After a long series of City processes, the proposed redevelopment of the heart of Belltown (2nd Ave from Rocco’s to Tula’s) may be reaching the final review stages with the City.
- The heart of Belltown is proposed for redevelopment.
- The redevelopment would include demolition of the historic Wayne Apartments and several local bars and restaurants and replace it all with Tech industry housing and what we fear will be fancy bars/restaurants on the ground level.
- As part of a review process (which, BTW, is extremely difficult to understand!), the City is currently accepting comments on (1) Design Review and (2) SEPA (environmental) Review
- Design review comments — which are limited to only how the building would look — are due June 1st. You can see the applicants design proposal here (PDF file) to see what is proposed and find out what to tell the City what you don’t like (and would like to see).
- SEPA comments — which relate to potential adverse impacts and ways the City could avoid or reduce such impacts – are due June 17th.
- Friends of Historic Belltown recommends SEPA comments to include:
- Explaining why this block and the landmarked Wayne Apartments are important to you.
- Stating that you believe the destruction of a historic landmark is a significant adverse impact.
- Asking the City to consider alternatives and mitigation for the loss of the landmarked Wayne Apartments
- Friends of Historic Belltown’s SEPA comments can be seen here.
Email your comments to the city to PRC@seattle.gov, and reference Project 3033991-LU, 2224 2nd Ave
THE PROPOSED PROJECT
As you may recall, the proposed development is an 8-story, 180-unit apartment building with retail and underground parking for 81 vehicles (garage to be accessed through the alley). You can see the applicants design proposal here (PDF file).
While the design has some nice aspects, including an activated alley and small-scale spaces for bars and other local businesses, the building design itself resembles the 206 building at 2nd and Bell, and it obviously is targeting the lucrative Tech housing market, rather than the workforce housing we feel would be much more appropriate for this site.
As illustrated in the clip from the applicant’s project description packet, the proposed development is high-rent Tech housing posing as “authentic” Belltown design.
So, as we near the end of a complex, fragmented, and sometimes stupefying City process, the City currently has two separate items up for public comment:
- Design Review Round III and
- State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review.
The Design Review (defined in Chapter 23.41 of Seattle Municipal Code) is limited to the shape (“massing”) and materials of the building. Public comments on the Design Review need to be tied to the City’s Design Review Process and associated Design Guidelines — which (of course) there are three! City-wide guidelines, Downtown Guidelines, and Belltown Guidelines. Needless to say, with THREE guidelines — the process is notoriously complicated and it’s difficult for the public to make comments that will have any effect on the design.
The project has already gone through two design meetings, so the Design Review Board, which includes unpaid volunteers that typically apply their own opinions, are probably narrowly focused on minutia at this point. You can see Friends of Historic Belltown’s comments we previously submitted here.
THIS, is where things get interesting!!! Well — relatively speaking that is : )
The Washington State Environmental Policy Act — or SEPA — is a remarkably powerful and simple law. At its core, the law requires all state and local agencies to consider the adverse impacts of their actions (in this case, granting a permit for this project that would destroy a historic landmark). If impacts are significant, then the agency is required to consider alternatives that would achieve the applicant’s objectives, but at a lower environmental cost. If the impacts are adverse but not significant, then the agency can apply conditions on the project under its substantive authority.
Unfortunately, based on past experience, the City of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) is remarkably lax about complying with SEPA’s mandates. For example, SDCI at first said the project was “exempt” from any SEPA review at all. They changed their mind only after Friends of Historic Belltown pointed out the legal perils of using such an exemption for a project that WOULD DESTROY A HISTORIC LANDMARK.
The key assertion Friends of Historic Belltown is making is that the destruction of the historic Wayne Apartments is a significant adverse impact. The City believes that because the building has already been allowed to be destroyed through the landmark ordinance that, therefore, the impact has already been addressed.
But we believe THIS IS NOT THE CASE because:
- The Landmark Preservation Ordinance is clearly not adequately protecting historic buildings sufficient to pass the SEPA test and
- There are now NEW ALTERNATIVES that must be considered under SEPA because the applicant has multiple properties upon which to build, which provides NEW reasonable alternatives that were not available when only the Wayne building was being considered by the Landmarks Board.
- Allowing the non-landmarked portion of the property to have more floors is a reasonable alternative that would allow the applicant to meet its financial objectives WITHOUT DESTROYING A HISTORIC LANDMARK.
In addition, the project would adversely affect Belltown’s historic workforce culture. To mitigate this impact, THE CITY SHOULD REQUIRE THAT WORKFORCE HOUSING BE INCLUDED IN THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT.
There are many other adverse impacts and associated mitigation that we encourage SDCI to consider. See our previously submitted letter here.
What Happens Next?
The City (SDCI) will be considering public comments on design and — at the same time — making a determination regarding whether they should consider any alternatives or mitigation — as recommended in our comments — or whether they should permit the project as proposed.
Here’s the process for a Master Use Permit (MUP), which is the permit that would allow the project to move forward, and the Wayne to be destroyed.
Based on past experience, SDCI is likely to permit the project without considering alternatives OR mitigation (such as adding workforce housing). In which case, Friends of Historic Belltown will determine if we should appeal the decision in front of the Hearing Examiner for violating SEPA’s requirement for considering alternatives when there are significant adverse impacts.
So — please provide comments, ask us any questions you may have via our Facebook page or at email@example.com — and STAY TUNED!