The proposed lifting of the height limits in the Pioneer Square Historic District, described positively in a Crosscut article by Stuart Silk, and pushed even harder in a blog post by Dan Bertolet, is as wrong-headed as one can get and still think they are furthering the cause for historic preservation.
Just imagine, after 40-plus years of carrying the banner for preserving the buildings and urban design of the historic district, that this proposal is how we thank the existing property owners and tenants for their devotion to the outstanding architecture and historical context that they have provided us during the ups and downs of the district’s economy. They have put up with a deafening silence from City Hall who can’t seem to get behind these folks in the preservation trench or find significant dollars to help overcome the negatives that the District has to contend with.
So now, along comes the “Future.” Pay no attention to those folks behind the curtain, who have been doing the heavy lifting. Let’s attract new development and give away one of the seminal aspects of the district's urban design, consistency of height! Oh, and then, give these new developers some incentives, which the City has never done for the owners on the ground, struggling with such things as red-lining by the lending institutions and not being able to offer class A space due to the unique and limiting design of the historic buildings.
Let’s just trample those who deserve the credit for hanging in there for decades. Let’s ignore their continued struggle to keep Pioneer Square useable and interesting. Don’t offer THEM incentives to help keep on keeping on! And, don’t examine what will happen when new space is created in the district that, with “A Space,” will draw tenants out of the historic buildings and allowing their new tenants to brag about being in the historic district.
Instead, let's drop this bad and insensitive zoning change and get really creative. Don’t lessen the historic nature of the special district design. Don’t invite outsiders and latecomers to “fill in the blanks.”
Make it possible for those who are the true friends of historic preservation, who have invested their livelihoods in the district and would love the chance to do more in the district if help was available. And, give tenants a break on working, and living in the district by looking at all the fees, permits, and other regulations that they have to contend with — and get rid of them or at least lessen them. Give them the tools to survive and flourish.
Finally, don’t speculate on our history just because billions could be spent screwing up the waterfront and the district with massive transportation projects that will congest the district, if it hasn’t collapsed from a bored tunnel construction. Focus on those that we know and have given. Don’t give away the store to those who bring good tidings and bigger, newer buildings!
It’s an “Historic District” for god’s sake! So back to the drawing board.