The Benaroya Company is contesting the legality of a city of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board decision to designate the former Manning's/Denny's diner in Ballard as an historic landmark. According to a press release sent this afternoon, they have filed suit in King County Superior Court to reverse the decision. The board voted in favor of the diner 6-3 on Feb. 20.
The lawsuit attacks the designation on multiple grounds. It alleges, among other things, that the Landmarks Board action is "illegal and erroneous," that it violated procedure, and that it violated the owner's constitutional rights. Among the complaints is the appearance of bias. It accuses Landmarks Board Chair Stephen Lee of having prejudged the case after comments he made at the designation meeting indicating that he lived near the diner and "always thought it was a visual landmark."
In addition to the specifics of the Ballard case, the suit also claims the composition of the Landmarks Board itself is flawed because it is intentionally made up of people sympathetic with the purpose of landmarking. The suit also argues that the landmark criterion under which the diner was designated is "unconstitutionally vague" and that it constitutes a property "taking."
Louie Richmond, who is handling public relations on the diner controversy for Benaroya, says the suit is "on hold" until the outcome of the administrative process regarding the landmark. Benaroya is pulling together information it hopes will prove that landmarking the diner is not financially viable. If the Landmarks Board and a hearing examiner disagree with Benroya's contention, however, the suit will go forward, Richmond says. He estimates the administrative process could take up to two months.
I will update when I get reaction from the Landmarks Board and others involved in the diner controversy.
The press release on behalf of Benaroya reads as follows:
SEATTLE - Today BCC Mikie Ballard, LLC, a development entity of The Benaroya Company, filed suit in King County Superior Court to challenge the action by Seattle's Landmark Preservation Board to designate the abandoned Denny's building in Ballard, located at 5501 15th Avenue NW, as a Seattle landmark. "The boarded up former Denny's is not an important historic or architectural building, nor the work of a significant architect," said Marc Nemirow, spokesman for Benaroya. "The landmark board agreed with these conclusions, but incredulously decided to designate the building a landmark anyway. This action isn't legal."
Nemirow noted that although the appeal was filed, the applicant continues to work through the process. "Due to statutory deadlines it was necessary to file the court appeal in response to the Board's February 20 decision, but we continue to be focused on the ongoing administrative process." Nemirow said that the board must now negotiate with the land owner regarding the economic implications of the landmark decision. "We are concentrating our efforts on preparing information to assist the Board in a proper evaluation of the economic impacts of its decision," he said.
The lawsuit seeks to reverse the decision of the landmarks board. Nemirow said that no timetable has been set for consideration of the appeal, and it is his desire to pursue the current process with the Landmarks Board, and hopefully avoid the need to pursue the court appeal.UPDATE: I emailed Karen Gordon, the city's landmarks preservation officer, to get her response to the above press release and lawsuit. Here was her reply:
In reading the press release, it appears that the owners are going to continue to work through the landmarks process. Although we haven't received a formal response to our invitation to negotiate Controls & Incentives, we look forward to working with the owners and examining whatever information they submit for consideration by the staff and the Landmarks Preservation Board.
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