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City agrees to ‘no controls’ in battle over Capitol Hill’s landmarked Sullivan House — UPDATE

(Image: CHS)

While we’re celebrating a group dedicated to Capitol Hill history and preservation, here’s an update on one of the neighborhood’s most recent official landmarks — that won’t be protected as a landmark.

Last March, CHS reported on the ownership trust behind 15th Ave’s Sullivan House taking the city to court over the 120-year-old Capitol Hill mansion’s approval as a Seattle historic landmark and the decision’s scuttling of a planned multimillion sale.

That case has now been resolved with an agreement forged via the Seattle Hearing Examiner for the city to agree to not require controls that would have prevented demolition and development of the dilapidated but historic property.

In the January 18th agreement signed by the office of Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes and the law firm Hillis Clark Martin, and Peterson, lawyers for the estate of the house’s longtime owner Elaine Thorson, the city agreed to recommend the City Council impose no controls over altering the landmarked structure.

The agreement likely means the old house at 15th Ave and E Olive St. won’t last much longer. We’re told the property is under contract to be sold. King County records show that Hillis Clark Martin, and Peterson hold rights to a portion of  “the proceeds of the sale” of the property. Attorney Amit Ranade says that will cover his firm’s fees. The rest of the proceeds will go toward an heir of the estate and charity.

The deal doesn’t mean the end of the landmarks process for the property, however. Ranade says the City Council must still pass an ordinance recognizing the designation but, with no controls over protecting the old house, the vote will be mostly a symbolic gesture.

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19 thoughts on “City agrees to ‘no controls’ in battle over Capitol Hill’s landmarked Sullivan House — UPDATE

      • Ha! (the original)? I’ve been using this for years. :)

        And I’m all for preservation, but I’m tired of people demanding these expensive interventions without offering any way to pay for them. I’m a realist first.

      • You’ve been using it for years eh… funny so have I, and I haven’t had a doppelgänger that I have noticed…

      • Oh.. and by years I mean since way back when Seattle used to run a separate blog for the CD – I started using it here, as I don’t technically live on Capitol Hill, but still many of the stories had a bearing on my neighborhood too… so like for 10 years or more…

  1. all of this sends a clear message that poor condition and alterations that aren’t appropriate to the period make it easy for property owners to avoid preserving historic structures – add in earthquake code for brick buildings and character buildings in most neighborhoods are endangered

  2. Wow. Incredible. Old house gets landmark status, then it turns out it can be torn down anyway, in spite of its status. Seattle has always had total and complete contempt for its own history, probably because it’s a lumber town that kept tearing things down as it grew. The demolition never stops and seems to even worsen as time goes on.

    • I agree. It’s yet another example of “money talks”…the owners had the means to hire an expensive lawyer and get their way. Shame on the “Hearing Examiner” who caved to their wishes…..who are these people, anyway? They are un-elected, that’s for sure.

      Did the Landmark Board contest this “hearing” and try to preserve the decision that they had made for landmark status?

      • And the city had it’s own lawyers to oppose those the landowner had to hire simply to sell her own property. Both sides were adequately represented, and the hearing examiner, who follows and interprets the law and facts of each case and makes appropriate legal determinations, decided in favor of the owner.
        Thank goodness there is a hearing examiner (that is, a means to oppose city action in this case), or we would all be subject to the whims of government action. And as you know from the HALA case, the hearing examiner does not always “cave” to the plaintiff’s requests Bob.

      • I did not mean to imply that the Hearing Examiner system is not a good idea…it is. But I do wonder what their qualifications are….do they have a firm legal background (such as an ex- judge)? How are they appointed and by whom?

        In this case, why did the Landmarks Board approve the property for landmark status if it was so obviously derelict and beyond-repair? Did they simply make a mistake?

  3. Thank God. Landmarking it was the stupidest NIMBY decision possible and I look forward to having some decent housing replace it. Hopefully the neighbors who wasted everyone’s time and money on it will do something more useful with themselves next time.

  4. You are confused. It was nominated for landmark status but was ruled that imposing such a restriction would prevent the owners from realizing a reasonable economic return. So no, it was never actually landmarked.