In recent months, we have been inundated by scary newspaper stories, snarky columnists, lively KUOW interviews and hand-wringing public lectures about how the city is growing too fast. Too big. Too out of control.
Then, just as this furor reached a fever pitch, out comes the Mayor’s HALA Committee Report recommending a cure for the relentless onslaught of traffic jams, towering cranes, pounding pile drivers, huge dump trucks, and noisy dumpsters being filled with construction debris. And that cure is? More development!
Now, having read the report, I believe there are many terrific ideas in the document (others, not so much). Thankfully, it is almost devoid of the usual wonky, jargonspeak. It’s pretty much written in plain, clear English. Progress on one front, at least.
Meanwhile, as the storm clouds of potential doom began to descend over those hallowed grounds, almost no one noticed that someone in the City did a distinctly remarkable thing.
They said “No” to development. Wait. What?
Last week, the Pioneer Square Preservation Board rejected a proposal to develop an 11-story apartment building at the foot of Jackson Street, a stone’s throw from Alaskan Way. After holding more than a half a dozen meetings to deliberate this controversial project, the board ended up turning it down flat (by a 7-1 vote).
A group of impassioned neighbors made an eloquent and convincing case through succinct, calm statements along with a graphic that showed the Board just how out of scale the proposal was, compared with its historic surroundings. The tool was wholly original and ingenious; it was simple, powerful and effective.
Essentially, over a year’s worth of work by the developer, Gerding Edlen, and their architectural team was tossed out the window of City Hall. The building was simply too tall, too bulky, too mundane and too intrusive.
Attending the hearing, I was flabbergasted listening to the proponent’s representative crow about the glorious 180 degree views from the apartments and a roof so lavishly appointed that it resembled a small cruise ship. Yes, there would be fab views and a kick-ass rooftop – for the few dozen people who could afford the steep rents. So what? I almost audibly sighed at the tone-deaf audacity
So the Preservation Board concluded with a resounding: Enough! Basta! Non! Nyet! Forget it.
The next step in this process is that the Director of the Department will consider the Board's recommendation and make the final decision by next Wednesday; the director might be hard-pressed to overcome such a clear vote by the Board.
In the big picture, it might difficult to understand just how remarkable this decision is. Most regulatory review boards of any city are set up to get to yes. They discuss, debate, agonize, suggest, negotiate, even bluff. But they almost never say, “No.” After all, most cities want development. They have no intention of pulling away the welcome mat.