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E Union developers told plan not enough to ‘maximize preservation’ (And ‘Costco wall’ must go)

The PPUNC group’s examples of successful building “backsides” in Pike/Pine

If the intent of the Pike/Pine Conservation District was to slow down the machine of development and provide more time for the community to try to shape the march to the future, the results of Wednesday night’s design review of the 1020 E Union development will mark the program as a significant success. The Seattle East Design Review Board Wednesday night pushed the plan to develop 1020 E Union back to developers Alliance Realty Partners saying that the plan didn’t do enough to address concerns about preservation in the Pike/Pine neighborhood.

The move marks the first time the various legislation enabling the district has played a significant role in shaping a major neighborhood development.

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.

Wednesday night, the proposal including the demolition of three old buildings, the preservation of only the facade of a fourth and the development of a 44,000 square-foot project ran into the kind of push back you might now expect in a neighborhood covered by multiple layers of protective legislation. You can see our initial report on the project and the design document submitted to the review board here. The presentation shown at the meeting Wednesday night utilized an updated version of the packet — including an artist rendering of the project’s concept — but that updated file is not yet available from DPD. We have asked an Alliance representative to share the updated document with CHS readers and will update if we hear back from them.

The voices criticizing the project during the public comment period of the review session had some significant assistance. Michael Malone of developer and landowner Hunters Capital came out swinging in a letter to the review board saying that Alliance has not done enough with its design and hasn’t worked with the community to better shape their project:

Costco Seattle, originally uploaded by djcn0te.
— Added to give you an idea of the “Costco” wall

Regarding the proposed development you are considering today, the size, scope and lack of design sensitivity set forth by the developer does not comply with the sated concept or intent of the Pike/Pin historic area and the overlay. The developer has demonstrated a fast track strategy to minimize due process and has purposely avoided collective design input from the neighborhood leadership.

Alliance had previously said that a likely Hunters Capital development would cover up their plan for a large, blank northern wall in the project but Hunters reps said Wednesday night that there were no plans for developing their adjacent property and that they were concerned about the creation of a “Costco” wall on the site.

Malone’s letter was part of a packet, embedded below, distributed by the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, that included a proposal for Alliance to work closely with groups like PPUNC to better shape the project to preserve more of the character of the half-block of old Seattle’s auto row where it is planned and to develop a structure with a more suitable overall mass.

“First and foremost, we are concerned about the proposed demolition of three of fourcharacter structures on the site with only token retention of the façade of one building,” the PPUNC group wrote in its letter to the board.

“The developer will have a much more successful project by taking the time to workwith the neighborhood on design and preservation goals,” the letter concludes before urging the board to require Alliance to begin again at square one in the review process with a more suitable plan.

Here were more thoughts from the community from the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting:

  • Mike Oaksmith of Hunters Capital said his company would like to work with Alliance to figure out a solution that will allow them to “break up” the massive north wall. “We don’t have any plans to develop in the north,” he said. “We’d like to work with them to break up that wall.” Oaksmith said Hunters Capital is also very interested in a plan that would preserve the Pravda building at 10th and Union currently slated to be torn down in the current Alliance concept.
  • Mike Meckling of Neumos suggested the developers do everything they can to build a quiet building with “noise damping materials.” Pike/Pine is a “super loud neighborhood — loudest in the city,” Meckling said, drawing a chuckle or three from the crowd. He also said developers should consider how they market the property so people know ahead of time about the realities of life in Pike/Pine. “Tuesday at 2p is different than Friday at midnight,” Meckling said.
  • Brad Augustine of Madrona Real Estate suggested that with 44,000 square feet, there is room for departures that would allow for three smaller buildings instead of two larger structures.
  • Chip Ragen, Capitol Hill businessman and member of PPUNC, said he was a little agitated because of the years of work spent creating the Pike/Pine overlay. “They’re being toyed with here tonight,” Ragen said of the preservation efforts. Ragen called on Alliance to meet with PPUNC to discuss the project.
  • Neighborhood activist Dennis Saxman called Alliance’s presentation of their preservation project “dishonest” and “a clever attempt at propaganda.” “These blocks are already well traveled,” he said of the developer’s notion that their design would activate an empty pedestrian area. “This design destroys historic character, it does not enhance,” Saxman said. “Every single building in there was part of Auto Row. And you just want to wipe it away.”
  • Architect Jim Castanes wins the prize for first invocation of the woonerf concept in the night’s proceedings. He suggested it might be part of the solution to the north wall problem.
  • Residents from the neighboring Union Art co-op voiced concerns about the building’s treatment of 11th Ave and possibly pushing the area to revert back to feeling like an alley. 11th is currently planned as the project’s parking entrance.
  • Babylonia Aviz, the woman who married the 10th/Union warehouse in failed bid to save it from demolition, said, “We as the people do have power to stop things that we do not like in our community” and asked “why can’t you build them in Bellevue or Mercer Island?”

1020 E_unionppunc Edg Letter MJM Letter 1263_001

The board’s decision to push back on the plan means Alliance will need to return to the board before it can move to the next step of the design review process. The board also asked the developers to bring more to the table in their next go-round including a full analysis of how the project supports the intent of the Pike/Pine ordinance and how the project maximizes preservation, as well as a better approach to the north “Costco” wall, a more effective “articulation” — which could mean breaking the building into three components — and a “more public” approach to space at the ground level.

Below is the photo packet PPUNC assembled to provide Alliance with examples from around the neighborhood that might help the developer overcome the problems it says it has encountered trying to come up with a plan that preserves more of the buildings currently on the site.

DRB Photo Packet

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12 thoughts on “E Union developers told plan not enough to ‘maximize preservation’ (And ‘Costco wall’ must go)

  1. Costco Wall was a term used last night to allude to the large, blank, wall the architects were proposing to be on the north side of the building, along the property line. The wall would be the full depth of the lot, running east/west (250′ +/-), with no windows, no change in plane — just like the wall of a large, windowless big box — i.e. Costco.

    Safe to say not a flattery allusion.

  2. Sure, many of us shop at Costco, and we see the exterior of the building for a minute, then we’re gone. But imagine a Costco looming over our neighborhood, a permanent fixture. Please stand outside Neumos at 10th & Pike, look southeasterly towards the Pravda Bldg, now imagine Pravda replaced with an approximately 250′ long x 70′ high windowless wall. It would be closer to a double decker Costco actually.

  3. One neighbood example would be the west side of the 1016 E Pike Building (I’m the former building manager). This large blank and featureless wall is the result of a neighboring building being torn down years ago and replaced by a parking lot. One redeeming point is that is that it makes an excellant wall for Harvana’s Outdoor Summer Movies. However, this is not the type of wall that we want to add to our neighbood as part of the 1020 E Union Project. We will see what Alliance presents as their redesign.

  4. OK, that make sense. I love Costco as much as anybody, but I don’t think anyone wants to look at a “Costco wall” for a neighbor– even the owners of Costco would agree.

  5. Based on what I saw of the board during the meeting for 1406, do they actually have any impact? At that meeting they showed a lack of sensitivity to the neighborhood and the feedback from home owners.

  6. OK, I’m no expert, and I know there are overlay rules going on here, but blanketly stating that all 4 old buildings need to be saved almost entirely seems strange and narrow-minded.
    They aren’t that nice looking at all!
    And they are low-rise so don’t help density in our hood much, unless they just keep the facades (which can be lame) and then build new structures inside and up over them.

  7. Seriously, if a developer is hired to preserve a neighborhood and they CANT find a way to preserve the buildings in the neighborhood & their only solution is tear them down….the developers need to be FIRED! Come on Seattle, grow some balls already.