Rob Pine to pay Pike? Program would protect old buildings by allowing developers to go big

An effort to create a new set of ordinances to preserve the “character” of Pike/Pine as continued development in the area threatens to wipe away the neighborhood’s oldest architecture has moved into its third and final phase. City planners and City Council member Tim Rasmussen’s office on Thursday released a draft ordinance that would create incentives for developers to retain the character of properties they develop by transferring rights to exceed certain zoning limitations on projects elsewhere in Pike/Pine. A public hearing to discuss the Pike/Pine Transfer of Development Potential ordinance will be held later this month. Details on the meeting, maps illustrating the development potential of buildings in the neighborhood and locations the City is planning to utilize as the potential “receiving” properties are below.


Councilmember Tom Rasmussen is sponsoring legislation that would establish a Transfer of Development Potential (TDP) program for the Pike/Pine neighborhood. The goal is to provide a further incentive to maintain the neighborhood’s existing “character structures” (buildings that are at least 75 years old) while continuing to protect the area’s special character.

The proposal is the last part of a three-part project. Phase I (completed in June 2009) expanded the Pike/Pine Overlay District, renamed it to add “Conservation” to its title, and added provisions to encourage new projects to retain existing character structures and to provide spaces for small businesses and arts facilities. Phase II (completed in September 2010) adopted revised Neighborhood Design Guidelines for Pike/Pine to support conservation goals and update the text and illustrations to clarify community priorities.

DPD will present the draft recommendations for the new TDP program and solicit feedback from the community at a meeting on May 23, 2011, at 6 p.m. at Seattle University, Administration Building Room 221, located at the northwest corner of the Seattle University campus at the intersection of Broadway and Madison Streets. A map of the campus can be found at:

Copies of the draft legislation and background report are available at DPD’s website at Paper copies of the documents may be obtained at the DPD Public Resource Center, 700 5th Avenue, Suite 2000 in the Seattle Municipal Tower. The Public Resource Center is open 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.


In addition to attending the public meeting, comments on the draft proposal may be made through June 6, 2011. Comments should be sent via email to, or by mail to:

Dennis MeierDepartment of Planning and DevelopmentP.O. Box 34019Seattle, WA 98124-4019


Questions regarding the proposal may be directed to Dennis Meier of DPD at (206) 684-8270 or via email at, or to Rebecca Herzfeld of Council Central Staff at (206) 684-8148 or at

Our previous coverage of the first phase of creating a Pike/Pine Conservation District is here. That legislation’s biggest advances were related to creating specific incentives to developers who included historical building components into their designs. We covered the Council’s update to the rule set in summer 2010 here.

Here is how the report on the new ordinance describes transfer of development potential — TDP:

A TDP program provides an incentive for property owners to retain existing structures by allowing them to benefit from the added development potential created by the zoning—not by tearing their building down and building a bigger one, but by retaining the existing structure and selling the unused development potential on their lot to another property owner.  The unused or “extra” development potential is generally the difference between the floor area of the existing building on the lot and the floor area that could be built in a new building developed to the maximum limits allowed by the zoning on the same lot.

This new Pike/Pine proposal is unusual even for the urban planning wonker-y that is “development potential.” According to the report (embedded below) explaining the new ordinance, the results of a study showed starting a new program in Pike/Pine would damage an existing program for Seattle’s downtown and make it likely that neither program would succeed. The compromise solution is a unique proposal to create a TDP that trades development rights within a single neighborhood. This map illustrates the bounds — areas marked in yellow are the proposed receiving areas where developers would have the opportunity to “spend” their credits earned on historically-sensitive development in the area’s core.

This second map, below, shows the properties identified by City Hall as likely receiving sites for development utilizing the TDP program:


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4 thoughts on “Rob Pine to pay Pike? Program would protect old buildings by allowing developers to go big

  1. Provides for growth and more density while providing an incentive to not just crush all of our old and awesome buildings.

  2. I like the concept and I’d actually like to see it extended to the Broadway commercial district to help preserve the older buildings that small businesses depend on and lend so much character to Broadway. The recent demolitions near Broadway and John show just how fast entire blocks can be altered.

    Also, what’s to keep a land owner from selling the development rights to his building and then letting the building decay and turn into a blight?

  3. The retail space is worth too much these days. Plus that fine balance between blight and cheap rent is what keeps a lot of our favorite places around… Thinking Comet, Rancho Bravo, Square Room.

    No Subway or Gamestop will move into spaces like those… and we don’t want them.

    Of course many years from now, if rents drop and neighborhood declines. Blight might get real ugly with a bunch of old and not maintained buildings that can’t be redeveloped.

  4. Based on the maps it is more like robbing Madison to pay Pike, although I am not sure which is the robbing in this metaphor :)

    I also like this idea. The main impetus as I understand it is to preserve the character of the Pike-Pine-10th-11th blocks just east of Broadway. It will be nice if that currently vibrant area can avoid too many tear downs or bland facade-only rebuilds. And keeping the density within the urban village boundary is nice way to avoid excessive NIMBYism