New ‘preservation-for-size’ rules coming for Capitol Hill developers

The demolition -- and preservation -- is underway on the old Mercedes Benz dealership being transformed into a new, seven-story, incentive-powered development (Image: CHS)

The demolition — and preservation — is underway on the old Mercedes Benz dealership being transformed into a new, seven-story, incentive-powered development (Image: CHS)

Proposed changes to preservation incentive rules in Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine area are still under negotiations after the city and a developer agreed to step away from an appeal process late last year. Those involved with the process tell CHS a City Council committee will introduce newly tweaked legislation in the coming weeks that would, among other things, lessen overall increase the number of “character structures” that would need to be preserved in order for developers to earn zoning incentives, minus one provision proposed in July that would’ve required developers to save one entire structure per commercial project.

Last summer, CHS reported on the Seattle City Council plan to increase demands on developers who want to take advantage of lucrative zoning incentives designed to preserve Pike/Pine’s oldest buildings. The incentives, originally created in 2009, give developers the option to build bigger projects if they preserve certain character structures within the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District. Over the past year some Capitol Hill community members, led by the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, became concerned the rules offered too much carrot and not enough stick to developers. Under last year’s proposed changes, developers would have to save more character and get less building in return.

In July, Bellevue-based developer AvalonBay Communities, Inc. and Richmark Co. owner Bill Donner formally appealed the council’s proposed rule change. Both companies have some skin the game. AvalonBay is already on the map with its redevelopment of the Phil Smart Mercedes Dealership and capacity to expand its Capitol Hill footprint in the future. At the corner of 12th and Pine, Richmark has perhaps the largest single plot left in the Pike/Pine district that’s primed for redevelopment.

The appeals from AvalonBay and Richmark were heading for a formal hearing at the city’s Office of the Hearing Examiner in December when the two sides agreed to negotiate. Dennis Meier, an urban designer in the Department of Planning and Development, said the city agreed that some of the changes proposed in July may have forced preservations of structures no one would want, as the rules required all character structures to be saved. An additional requirement to include an entire structure per commercial space was also dropped to encourage more commercial development and ensure structures like unsightly garages built in 1940 weren’t required to be saved. Pike-Pine-Staff-Report-v11-1-400x517

“We’re looking at more flexibility,” Meier said. “The appellants thought we were moving too fast.”

Attorneys for AvalonBay did not return calls for comment on this story.

While the appeal is still technically alive with the Hearing Examiner, the city is hoping it will be dropped after hammering out rule changes with AvalonBay. A P/PUNC representative told CHS the group expects to see new legislation in the coming weeks. The amended rules will then be reintroduced at City Council, with another round of public hearings.

The catalyst for expanding conservation rules to all structures was the massive 250-unit, mixed-use project on E Union between 10th and 11th, which encompasses four historic buildings. Initial plans for the project used zoning incentives even though the developer, Alliance Realty Partners, was not planning or required to preserve every historic structure on the lot.

CHS previously reported on some projects that seemed to preserve very little under current incentives though developers contend the added costs and investments in honoring the character rules to maintain the general shape and feel as the historical building are significant and sometimes done at a sacrifice to rentable square footage. The rules aren’t so clear. According to the code, a “character structure” is defined as:

 a structure on a lot within the boundaries of the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District that has been in existence for at least 75 years, thereby contributing to the established scale, development pattern, and architectural character of the area.

The code then identifies guidelines for design review that could be used to grant departures from the simple character structure rule. For instance, structures should be large enough to give the appearance of a freestanding building, like a large brick facade. But if the developer or city find the character structures to be unsafe, in which case the rules the design review board could allow for:

portions of the character structure, both interior and exterior, in good condition and repair and in a manner that preserves unique features and characteristics for the life of the project.

Neither the Alliance nor AvalonBay projects would be altered by the upcoming preservation rule changes, but you can be sure future Pike/Pine developers are keeping a close eye on what happens next.

14 thoughts on “New ‘preservation-for-size’ rules coming for Capitol Hill developers

  1. Facadism is not the same thing as preservation. I really can’t put it any better than this:
    “We think of buildings synthetically. Facades and buildings and their organization, their logic, are tied entirely together. You either have the integrity of a building, with all its intelligence and connected ideas, or you don’t,” she said. “But if you just detach a symbol of what it meant — away from its body, its logic, its intelligence — it feels very empty.” – the architect Elizabeth Diller, in an interview with the New York Times.

    We are going to have a neighborhood full of empty buildings very soon.

    • It does seem a little odd to me that the new design “fad” is to gut an older building and stick the cargo container construction on top.

  2. What is unique about the buildings here exactly? The one in the photo looks like a warehouse. I mean this isn’t New York City where there really are historical beautiful buildings worth saving. I don’t see any commercial space worth preserving around here. Knock it all down and least that way some useful retail space can be created and more smaller businesses can pop up and hopefully thrive. I say this as a spectator, I’m not a real estate person and don’t have any skin in this game.

    • Dude, have you seen the ‘smaller businesses’ that have popped up under nearly every single new development? National chains, largely because the spaces are so huge and the rent so high that smaller businesses can’t scrape together the cash to make the first six months’ rent.

      And your idea that there are no historical beautiful buildings” here is massively, massively wrong. I don’t know what else to tell you, except maybe you should decline to interfere with something where you have no skin in the game. It’s our neighborhood; WE have skin in the game, and the developers are scourging it.

      • Duuude… If you’re going to accuse someone of being “massively. massively wrong” you should probably make sure that you have your own facts straight.

        At my end of the neighborhood, probably 90% of the businesses that have opened in new developments are small, locally owned shops. I’m thinking of places like Marjorie, Skillet, Mode Fitness, Healo, Seattle Yoga, Bar Cotto, Anchovies & Olives, Zinc, Poco, Zaw, Regent Bakery, Hi-5 Pies, Rex, Old Sage, Barrio, Eltanna, Cupcake Royale, Cure, Rockbox.

        So from my perspective, your claims could not be more wrong. Go ahead and complain about developers “scourging” your neighborhood, but those of us who actually live here know that the truth is very, very different.

        • Thanks, AC. I’m really tired of reading the cliché comment that “national chains are taking over our neighborhood.” Those who make this claim are not objectively observing what is going on…they are just repeating the false impression that they have read elsewhere.

          • Those that claim national chains are taking over must not had lived on the hill when we had Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Boston Market, Godfathers Pizza, Payless Shoes, The Gap.

            Other than the quantity of banks, things aren’t that bad today…

  3. It’s my neighborhood I have skin in the game. I’m glad to see the facades saved. However I’m so tired of hearing everyone say it’s only national chains opening. That’s a complete lie. Yes there are some but a majority have been locally owned businesses. This being said, if we are going to force developers to spend the money to save the facades we should give them real benefit and allow them to build 24 floors, base zoning west of 12th should be 12-16 floors

    • Agreed. Increasing vertical density on Broadway and the western portions of the Pike/Pine area would add more inventory to a tight apartment market. Plus, it would decrease development pressure for increased height developments in NIMBY strongholds like neighborhoods east of 15th.

      • Base zoning of 12-16 floors?….you have GOT to be kidding. I would take the time to rebut this idea, but I won’t because it’s not going to happen anyway.

        Capitol Hill, by allowing new buildings of about 4 stories (and sometimes more, such as some apodments which are built using loopholes in code), is doing more than its share to increase density. We don’t need high-rises in a mainly lowrise neighborhood.

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  5. The building that Richmark is in should be condemned. Tenants there are not safe and the place is rife of break-ins and quarters. Donner is just a greedy businessman waiting for the price to get where he wants it.

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