Advocacy Alert: Support Preservation in South Lake Union

Designated Seattle Landmark Troy Laundry Building at Fairview and Thomas, South Lake Union. The block that it sits on is planned for redevelopment.

Designated Seattle Landmark Troy Laundry Building at the northeast corner of Fairview Ave N and Thomas St, South Lake Union. The block that it sits on is planned for redevelopment, incorporating the Troy Laundry Building and the landmark Boren Investment Co. Building. Photo: Historic Seattle

Make Your Voice Heard – Contact Seattle City Council Today! 

Seattle City Council is considering a proposal to rezone South Lake Union that will result in a considerable increase in density and building height. The rezone’s intent is to: 1) help create more jobs, housing and economic activity, and 2) conserve regional farmland and forest.

Historic Seattle appreciates the objectives of the South Lake Union Rezone proposal and believes continued planning for the area’s growth and use is necessary. While we understand the need for increased height and density in the South Lake Union area, it is also important to note that continued massive redevelopment of a historic neighborhood can diminish community character. The 2012 Environmental Impact Statement for the rezone clearly stated there would be negative impacts on historic resources.

Yet there is no preservation mitigation proposed in the rezone legislation. The preservation incentives currently offered in the proposal are not meaningful or effective enough.

The architectural heritage of the Cascade neighborhood and South Lake Union area is an eclectic one. The presence of warehouses and commercial buildings that are indicative of the light industrial history of this area is particularly important to tell the story of one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods. Historic character doesn’t mean only maintaining and preserving individual designated landmarks. Historic character, as a component of neighborhood character, is much broader than that. It’s about how a streetscape, block or neighborhood feels. The most pedestrian-friendly and livable neighborhoods are the ones that evoke a sense of place and history.

Saving less obvious landmarks or character buildings takes more effort. Weaving in the old and the new in a way that considers historic urban form and recognizes the value of the neighborhood’s historic fabric is a more thoughtful approach to development than treating the community as a blank slate of developable parcels on a land use and zoning map. The Terry Avenue Building is an excellent example of the rehabilitation of a designated landmark that has been preserved in its entirety (and incorporated into a larger new development), housing popular restaurants that greatly enhance the community.

Economic development and preservation are also not mutually exclusive. Older warehouse and commercial buildings are generally well-built and offer flexibility for creative adaptive re-use. Small businesses are able to thrive in these types of buildings because they often offer more affordable spaces to rent and have decades-old patina and character that make for more interesting places.


We are asking you to contact City Council to stress the importance of retaining community character through better preservation incentives and preservation mitigation. City Council is currently reviewing the rezone legislation through its Committee on South Lake Union. We anticipate Council will vote to pass the proposal out of committee in early April 2013. The full City Council will vote on the rezone legislation on April 15.

Email City Council TODAY to support preservation! Tell Councilmembers why South Lake Union is important to you and ask them to:

  • Support more effective preservation incentives such as expanding the existing Landmark TDR (Transfer of Development Rights) program permanently to South Lake Union; and
  • Develop preservation mitigation such as a preservation fund in which developers contribute to provide a source of funding for preservation projects for landmarks in South Lake Union, the Cascade neighborhood and throughout Seattle.

Update: March 21, 2013. The March 25, 2013 Committee on South Lake Union meeting will focus on affordable housing incentives.  Historic preservation is not scheduled for discussion. The committee will only take public comment regarding affordable housing at the meeting. But you can still email City Council any time regarding preservation in South Lake Union.

Information about the South Lake Union Rezone can be found on the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s website.

Contact information for City Councilmembers

Sally Bagshaw
Phone: (206) 684-8801

Tim Burgess
Phone: 206) 684-8806

Sally Clark, Council President
Phone: (206) 684-8802

Richard Conlin
Phone: (206) 684-8805

Jean Godden
Phone: (206) 684-8807

Bruce Harrell
Phone: (206) 684-8804

Nick Licata
Phone: (206) 684-8803

Mike O’Brien
Phone: (206) 684-8800

Tom Rasmussen
Phone: (206) 684-8808