After nearly a year of community meetings, public hearings, and studies, it would have been great to see the city council pass legislation last Monday that accomplished what the council set out to do: protect the older buildings of the Pike/Pine neighborhood as shelters for arts uses and nightlife. But after some developers balked (don’t hurt the value of my land!) and the law department squealed (we can’t limit the footprint of behemoth buildings!), the council passed a watered-down bill.

The Problems That Will Be Solved: Consider the QFC building on Broadway that faces Pike Street—a strip of shallow storefronts that house a Subway and an AT&T store on one block-long strip. What, no tanning salon? It’s upstairs. This sort of development conflicts with the auto-row warehouse architecture that defines the neighborhood. The new rules require that the face of a building can’t run more than a half-block along Pike or Pine Streets (no more imposing block-long buildings), nor could businesses use backlit awning signs or illuminated box signs (like every national chain retailer). This is good.

The Problem That Won’t Be Solved: Buildings over 75 years old—multi-story masonry warehouses and venerable auto-showrooms that are home to bars, galleries, an independent businesses—should be protected from demolition or being unrecognizably altered. The legislation was intended to do that, but the incentives are weak. Developers who incorporate a building over 75 years old into a new building are eligible for 10 additional feet of height (one extra floor) on the new structure. Developer Liz Dunn, who specializes in saving historic buildings, says that overall the bill was “a solid first step,” but she quickly adds that it delivers little incentive to save an old building from demolition. The cost of integrating an old building may be more expensive than the benefit of one extra floor, she says. Or a developer may only retain a couple walls of the façade rather than keeping the structure intact. “Then it won’t be successful in preserving character, which is the whole point,” she says. Dunn believes the council should enact a program that allows owners of short old buildings to sell unused height to developers who want more height in other areas (Rasmussen said city council staff is looking into it and he says more legislation is on the way). Dunn also believes that some of the finer older buildings should simply be sheltered from demolition. Chip Wall, a member of the Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Council says, "It's not a smashing success but it's not a negative development overall."

The Other Problem: The Polyclinic lobbied hard to use the site of an 89-year old building on the corner of Broadway and East Union Street to expand its medical facilities. Neighbors including Dunn successfully pushed the city council to change rules for a parking lot that the Polyclinic owns nearby—outside the Pike/Pine preservation boundaries—so the Polyclinic could build there instead. But the council also amended the old-building’s zoning to match the Polyclinic’s (to allow six-story buildings). In other words, the City Council gave the polyclinic two sites instead of the one it needed and now risks losing an old building that neighbors fought to save. "That completely defeats the purpose," says Dunn. "A lot of people worked really hard with council to get other site to work for the Polyclinic." But Rasmussen says that the compromise—giving the Polyclinic both sites—was necessary to include a larger portion of the neighborhood in the preservation area. He says City Council Member Tim Burgess "had an amendment in his hip pocket" that would have shrunk the overall area of the preservation district.