District 4: Alex Pedersen

Historic preservation survey responses by Seattle City Council District 4 candidate Alex Pedersen.

Responses may be lightly edited for clarity and formatting. Please note that Historic Seattle does not endorse candidates for public office.

1. What’s your favorite historic place in Seattle and why do you think it’s important?

Great question and it’s too hard to pick just one favorite historic place. I personally doorbelled voters on EVERY block in our District 4 and enjoyed many older buildings and places. In our District 4, I appreciate the historic buildings like UW’s Suzzallo Library, the University Heights Center, and the Good Shepherd Center that are centers of community activity while reminding us of the long histories of our communities. I also appreciate historic neighborhoods like the Ave, Cowen Park, and Wallingford and also older stores like Hardwick’s Hardware and Magus Books. In the U District, we are seeing lovely churches torn down and parts of Eastlake are hardly recognizable after the removal of so many older buildings and homes. Our City Council should spend more energy to protect historic places.

As Jane Jacobs notes in her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities, vibrant communities require four elements including “the need for aged buildings.” She wrote “…Hundreds of ordinary enterprises, necessary to the safety and public life of streets and neighborhoods, and appreciated for their convenience and personal quality, can make out successfully in old buildings, but are inexorably slain by the high overhead of new construction.”

2. How can Seattle accommodate its increase in density while preserving the unique character of its neighborhoods?

The City Council can start by adding protections to historic buildings and structures and allowing greater density in a way that does not demolish what we hold dear. Preservation of key buildings and places can foster affordability and diversity of uses because older buildings typically charge lower rents to residents and to stores.

Another candidate incorrectly stated that preserving historical facades increases rents or prices. Not true. Based on my 15 years of experience managing financial analysts that preserved affordable housing and mixed-use buildings across the country, I know that real estate developers (spurred by their investors) already charge the maximum the marketplace will bear. In other words, real estate developers don’t hold back on rents or prices; therefore, if their costs increase, they cannot magically make the marketplace accept a higher price or rent. We need a City Councilmember that has real world, financial experience.

I also support efforts by Councilmember Lisa Herbold to prevent the loss of affordable housing. The City Council upzoned the U District again in 2017, but relied on faulty estimates. City analysts estimated the loss of up to 275 affordable units over 20 years – but in only two years, developers were planning to demolish 100 affordable units.

3. The cultural spaces which many people feel define Seattle are increasingly at risk of redevelopment. Do you feel that it is important to preserve these places, and how can we accomplish this?

Yes, the City Council should consider adding legal protections for the historic buildings and places identified by Historic Seattle and other historic preservation groups. In addition, the City Council should think more about historic buildings and places BEFORE it enacts dramatic changes to its land use code. For example, the threat to The Showbox (and subsequent lawsuit/expense) could have been prevented if the City Council had first considered what historic buildings and places were at risk BEFORE upzoning that street. When we think of what makes Seattle special, so much of it centers on historic buildings and places.

4. How would you strengthen the City’s historic preservation program to ensure continued protection of designated Seattle Landmarks and historic districts?

The team that reviews Seattle landmarks needs sufficient resources and time to protect historic buildings and places. If reviewers are short-staffed or if the process is rushed without input, then historic buildings and places get demolished or paved over.

I agree that we should apply the Racial and Social Justice Initiative’s equity lens to this process so that everyone has their voice heard and that historically marginalized and oppressed people are able to preserve what’s important to them. Policymakers must learn from the rapid gentrification of the Central District, for example.

5. What role does historic preservation play in planning and land use beyond designating landmarks and historic districts?

Preservation of key buildings and places can foster affordability and diversity of uses because older buildings typically charge lower rents to residents and to stores.