Having already tried and failed to get the backing of city hall or convince a historic-preservation board, a Pioneer Square neighborhood group is stepping up efforts to block Real Change, a homeless-issues newspaper, from moving its office to the area. Leslie Smith, executive director of the Pioneer Square Community Association (PSCA), filed an appeal with the city hearing examiner on May 13 to overturn a previous decision by the Pioneer Square Historic Preservation Board to allow the office, which is slated to open on South Main Street next Monday.
In her appeal (.pdf), Smith claims that the Real Change offices, currently located in Belltown, don't comply with land-use rules in the historic Pioneer Square. The offices operate as a wholesale outlet (vendors buy the newspapers and then sell them out in public), she says on behalf of the group, thereby failing to comply with district regulations that require retail or offices in certain storefronts. Moreover, the appeal says that the offices—where vendors receive trainings and use a computer lab—also would constitute a vocational institute instead of a retail front.
“Recruiting successful new businesses depends on maintaining street fronts that are attractive to customers and tourists,” Smith writes. She adds that there are potentially other sites in the neighborhood for Real Change.
But finding another site seems unrealistic; Real Change has invested heavily in the office. “Were the appeal to succeed, we would have spent $60,000 on a remodel and be bound to a five-year lease on a place we can't move into,” says Real Change executive director Tim Harris. “It would be financially devastating.” Harris adds that the group must also secure an attorney to represent them before the hearing examiner, which acts as a judge in land-use cases.
“It’s a weak appeal,” Harris adds, noting that the preservation board voted in the paper's favor by on April 21 and again on May 3. The board agreed that newspaper sales from the office constituted retail use.
For months now, PSCA has fought Real Change’s move aggressively: calling on the mayor to intervene before the group had spoken to anyone in the organization, and lobbying the preservation board to deny rights to move.
But actually filing an appeal after the preservation board votes is extremely rare. Genna Nashem, the city’s Pioneer Square Preservation Board coordinator, says, “This is the first [appeal] I have ever dealt with.” Nashem has staffed the board, which votes about 60 times annually, for four or five years, she says.
More after the jump.
Harris believes the campaign against Real Change is bring driven by Adam Hasson, who is both the PSCA president and serves on the historic preservation board representing real-estate interests in the neighborhood. Hasson cast the only dissenting vote (against the newspaper) at one of the board meetings. “I think it's a clear conflict of interest,” Harris says.
"I did explain to the board that there is a perceived conflict of interest," says Hasson, who says that because PSCA isn't an applicant, he needn't recuse himself from the preservation-board vote. "I am able to keep my two jobs separate."
People against the new office have “one objective and it's gentrification,” Harris says, “and we don’t fit in that picture.”
Real Change is still planning to open its new office (entrance at 219 First Avenue South, on First and Main) on Monday, May 24. The organization is planning a rally in support at 5:00 p.m. in Occidental Park. The PSCA's Smith did not return a request to comment.