Ground Zero – Melrose and Pine
To read the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and its various commenters, that’s exactly how you might describe the current local sentiment about the impending redevelopment of a site at the southeast corner of this key “gateway” intersection, as it’s identified in the City of Seattle’s Pike/Pine Design Guidelines.
But seriously the collection of structures at this site (most recognizable as the “Bauhaus Books and Coffee” block) is definitely a character-defining element of the Pike-Pine Corridor, both in terms of its historic structures and some much-loved, iconic businesses located therein. In addition, as its “gateway” identification connotes, it’s one of the first remarkable collection of older, character-defining buildings as one arrives to the neighborhood from Downtown.
And now comes Madison Development Group (MDG) with a proposal to redevelop the entire site with a mixed-use building, which naturally raises local hackles. Why, ask many locals, do these sites need to be redeveloped when they contain such lovely buildings?
Well, market forces are obviously at play here, combined with permissive zoning that allows substantially more development potential than the existing buildings embody – as the City implements its growth-management-sympathetic goals of accommodating urban growth, supporting transit-oriented communities and generally building urban villages. In fact, the zoning has allowed greater development there for decades. But market forces are finally catching up with that development potential.
What tempers the all-out higher development potential of the underlying zoning are the above-mentioned Pike/Pine Design Guidelines that contain some very specific language encouraging the most sensitive design possible where “character structures” are involved. In essence, within the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District such “character structures” should be incorporated to the greatest extent feasible within the new development scheme. Some purists scoff at this, labeling it as a “façadectomy” approach to historic-building conservation, but frankly, short of full-on landmark or preservation-district level of control, that’s about the most the City can do legally to “conserve” these character-defining elements of such a neighborhood (be that Pike/Pine, Fremont or Greenwood).
What we should all hope for now is that MDG and its architects live up to the challenge to bring a truly sympathetic solution to this thorny design problem. Somewhere between preservation of the buildings as-is and a pastiche-level façadectomy approach should be the right, elegant solution that melds the character and essence of these historic buildings with a handsome, contemporary companion. This can be done, but it takes a high level of finesse not often seen in this neighborhood or elsewhere in Seattle . I won’t drag you through my list of successes and failures, but suffice it to say there have been some recent examples in this very neighborhood of both elegant additions, breathing new life into character buildings, and awkward, heavy-handed boxes abruptly shoved down on top of historic buildings. Let’s hope the former examples inspire MDG, not the latter!
To learn more about the planned redevelopment, go to http://www.djc.com/news/re/12039698.html