Not in my development’s backyard? Capitol Hill developers rally against Davis Hoffman demo

A rendering of the proposed look for 11th Ave near E Union

At Wednesday night’s design review meeting, the public comment pushing back against Alliance Realty Partners and its current design plan for the 1020 E Union project included some surprising constituents: a seemingly growing group of Capitol Hill real estate investors, architects and developers coordinating with community groups to call for the preservation of one of Pike/Pine remaining auto row buildings. At the center: the Davis Hoffman building, which the developers do not plan to preserve in their revised design despite the project’s planned utilization of incentives that will allow it to stand seven stories tall in exchange for conservation of the neighborhood’s character.

“We have a clash of cultures here,” said local artchitect Jim Castanes during the public comment period. “I’m just wondering if we are going from a design review to a financial review, who makes that determination? Shouldn’t that data be put forth to evaluate? Is this a systemic issue we’re having to deal with in the neighborhood?”

Castanes was one in a string of five local development and property owners who dominated the public comment period with criticism of the project.

By the end of Wednesday’s meeting, the design board said it was “distressed at the loss of the Davis Hoffman building” and would still be very open to looking at a scheme to support preservation of three character structures. The board acknowledged that the developers could demolish the building and still benefit from preservation incentives since the Davis Hoffman structure isn’t on the city’s preservation list.

Following the project’s compromise push forward in the design review process in June, it was expected that the final round of “recommendation” discussion would require at least two more review board sessions. The board said the design was “moving in the right direction,” but ultimately decided not to grant the departures brought to them Wednesday night, calling for another review meeting for more revisions. 

Mack Selberg and JP Emery, representatives from Ankrom Moisan Architecture, said alternatives that attempted to save the Davis Hoffman were not included because any design preserving the building would be financially unrealistic.

Brad Augustine with Madrona Real Estate services, whose current project is the former La Bella Vita/now REO Flats apartments project on 14th was unhappy with the math. “Saying that preserving the Dennis Hoffman isn’t economically viable is hugely erroneous,” Augustine said. “I have documents here, and we’ve done the math, and I can show you economically how that building actually has potential for 4 million net gain in worth if preserved.”

Next up was Mike Oaksmith from Hunter’s Capital, one of the major real estate companies in the neighborhood. “There are only 35 or 40 of these auto row buildings left, it’s a travesty that this building is going to get crashed down and the reason is that we can’t afford to save it.” Oaksmith brought up the recent Bauhaus debate as an example of a developer hearing a community’s concerns and effectively altering design to address that. 

Local “super developer” Lizz Dunn was adamant that the Davis Hoffman hadn’t been given proper thought as well. “If the Davis Hoffman hadn’t been omitted erroneously from the neighborhood historical preservation purview, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I still remain perplexed about how it can’t be profitable to make this work. I don’t think we’ve been given any compelling argument for why that building needs to be demolished.”

Chip Ragen from Ragen Associates also sounded off in support, adding that “It’s simply not that expensive to save the building.”

The final word came in the form of a fiery speech from noted local activist Dennis Saxman, not currently backing any Capitol Hill development project that we’re aware of.

“I think you are really moving away from the intent of this stuff. This building you’re proposing is totally out of bulk with the scale of this neighborhood. I think this design board needs to go back to class. I think this would be a fine opportunity to sue the city for not following its own neighborhood growth standards. This is just another case of Eastside developers extracting wealth out of our currently trendy neighborhood.”

Alliance has planned from the start of the project’s path through the design process to preserve the Madison Greetings building at the corner of 11th and E Union. The 44,000 square-foot half-block project will take advantage of the neighborhood’s programs that reward preservation of character structures with the right to build taller, thicker and bigger.

In June, CHS reported on the 1020 E Union project clearing one major hurdle as the review board OK’d sending plans for the 250-unit mixed-use apartment building to the final recommendation step in the city’s design process.

Earlier this week, CHS reported that local community group the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council was rallying in opposition to the plan’s continued lack of a conservation scheme including the 1915 building at 10th and E Union.

CHS discussed the project’s preservation and development plans with representatives from Alliance during the early design review process in June. A representative said the high degree of “facade modifications” that would be required to create an economically feasible building above the historical structure were impossible to achieve. Here’s more on the building from Alliance:

#03 – 1406 10th ave
This two story building was built in 1915 and is currently offices and event space. The building has had extensive changes to the windows and cladding sinceit’s original construction. The buildings architectural characteristics are not ascompatible with contemporary retail or residential uses. High ground floor above the sidewalk make street level entry infeasible without significant façade modifications. A conservation strategy study conducted by the city in 2006 did not mark this building as being desireable for retention.

While they don’t plan to keep the 10th and Union structure, to further “maximize preservation,” the developers did expand their preservation plan to extend the character facade on 11th. Thanks to “architectural characteristics that compliment contemporary retail uses,” the 11th Ave extension of facade pencils out, the developers contend:

Wednesday night, the board took its time deliberating trying to find common ground on the issues. Design review board member Chip Wall expressed his dissatisfaction early on. 

“We have Bauhaus, preserving everything almost to the letter—here we’re referring to preservation as a brick façade and a ceiling height,” Wall said. “We can take this in two different directions. I don’t know if we are being presented with two options. Do we take these preservations, or do we just level the damn place and do what we damn please? They made some effort, but it doesn’t seem as if they got the idea of the spirit of what’s happening just a couple of blocks away.” 

In contrast, board member Wolf Saar tried to inject a dose of reality to the conversation. 

“We can sit here and talk about our feelings about the loss of the Davis Hoffman buildings, but in the end, it isn’t protected, and it can be legally demolished,” Saar said. “As a board, I’d like to go on record about how important it is that the Davis Hoffman is not on that preservation list. It meets the qualifications and then some for a character structure, but we have no teeth to make the developers preserve it. We don’t know how to preserve a character structure that’s not a character structure under the code.” 

Wednesday night, the deliberations extended an hour beyond the expected ending of the meeting, which didn’t deter the mostly full room. A majority of those present stayed until the very end to hear the board’s decision. 

“Sorry guys, looks like we aren’t figuring it all out tonight,” a rep for the board said as the meeting closed. “Looks like we’ll see you next time for round three.”

7 thoughts on “Not in my development’s backyard? Capitol Hill developers rally against Davis Hoffman demo

  1. I’m glad so many people are standing up for the character of the Hill! Also, Chip Wall is a great name for a design review board member to have.

  2. Thank you Capitol Hill Seattle Blog for covering this important story, and thanks to everyone who showed up on a beautiful summer evening to fight for conservation of one of our character buildings.

    The developers proposed design ignores the inherent value of the Davis Hoffman ( AKA Pravda Bldg ) building. Rather they offer unsupported arguments designed to convince the Design Review Board that their profit margin won’t be large enough if they invest in preserving this classic Auto Row building. If they were right we wouldn’t have the buildings that are home to Melrose Market, Elliott Bay Books, Oddfellow’s Cafe, La Spiga, Plum Bistro, Poquito’s, Terra Plata, Sun Liquor & Distillary, and on and on.

    If Madison Development can preserve the Bauhaus building, why can’t Alliance preserve Davis Hoffman? Let’s keep encouraging them to do the right thing so everyone wins.

    Join PPUNC, get involved, stick up for what we love about Pike/Pine.

  3. I appriciate the attidude up here. To not be able to save three facades of buldings on a 100,000,000.00 dollar project is a LAME excuse.
    This developer needs to step up to the plate or the development will always have a lable on it and will not attract the tenants / residents it’s looking for.
    ALL heavy timber auto row buildings deserve to be saved – they are almost unbuildable nowadays.

  4. I spoke at the Early Design Guidance meeting. I wanted to elaborate on what I said as I didn’t read what I was trying to say.

    In order to gain the bonus 7th floor by preserving a character structure the methodolgy of construction changes from typical “5 over 1″ (five stories of Type V wood over one Type I (concrete)to 5 over 2 so that the first and second floors are required to be Type I (concrete) and the floors 3-6 Type V and Floor 7 Type III. The difference in cost between the two methods is substancial. But the value of a 7th floor is even more substancial to the developer. There is clearly a financial benefit to preserving character structures when a 7th floor is the bonus to do so. On a 44,000 square foot site such as the Madison Park Greeting site I believe that the net benefit is close to $4MM to Alliance the developer. Unfortunatley the Pike Pike neighborhood isn’t benefitting if the Davis Hoffman Building is torn down only the Seller of the land and the developer are benefitting.

    My company is building the REO Flats located on 14th Avenue between Pike and Pike. We asked Compass Construction our general contractor to deterimine the cost of adding a 7th floor. After reviewing our cost vs benefit I am very comfortable in saying the benefit of a 7th floor to Alliance on a 44,000 square foot site is close to $4MM.

  5. Why is everyone getting so worked up over this DRB? The Davis Hoffman building is a box with some punched windows.

    It has been completely altered, the historic signage is gone, it is not pedestrian friendly, and it is devoid of all surface treatment. Nothing special!

    People – PICK YOUR BATTLES!!

  6. Hear Hear! This building isn’t worth saving. It is completely walled off from the streetscape, making the replacement also just as walled off if this portion of the project stays.

  7. Your article was articulate and well written. Hopefully it will help to get the word out to the CapHill public to voice their opinion against the way this project is being planned and designed. Time is of the essence in changing it’s design direction.

    On another note:
    Some people have voiced a strong objection to the Ferris wheel that is now on the waterfront. Most are wondering how such a Disneyland type object could be placed on our waterfront with absolutely no mention in the papers or public review when the project was being conceived and approved by the Building Department. How was this project cleverly kept secret from the public? If you know anyone that could help us start a public discussion on this “stealth” project, do have them contact me.
    Thank you
    jim castanes