nearby hospitals: Auburn Regional Medical Center, Auburn; St. Francis Hospital, Federal Way; Valley Medical Center, Renton

Recreation: Lea Hill Park, nine-acre community park at 124th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 320 Street; Auburn Golf Course, 29630 Green River Road S.E.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf