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Pike/Pine preservation showdown: Developers oppose hurdles to building bigger on Capitol Hill

The developers at 600 E Pike are working to stop changes to the Pike/Pine conservation incentives

The developers at 600 E Pike are working to stop changes to the Pike/Pine conservation incentives

This summer, CHS reported on the Seattle City Council plan for increasing demands on developers who want to take advantage of lucrative zoning incentives designed to preserve Pike/Pine’s oldest buildings. The incentives give developers the option to build bigger projects if they preserve certain character structures within the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District. Under the proposed new rules, developers would have to preserve even more if they want to build some of their eight-story plans in the neighborhood.

Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District map, where new incentive rules would apply.

Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District map, where new incentive rules would apply.

The community response varied between “hurray” and “too little, too late” — but a developer and a landowner have stepped forward to try to stop the new rules from advancing.

AvalonBay Communities, Inc. and Richmark Co. owner Bill Donner have formally appealed the city council’s attempt to rein in building bulk on top of preserved Pike/Pine structures. AvalonBay is the Bellevue-based developer behind the Phil Smart Mercedes dealership redevelopment at 600 E Pike. The company is using the current zoning tradeoffs on the project, opting to preserve four character structures to build a larger-than-usual project. Bill Donner is a Seattle landowner who also owns the Richmark Label company in the building at 11th and Pine across from Cal Anderson — not yet publicly planned for development.

AvalonBay and Donner specifically appealed the city’s decision (PDF) that the new rules pose no significant environmental impact. However, the appeals seem to raise more concern over building restrictions than the environmental impact of the new rules.

Here’s what AvalonBay had to say in their appeal (PDF):

“These new regulations essentially downzone the Pike/Pine corridor — an area in which building size is already severely restricted relative to comparable commercial zones … As a result, some large blocks of property in the Pike/Pine corridor will not be redeveloped, causing adverse physical and aesthetic impacts such as vacant lots and deteriorated buildings.”

The letter goes on to say the 600 Pike could be “rendered infeasible” if the new rules are adopted. Donner’s letter hit similar points (PDF).

W-13-006 APPEAL_00001

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AvalonBay’s four preserved character structures at 600 E Pike.

The appeals will be reviewed by the city’s Hearing Examiner, Sue Tanner. Tanner’s office will determine whether the appeals warrant a hearing. If a hearing is granted, city officials tell CHS it’s unlikely to be scheduled before January. The city council would then have to wait for a decision on the appeal to advance the new rules. However, DPD’s Dennis Meier tells CHS as budget season looms, it’s unlikely the rules will come to a vote before January anyway.Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 8.46.13 AM Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 8.46.58 AM Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 8.47.12 AM

The preservation incentives, first approved in 2009, offer developers the right to build larger and higher in exchange for preserving facades and auto-row era characteristics inside the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District. The district roughly covers the area from I-5 to 15th Ave. between Olive and Union.

Of the 15 projects in the Pike/Pine area permitted or currently being reviewed for permits since the incentives have been in place, eight are using the incentives. That will result in the preservation or partial preservation of 18 character structures.

The proposed changes from council members Tom Rasmussen and Sally Clark to the overlay district primarily address developers building on large lots that encompass multiple historic buildings. Under the new proposal (PDF) all historic structures would have to be partially retained when zoning incentives are used. Currently, only one structure needs to survive the process in exchanges for greater height and bulk in the projects.

Included in the proposed changes is an attempt to rein in oversized buildings above historic structures. Under the district’s current rules developers can earn up to a 25% square footage increase for providing an arts space or affordable housing, and preserving a character structure.

The council’s staff report outlines how developers quickly found a way to further optimize the incentives:

This exemption was intended to incentivize retention of character structures. However, it actually encourages new buildings to become more bulky by extending out as much as possible above character structures, since the extended floor area doesn’t count towards the floor size limit.

A 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 the other historic structure on the lot.

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22 thoughts on “Pike/Pine preservation showdown: Developers oppose hurdles to building bigger on Capitol Hill

  1. So a development any smaller than an entire city block is infeasible? Sounds look bullshit. So instead of making a super fuck-ton of money it will just be a fuck-ton of money they make from developing reasonably sized parcels.

    • Wow, what beautiful old brick buildings! No crazy colors! No corrugated metal! A single architectural style to each building! Amazing!

    • rye,
      I agree completely with your opinion on what the ideal streetscape should look like from your referenced images of london and paris. I am also an strong supporter of urban density and height. But notice that in your photos, I count something like 7 tall narrow houses in a row with distinctly different but not clashing architectural styles.

      So when i say reasonably sized, i am talking about parcel size, not height. Have you seen some of the plans for the upcoming projects on the hill? For example, the development in the BMW building is basically 3 or so of the the same building taking up a single block. This is drastically different from your ideal london/ paris streetscapes.

      But of course everything we do to regulate developers is getting in the way of their “maximized opportunities” Surly developing a lot only a third the size of the lot will mean that developers make less money but the project would be nowhere near infeasible

    • But obviously your examples *are* the “character structures” themselves. In other words, the developers could do whatever they want behind the facades as long as they leave the facades intact and don’t add any floors. That’s similar to the rules that are in place already in many European cities.

  2. I’m not terribly sympathetic to Avalon Bay’s complaints of not making enough money. They are a giant real estate company not based in Seattle, with properties all over… they could give two sh*ts less about Seattle, they just want in on Pike/Pine because they think they can get beaucoup rent. They can afford to adhere to these rules.

  3. Also, too be clear – what is being proposed is amending a building conservation INCENTIVE program. Developers are perfectly free to tear down and build under the existing underlying zoning for their properties.

    This is about what is needed for them to qualify for a zoning INCENTIVE – and making the building preservation requirements more meaningful and significant than is currently required – which many in the community feel doesn’t require enough building preservation in order to qualify for the incentive.

    This isn’t going to take anything away. Property owners are perfectly free to develop their sites within the existing zoning for their properties. They are just going to have to work a little harder in order to qualify for an incentive.

    • Which meanswe may end up with zero character structures if the cost of preserving the façades is more expensive than the incentivized square footage bonus.

      • No one is suggesting ending up with that result. Which make your argument a bit of a strawman.

        Clearly, if the incentives are not meaningful, it won’t incentivize preservation. That’s completely self-evident. HOWEVER, there is a strong feeling on the Hill that the incentive overlay as currently structured is providing far too much “incentive” for too little preservation. This is about tweaking the Overlay to provide more balance.

    • The Mercedes property wont be affected. But it sounds like they also own the property at 11th and pine (accross from the police staion) and are planning on developing it next. The new rules most likely affect what they had planned for that property.

    • That’s correct. We have a few emails out to get clarification on why 600 E Pike could be “rendered infeasible.”

  4. Really – is more 40,000SF site development needed up here? Bill with Richmark cannot find a way to split the site and maybe only make 20million from a developer rather than 21million?
    Pike Pine is going to look and feel alot different when 5-6 of these mega developments go in over the next 5 years – I wonder how everyone is going to like these 250-350 unit developments?

    • Its even more galling given that Richmark has been pretty much absent as far as being an active participant & contributor to the Capitol Hill/Pike-Pine residential or business community over the last many, many years.

  5. Ah yes, the slime (developers) just want to follow their blind greed regardless of its impact on the people who have to live with their…handiwork. How predictable. I remain convinced they have their own entrance to City Hall.

    • Well, they bought the property, and this *is* ‘America’, so I imagine they’re free to build things on the property they own, within certain guidelines. Of course, you’re “free” to whine about it too, but that’s also getting a little old. “If only we lived in a communist country, everything would be better.” Hah.

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