Lazy Link Of The Day

Over at SLOG Dominic’s got a rundown of the new Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District.  In the photo above is the building at the corner of Union and Broadway that has been exempted from the overlay district, effectively giving the green light for the Polyclinic to demolish the existing building and redevelop the site.  This is a good move.  There is much worth preserving in Pike/Pine.  But the need for preservation must be sanely balanced with the need to accomodate growth.   

The key to a vibrant neighborhood is a broad mix of uses, types, ages, and conditions.  That car dealership adds almost  zero value to street life.  The building is nice but not that nice, and it is way underutilizing the land that it sits on.  A new medical buildng will bring jobs and people to the neighborhood. 

Pike/Pine is being transformed by classic American free market forces, combined with the inevitable rise in property values that comes as desirable cities grow.  Placing limits on redevelopment is unlikely to have much of an effect on preserving economic diversity, because if supply is limited, demand will drive up the prices all that much more.  A transfer of development rights program has some promise.  But in the end, as always, effectively preserving affordable real estate in a high-demand neighborhood requires market intervention, that is, government subsidy.

P.S.  Great City is sponsoring a brown bag lunch discussion of the Cultural Overlay District this Thursday, July 9, 12-1:00 pm at the offices of GGLO off Harbor Steps at 1st and University, more info here.

P.P.S.  The original post had an error.  The Polyclinic site was not upzoned.  If had not been exempted from the overlay zone, it would have been downzoned.

11 Responses to “Lazy Link Of The Day”

  1. JoshMahar

    Dan, I love your writing and I love your blog but sometimes you kill me with your narrow-mindedness. Let me give you a little context about this space and the neighborhood.

    First of all, were talking about Capitol Hill. It is arguably the densest neighborhood in the entire Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, clinics, restaurants, offices, bars, grocery stores, parks, are all within easy reach without the use of an automobile. It has succeeded in becoming a dense walkable neighborhood.

    But that process has taken its toll. The only thing that remains constant up here on The Hill is the changing urban environment. Huge iconic buildings as well as small intimate spaces have continuously been razed for “better” things. And with the buildings, so goes the people. It is hard to foster a deep sense of community when you can barely recognize the neighborhood you grew up in. People need the historic thread of urban spaces to orient themselves and their communities and when these buildings are fleeting it is nearly impossible to build a strong sense of place.

    It is this lack of a “sense of community” that encourages families to flock to the suburbs, where, whether true or not, the believe they can find a home where they know their neighbors and feel safe and comfortable. Creating density without ensuring community risks encouraging more sprawl. That is why as we continue to build denser neighborhood here in Seattle it very much behooves us to work with the people and communities of these areas instead of against them. As I’ve said before, its a lot faster to build buildings then it is to build a community.

    Back to Capitol Hill: Ironically, in recent years as development has gotten out of control, the community has finally found a common foundation; they despise the utter disregard for their community. The 500 block of Pine street represented an entire era of life on Capitol Hill, a place where legends, including Kurt Cobain, formed their identities. Its demolition and subsequent replacement with a parking lot was the final straw for neighbors. The Pike/Pine Cultural Overlay District is attempt to reclaim the area from developers and put it back, at least partly, in the hands of the people who live, work, and play there. It will not stop development but it will hopefully slow it and force it to be more conscientous.

    Now on to the building pictured above. I agree that on the surface this building has little significance. Its a one story brick building that holds cars, something used much less on Capitol Hill then elsewhere and arguably an outdated mode of transportation. But the structure itself represents a lot for the Pike/Pine neighborhood. It is exactly these old auto showrooms that formed the structural backbone for the nightlife and arts community that developed in the 1980’s. An even older generation which grew up on The Hill when it was still a Single Family neighborhood, wandered these streets admiring the beauty and innovation of the automobile. It is a connecting thread for Capitol Hill and even though they seem insignificant, they are deeply important for the Capitol Hill’s community identity.

    It is also important to know the history of the Polyclinic. Their current building (across the street from that pictured) Is a horrible building that does nothing to interact with the street. Similarly, they demolished an old building just south of their building and have left it vacant for years. The polyclinic has come to epitomize the disregard that outsiders have had for Capitol Hill.

    So again, while the building may seem insignificant this battle has been extremely symbolic. While the height of this building may have been increased I believe the city also upzoned another site on First Hill allowing the Polyclinic to develop their instead. I believe there is a gentleman’s agreement that that was done in order to protect the auto show building.

    I’m sorry that took so long but I feel like you tend to ignore the human factor very often Dan. Wait until everything you love about your neighborhood is ripped out and replaced by an entirely different demographic, causing many of the businesses you know and love to have to relocate. Or worse yet, wait until you get a giant empty lot or a decrepit, boarded up building that stays for years, fostering illicit activities. I’m not saying we shouldn’t encourage smart growth and density in our neighborhoods. But its very important to understand the consequence that these changes bring.

  2. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    I love the work Polyclinic does but they have no clue about urban environment (not just them–Swedish and UWMC too). At the very least this would need to be adaptive reuse.

  3. Kathryn

    Thanks Josh.

  4. Kathryn

    Both of you.

  5. Chris

    Dan is hardly being narrow-minded on this issues. The site is underutilized and the Polyclinic does provide good jobs and has very limited options as to where to expand. They would also agree to salvage the existing building facade. I understand the emotional toll the demo of the 500 block of Pine took on the neighborhood, but this is an entirely different situation. What’s narrow-minded IMHO is casting all redevelopment projects in the same light.

  6. Keith

    Though I think Josh makes *excellent* points and hate to see a charming building leveled, I have to go with Dan and Chris on this. The existing building represents the character of the neighborhood but is essentially useless in terms of function: it’s a ghost. Allowing the Polyclinic to expand at least utilizes that space and maybe the design review process will give us something less disgusting than the existing Polyclinic. Saving the facade, though, is a costly, ineffectual gesture that I take as an insult. If they want authenticity and a better relationship with the neighborhood, build something that pays homage to the character of the neighborhood, that looks good, engages the street, promotes cross-use and so on.

    If the Polyclinic expansion is a go, maybe HAC organizes a contingent to apply a constant pressure on the design review board that promotes these shared ideals?

  7. Finishtag

    @2 I think the Design Review exemption for institutional uses is an urban design travesty. Sharon Sutton raises important points in her June 5th Seattle Times article. The Virginia Mason facades at Boren and Seneca are horrible.

    I went to the City Council meeting at which this issue was debated and I am regretting feeling sympathy for the PolyClinic. they really scored on this deal.

  8. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Thanks, the Sharon Sutton article is a gem: Major institutions should not be immune from Seattle’s pedestrian-friendly municipal code. “At pedestrian level, the Boren façade is 76 percent blank, the Seneca façade 100 percent blank, both departing from code requirements.” It appears that NBBJ deserves the credit. The strangest thing to me about these hospitals is that many of them have pseudo-retail espresso stands and gift shops located right inside. Gee, you wouldn’t want someone walking by to come in and buy something, would you?

  9. JoshMahar

    Ok, I’m sorry I think I was a little harsh there but I tend to be good at that ;)

    My main point though is that this particular building has a lot more history and significance than it may seem on the surface and the community issues are just as important as adding a few floors of offices. I have taken it upon myself to continuously harp on the fact that sustainability involves much more than just density.

    I also want to agree with Keith in that facadism is almost always turns out poorly certainly isn’t any form of adaptive reuse.

    I think this may be a non-issue though because why would the city specifically rezone another site on First Hill for the Polyclinic if they were just going to use this site anyway?

  10. ktstine

    Dan thanks for posting about this – it is a pretty big deal to the Pike/Pine neighborhood, and Josh you have highlighted many of the points well.

    This is not an historic building that would be listed on the Register – we all acknowledge that up here. But it is a significant “character building” for the neighborhood for all the reasons Josh highlights, which is why it is so hard to save – there are no real incentives to save older buildings like this. Now, maybe, that is because Dan is right, it isn’t worth saving. This is open for debate, obviously.

    It is important to understand that the Polyclinic drastically overpaid for the site (+$400/sf) due to its location and now has no choice but to demo the building (so they say).

    The absolute heartbreak of this story is that the Polyclinic owns a VACANT PARKING LOT right behind their existing building, next to the First Baptist Church, in a Mid Rise zone. Instead of investing any time, energy or money into seeking a rezone on this site to allow office, they gobbled up the Auto building right within a commercial business district for an office building. When Pike/Pine learned of their intention to demo the building, Council responded by immediately granting Polyclinic the right to build what they want on the parking lot site. (Thank you Rasmussen)

    So I agree that now all old buildings are worth saving but it just feels tragic to me that in one of the densest neighborhoods in the City, a major institution that has built really crappy office buildings (parking garage facade anyone?) chose to pursue a development plan that involves tearing down something the neighborhood actually cares about, instead of utilizing a surface parking lot for redevelopment. Long live the automobile!!!

  11. Pick and Pull

    Pick and Pull…

    Lazy Link Of The Day | hugeasscity…

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