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How three projects used incentives to create E Pike’s ‘preservation’ row

Capitol Hill’s preservation incentivized construction projects are hard to miss, with their large iron braces supporting thin brick walls as seven or eight stories of shiny new development rise above. The merits of these projects and the preservation incentive program the helped create them have been debated since the rules were passed in 2009. Whether you think it pure facadism or a unique expression of a neighborhood in transition, preservation projects have come to represent the modern era of Capitol Hill development.

While the incentives have been tweaked over time, the conservation rules are based on a fairly straightforward premise: developers get potentially lucrative extra height and bulk bonuses for saving building facades or character structures in their projects. For preservation-minded developers like Hunters Capital, the incentives offered under the Pike/Pine Conservation District have made saving some of Capitol Hill’s auto-row past a feasible business decision.

“Density is going to happen in an area like Capitol Hill,” said Michael Oaksmith, development director at Hunters Capital. “Your alternative is to just crash down the entire building.”

13 of 22 projects within the conservation district have used the incentives since 2011. City Hall is currently preparing yet another update.The Pike/Pine Conservation District’s revised guidelines are currently available for review here. Three projects along three blocks of E Pike wrapping up construction and coming into the Capitol Hill rental market offer a good survey of the different forms the projects have taken:

  • AVA Capitol Hill, 600 E Pike — Avalon Bay
  • Pike Motorworks, 714 E Pike — Wolff Company
  • Dunn Motors, 501 E Pike — Hunters Capital

Tracking the program’s use can be tricky. The city does not keep a single register of saved character structures nor does it track how much extra building developers were able to squeeze out of their bonuses.

Four short years ago, the Phil Smart Mercedes Benz dealership was still selling cars from its 1909-built showroom between Boylston and Belmont. When it purchased the property in 2012, developer Avalon Bay already had plans to put the preservation incentives into use.

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 3.30.00 PMAVA Capitol Hill incorporates four original character structures — the most of any development in the preservation district. In return, developers were able to build a bulkier building that had a new construction sitting more flush with the retained character structures than is typically allowed.

AVA Capitol Hill

Character structures saved: 4
Units: 249
Commercial: 15,975 sq. ft.
Parking: 229 spaces
Lot size: 47,990 sq. ft.

An entire E Pike block of auto-row showroom brick facade was preserved in the project, along with partial blocks around each corner. On Belmont developers retained the trapezoidal entrance to the old Mercedes Benz showroom. On Boylston, the entire interior structure of a building was retained for tenant “chill lounge”. Also retained were the auto row-style transom windows that wrap around the building just above street-level windows. At the pedestrian level, the building has the most complete preservation feel among the projects.DSC04761

This preserved character structure became a tenant chill lounge. (Image: AVA Capitol Hill)

This preserved character structure became a tenant chill lounge. (Image: AVA Capitol Hill)

Last year, CHS reported that a relatively large market would likely anchor the project. It appears developers still have not settled on a tenant.

One block east, the Pike Motorworks is the largest development to take advantage of the preservation incentives. It was also the most complicated. The brick-laden, semi-circle entrance to the former BMW dealership is one of the most recognizable features of Capitol Hill’s auto-row buildings. Developers at The Wolff Company saved the single character structure between Boylston and Harvard in return for adding entrance height bonuses across the jigsaw-shaped project.

Pike Motorworks
Character structures saved: 1
Units: 270 units
Commercial: 19,090 sq. ft.
Parking: 225 spaces
Lot size: 54,000 sq. ft.

While height bonuses are supposed to be tied to the site of the retained structure, the East Desing Review Board allowed developers to spread a third of their height bonus to other structures. The code departure also allowed for the a public courtyard that cuts through the middle of the block.Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 5.49.03 PM

The brick semi-circle will soon serve as a grand entrance to the new Redhook Brewery and restaurant. Pike Motorworks is a CHS advertiser.

Redhook announces plans for a Capitol Hill brewpub inside Pike Motorworks

Dunn Motors is actually on the smaller side of Pike/Pine’s preservation projects, but ambitious in its own right. The eight-story building at Summit and E Pike stands out for how closely the new development mimics its preserved facades. The Studio Meng Strazzara-designed building includes closely matching facades and windows.

“Everybody to tries to do a big distinction between facade and development up top,” Oaksmith said. “I think we could be used as an example.”

Dunn Motors
Character structures saved: 1
Units: 89 units
Commercial: 6,600 sq. ft. retail, 5,100 sq. ft. office (11,700 sq. ft. total)
Parking: 50 spaces
Lot size: 18,000 sq. ft.

Developers preserved the building’s original facades on Pike and Summit — technically one character structure — to gain an extra floor of apartments. Showing off another feature of Pike/Pine preservation projects, Dunn Motors includes private outdoor areas just above the preserved facade where the new development pulls back from the original structure.

Hunters Capital has been a leading force in preservation and adaptive reuse with its many holdings on Capitol Hill. In 2013, it made one of its biggest moves in the neighborhood as it scooped up two classic E Pike buildings — the Dunn building and the Greenus across the street at Pike and Summit.

“I think renters and tenants want to be part of historic projects,” Oaksmith said. “There’s more personality to the building which I think translates to better tenants.”

CHS previously reported on Ethan Stowell’s plans for the ground level retail space. Tavolata is slated to open this month. Kirkland’s Baseline Fitness will be opening its second location in another Dunn Motors commercial space.

Meanwhile, if you want to get involved in understanding — and signing off on — the newly revised preservation design guidelines, City of Seattle representatives will be presenting on the program Monday night at the June meeting of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, 6 PM at the 12th Ave Arts Pike/Pine room. You can learn more at


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8 thoughts on “How three projects used incentives to create E Pike’s ‘preservation’ row

  1. When I see the AVA building or Pike Motorworks, I want to vomit. I don’t see the historic facades that were preserved. All I see are the hideous buildings plopped on top, with no relation or deference to the original structures. Furthermore, the ridiculous blue LED lights on each corner of the AVA should be considered criminal: light pollution highlighting horrific architecture. This garbage doesn’t deserve to be called preservation, nor does it deserve any incentive.

    • They’re bad, but at least they have a modicum of character. The preservation project in the Pinevue building (old Bauhaus building) is so, so much worse – not only does it not integrate with the look of the existing building, it’s just ugly and anonymous.

      It’s a like the designers didn’t even look at what they were building on top of.

    • Really? To each his own I guess. The Pike Motorworks looks by far the best to me. The dramatic set back from the street is excellent. Trying to diminish the canyon-like feeling cities have is something Vancouver has done a good job at and using set backs from the street is one way to do that. Obviously the other most obvious way is shorter buildings.

    • Agreed, Jason. If anyone does try to give input or voice an opinion toward the end of building enduring site appropriate buildings vs. cheap, giant boxes that age badly the mud slinging “NIMBY!” rigamarole begins.

  2. A round of applause to these developers for doing their part in saving what soul Capitol Hill has left!


  3. AVA and Pike Motorworks look fucking awful. Is there some law against using bricks that I don’t know about? If the developers insist on building everything with cheap siding, at least give them a color wheel.