Facing ‘unprecedented wave’ of development, letter gives design board license to kill (bad projects)

There’s a secret weapon, apparently, lurking in the shadows of Capitol Hill ready to wipe out any trouble-making mixed-use project as the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District faces an “unprecedented wave of new development.”

“It’s very very difficult to legislate a good design,” Seattle City Council’s Tom Rasmussen tells CHS after his work over the years creating the legislation that makes up the district.

To back up the conservation effort in Pike/Pine, Rasmussen and Council President Sally Clark sent a letter to the East Design Board last week laying out the responsibilities of the board and backing up recent actions to push back on developers seeking to take advantage of the area’s unique incentives for preservation. A copy of the letter is below.

“In the adoption of the new rules and guidelines, our intent was to make the retention of existing character and structures a strong priority,” Rasmussen and Clark write, “and we certainly support your efforts to reinforce that intent through the design review process.”

The letter pushes the East Board into a new and unusual position, encouraging a broader purview than rulings on massing and technical issues around zoning departures to include measures of “character” and neighborhood “intent.”

In December of last year, the third and final stage creating a preservation district in Pike/Pine was completed as the City Council approved a transfer of development rights program for the neighborhood. The first phase in creating the Conservation District moved into place way back in June 2009 creating incentives for developers to integrate historical and character building components into their designs. We covered the Council’s update to the rule set in summer 2010 here.

Spiked. Massing concept for 10th and Union kicked back by board in March

In March, the components and spirit of the Conservation District were tested in a design review session for a 44,000 square-foot project that would wipe out three of four old buildings at 10th and Union as the East Design Board ruled the developer was not doing enough to “maximize preservation.” That project comes back in front of the board again this summer.

Meanwhile, the wave of development that could potentially utilized incentives available in the Pike/Pine district is, indeed, growing along with concern that the conservation efforts might not be strong enough to do more than preserve a few facades along the way. The situation around the Melrose and Pinevue buildings now seems a little dire for those who want to see the area more fully preserved — but the East Design Board will still need to be geared up for shaping the development when it is ready for review later this year.

The board will also have its hands full with making sure goals are met in the Weber Thompson-designed Wolff Co. project that will fill in the block between Pike and Pine where the old BMW buildings currently stand. And there is more development coming.

Will a galvanized design board be enough to stem the tide and shape Pike/Pine development in a manner that truly retains the area’s character and doesn’t destroy the neighborhood’s oldest buildings in the process?

“We know it can be done,” Rasmussen said. “The cooperation and support of the property developers is necessary. There are real benefits for them.”

The East Board next meets later this week to review the next steps for the 12th Ave Arts project. There are no conservation district issues at play but you might consider stopping by Seattle U’s Student Center Room 130 Wednesday night at 6:30p. You can consider it a warm-up for what could be a long, hot summer of design review action on Capitol Hill.

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5 thoughts on “Facing ‘unprecedented wave’ of development, letter gives design board license to kill (bad projects)

  1. jseattle : thanks for continuing to report on the ongoing development of the neighborhood in an informed manner. There is a lot going on, and making sure the information is available in a very clear and very public way makes a big difference.

  2. Where do you see that? Denying a departure is not killing a project. The only thing that matters is the Code. Letters from Rasmussen and Clark are window dressing. For example, DPD decided, with no pushback from the Council that I know of, that the intro to the CH neighborhood design guidelines, which describes neighborhood priorities and intent, aren’t legally part of the guidelines, though they were accepted by the Council when they were approved. Sally Clark said she doesn’t know why this is. Has she done anything to fix it?

  3. I agree.
    I don’t see anything in this letter that would give the board the authority to “kill projects.” All it’s really saying is the board should be strict about preservation of character structures. Based on the outcome of recent DRB meetings, it seems like the board is already being fairly strict about it, so I don’t see how this changes anything.

  4. Justin this letter does not match the tone of your post. All this news has been a boon for CHS, but please don’t let it inflate the facts.

    My read of the letter is that Tom and Sally have been under pressure to help push back on these developments. This letter simply re-emphasizes what the design review board already does and sends a message to developers that the city council is paying attention. It doesn’t nothing to actually kill projects.

    Sentences like, “Will a galvanized design board be enough to stem the tide and shape Pike/Pine development in a manner that truly retains the area’s character and doesn’t destroy the neighborhood’s oldest buildings in the process?” are overheated and should best be let to TV stations and radio hosts, not a neighborhood news source.