The response from Seattle’s City Hall to the planned redevelopment of a block of E Pine’s oldest buildings is a resounding let’s wait and see.
“We’re still waiting to hear their plans,” Mayor Mike McGinn said at a town hall forum Tuesday night inside a packed Terra Plata restaurant.
The mayor, who also conducted a walking tour of lower Pike/Pine before the forum, isn’t alone in wait and see mode.
“We’re checking it out but we don’t know if the overlay is a failure yet,” City Council member Sally Clark told CHS about a sit-down held last week with several Pike/Pine community members to discuss what can be done to — quickly — shore up the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District in response to the emergence of two major projects that will radically reshape portions of the neighborhood and are likely to take advantage of preservation incentives available to developments in the area.
Clark, Tom Rasmussen, who helped drive the creation of the conservation district, and representatives from the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council met to talk about the developments slated to demolish three of four old buildings at 10th and Union and the acquisition of a half-block of lower Pike/Pine with plans for a development encompassing 16,240 square-feet of retail and 98,794 square-feet of residential space.
In December, the third and final stage creating a preservation district in Pike/Pine was completed as the City Council approved the creation of a transfer of development rights program for the neighborhood. CHS’s coverage of the first phase of creating a Pike/Pine Conservation District is here. That legislation’s biggest advances were related to creating incentives for developers to include historical and character building components into their designs. We covered the Council’s update to the rule set in summer 2010 here.
Participants in the meeting with the Council members said there are no clear paths to better utilize the conservation measures other than what is happening now — the 10th and Union project is going through the city’s design review process and has been kicked back for another public meeting in coming months while the Melrose and Pine developer Madison Development Group is in reportedly meeting with other property owners, community members and developers in the area to try to shape a more palatable plan that, we’re told, would include preserving Bauhaus “as a building and a business.”
The developers declined to comment. Madison Development Group is still in the process of talking with members of the community, a representative told CHS.
In addition to PPUNC, another group that has kicked into action is Historic Seattle. Director Eugenia Woo said the organization is researching the landmark potential of the Melrose & Pine properties:
We, too, are concerned about the proposed project and plan to advocate for the preservation of the Melrose Building and the adjacent apartment building to the east. At this point, we are in the information gathering phase, doing some basic research on the significance of the historic resources involved and discussing the issue internally among staff and council.
In dealing with preservation advocacy, we try to find win-win solutions that promote real preservation and allow for new development. We do this by working with community advocates and reaching out to the property owner/developer when appropriate. The Pike/Pine community has individuals, private companies and nonprofit organizations who all have experience making projects in older buildings work. There are plenty of examples of older buildings that have been seismically retrofitted and rehabilitated successfully. They are occupied with businesses that truly add to the eclectic neighborhood fabric.
The character of Capitol Hill’s commercial districts is based on low-scale, commercial vernacular buildings and the mixed-use retail/residential apartments buildings from the early twentieth century. Both the Melrose Building and the apartment building to the east are excellent examples of these property types. They also maintain high physical integrity and help convey the significance of these types of buildings in the development of the neighborhood.
Not active on the subject — yet — is neighborhood activist Dennis Saxman who famously tangled with developer Murray Franklyn over the E Pine development that wiped away the Cha Cha, Manray and Kincora block. Saxman tells CHS his focus is currently on the sprawling Regulatory Reform package making its way through the City Council but that many of his criticisms of the “facadism” encouraged by the city’s conservation efforts have now come to bear.
Saxman was on hand Tuesday night as many at the town hall asked for more to be done — soon.
“[They've been] literally since I ‘ve been here — 5 years — literally tearing down Capitol Hill,” one community member — who CHS also saw offer public testimony at the Weatherford House landmark hearing — told McGinn. “It’s the same problem the previous administration had and the blindness to it is ridiculous. Developers run this town the way they want to.”
Another speaker from a business located in the block slated to be redeveloped asked what is being done for small businesses. “I’m from Le Frock and our building is being torn down,” she said. “And we’re going to be forced into renting in a new building that is going to be about three times the rent. What are you going to do for small business that is in this situation? We may not survive it.”
“If we froze the number of housing in this city at the current levels the only people who would be left in this town would be the people with money who outbid everybody else for that housing,” the mayor said.
Another speaker said he lives in an apartment that will be demolished and asked for help finding a new place to live.
As the discussions take place with the developer, the mayor said he has hope a solution can be worked out but that restrictions need to be balanced with incentives to keep the city building.
“We have a set of tools in place right now,” he said. “We can’t freeze this city in amber. It can’t be done.”
The question posed by a Bauhaus employee and applauded by the crowd remains, for now, unanswered. “Why is the Melrose building not a historical landmark,” she asked, “and what can we do to preserve the buildings and businesses that are thriving?”
CHS Melrose and Pine coverage
- Developer acquires Bauhaus building, plans half-block of Pike/Pine mixed-use
- Notes on Melrose & Pine — Information on the landmark process, PPUNC efforts and getting involved
- CHS Re:Take | Why Capitol Hill’s Bauhaus block matters
- The next Bauhaus building?
- With Bauhaus — and Boulder — as backdrop, BMW developers want to work with Pike/Pine
- E Union developers told plan not enough to ‘maximize preservation’ (And ‘Costco wall’ must go)