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.
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).
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.
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.