Want to keep Pike/Pine cool? Plan to bulk up preservation and design review released

Even as the the City Council last year approved a plan to create a new “Conservation Overlay District” to preserve historically significant architecture in Pike/Pike, there was agreement that the legislation lacked teeth and that an updated rule set was still needed in the area. Wednesday night, the first large meeting in the public process to add those teeth begins with a gathering of City Council and Department of Planning staff, members of the Capitol Hill Design Review Board and the public to discuss a second phase of Pike/Pike district legislation. The meeting begins at 6:30 PM on the Seattle University campus. Details here. If you want to keep buildings around that house places like the Comet — or, at least, are developed to make spaces for places like the Comet — it’s time to tune in.

Development nerds — and involved community members — will probably be most interested in a plan that could be a start of a transfer of development rights exchange program that could make it easier for developers to preserve existing structures in exchange for the right to build more aggressively elsewhere. More about that below.

Of broader interest will be the other main component of Phase II — an expansion of the design guidelines for Pike/Pine to include include height, bulk and scale of structures. In the most recent session of the Capitol Hill Board’s meeting to review the 230 Broadway project, CHS reported a rather testy exchange between a community member and the Board’s resident representative Sharon Sutton. After the community member, Julia’s owner Karsten Betd, took Sutton and the rest of the board to task for allowing large projects like Broadway’s Joule to pass through the design review process, Sutton admonished him for “complaining in the wrong format.” It seems that, for Pike/Pine anyway, it will soon be the correct format.

Excerpt from the attached Design Guidelines PDF

“This will become the new design guidelines for Pike/Pine,” City Council staffer Brian Hawksford. “That gives the design review board more power.”

Hawksford added that Design Review Board members will be at the Wednesday night meeting and suggested it might be good for attendees to ask the members about their thoughts on adding height, bulk and scale to the discussion of design in Pike/Pine. CHS also asks, why stop with Pike/Pine?

The other major element planned to be discussed Wednesday night is a program City Council staffers are calling a TDP — not a TDR.

The difference, Hawksford said, is a broadening of the plan to include residential development — not only commercial. So Pike/Pine might end up with a transfer of development Potential program.

Another big difference from what some close to the Pike/Pine process may be expecting: The program as proposed will initially only include the Pike/Pine neighborhood meaning any ‘trades’ of development rights, er, potential would have to happen intra-Pike/Pine and could not include another area of the city. You can read more about the TDR concept here. Any value deltas in these exchanges are typically handled by allowing the developer additional height or providing financial incentives for building in a less sensitive environment. In most programs, diverse areas are included in an effort to create significant opportunities for a developer to forgo a disruptive development in one area in exchange for the right to build in another area.

The Pike/Pine program has potential to be three times as large as Seattle’s downtown program (From TDP Background Paper)

But Hawksford said Seattle isn’t currently in a position to support a citywide program or to partner with King County on a larger program. “The city is committed to creating [TDP and TDR programs]. But it’s a terrible time for it,” Hawksford said. “The existing TDR can’t move rights. The market just isn’t there.”

This table from the attached TDR background paper lays out a comparison between a program restricted to only Pike/Pine and one that could “receive” lots from others areas of the city. The summary? Speed, both of implementation and in executing the program seem to favor an intra-Pike/Pine transfer program.

Last year, during planning for the first phase of the Pike/Pine legislation, the PikePine Urban Neighborhood Council — P/PUNC — made a push for a TDR program as part of the effort to create the Conservation District. In a letter sent to City Council member Tom Rasmussen whose office is heading up the process, P/PUNC called a TDR the “teeth” in making historical preservation a reality in Pike/Pine:

Transfer of Development Rights. Until the City can provide this mechanism in our neighborhood, property owners will have limited ability to preserve buildings in a way that competes with the potential profits in demolition. This is the primary vehicle for real “teeth” in helping the private market do the right thing: save old buildings.  This is a market-driven economy, and without ways to financially compensate owners for giving away an asset, mere incentives won’t do the trick

Will a Pike/Pine-only program work? You can ask at Wednesday’s meeting.

We’ve attached several documents related to Phase II to this post. Also, below, you’ll find the text of a letter sent out by Council Member Rasmussen to Pike/Pine community members about the process.

June 7,2010

Dear Community Member,

Since 2008 I have been working to develop policies and land use code changes to protect the unique character of the Pike/Pine neighborhood. Last July, the City Council adopted legislation that I sponsored which was the first phase in carrying out this effort.

The legislation expanded the boundaries of the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District, limited the scale of new projects and encouraged new projects to retain existing structures as part of the development site, and encouraged the provision of spaces for small businesses and arts facilities. These new regulations encourage the preservation and enhancement of the unique character of the Pike/Pine neighborhood.

We are now ready for the second phase of this important project. This next phase will update the neighborhood design guidelines for Pike/Pine and establish a program for transferring development rights as a way to preserve older structures.

On June 7, 2010, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) published a draft bill that I am sponsoring that would:

1. Make additions to the existing Pike/Pine Neighborhood Design Guidelines to better address developments that incorporate “character structures” (defined as buildings 75 or more years old). A new section B about height, bulk, and scale would be added to the current guidelines, as would a new section D-8 about signs.

2. Change the decision-maker from the DPD to the local Design Review Board when a developer requests a departure from the prescribed method for incorporating a character structure into a new building.

3. Require that as part of the design review process, a developer provide information about the key architectural elements of a character structure, and describe how the new project will maintain those elements.

4. Allow flexibility from the prohibition against backlit cabinet and awning signs in the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District under specific conditions related to preserving neighborhood character.

In addition to the legislation, DPD is publishing a background report for public review that examines the challenges and possibilities of creating a transfer of residential development potential (TDP) program for the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District to help preserve character structures.

I urge you to learn more about these proposals and I am very interested in your suggestions and to answer any questions you may have. Please send your comments and questions to me at tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov, or via regular mail at Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, Seattle City Council, 600 Fourth Avenue, Floor 2, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025.

My goal is to adopt the improvements to the neighborhood design guidelines by October 2010, when the Council will begin work on the City’s biennial budget. The development rights program would be adopted in the first quarter of 2011. I look forward to working with you to make progress on maintaining the special character of the Pike/Pine neighborhood.


Tom Rasmussen

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5 thoughts on “Want to keep Pike/Pine cool? Plan to bulk up preservation and design review released

  1. Yes, for some (I think it was Erica Barnett who wrote that Pike/Pine was dead about 4 years ago) it’s already too late. I used to be a no compromise, absolutist too.