Capitol Hill Historical Society - Historic Preservation Policy

I. Advocacy for Preservation

A. Purpose

This document establishes what the Capitol Hill Historical Society (CHHS) should advocate for, and what the standards and guidelines for that advocacy should be. This document adopts many existing municipal and national standards and guidelines and modifies them to address our unique needs and interests.

B. Introduction

Capitol Hill has a plethora of historic assets, from Auto Row to Millionaire’s Row and everything in between. These assets embody the unique historic character of the neighborhood and are a source of pride among the community. However, due to recent development pressure and at times lackluster advocacy, this character is rapidly deteriorating and being replaced with a new one that is largely antithetical to it. The more this occurs, the stronger this established precedent becomes, and the faster the whole process continues.

There are some partial remedies in place for protecting our historic assets. However, these remedies often leave much to be desired.

The city has a Landmarks Preservation Board, but even if a building is designated a landmark, the designation often applies only to the building exterior, leaving its interior unprotected.

The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) provides some protection to non-landmark historical buildings. When the owner of a non-landmark building requests a permit to make major changes to the building, it can trigger a SEPA review to determine if the building is worthy of landmark status. However, the process can be faulty. The database used to trigger SEPA reviews is incomplete and, in some cases, out of date. Also, owners and developers have been known to circumvent the process by altering or removing historic features before applying to make major changes.

One other protective remedy is the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay established by the Seattle City Council in 2009. The overlay offers developers the option to build one story higher if they incorporate the facade of the existing building. While this has resulted in several facades being preserved, it has often failed to result in new construction that complements the facades in question or the historic character of the neighborhood, despite it being a part of the city’s guidelines that they should.

City policy continues to change to address needs for building safety and housing a larger population. CHHS must ensure that the city considers our neighborhood’s visible history during the creation and enforcement of those policies. For example, in 2017 the new Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) will provide incentives to developers in order to create more low- to-mid income housing. Unfortunately, the proposal in the Draft MHA Environmental Impact Statement directly threatens the Pike/Pine conservation overlay by offering the same incentive for affordable housing as currently exists for facade retention. There is also a proposal to eliminate the Design Review Board process entirely for 100% affordable housing projects, removing public input on how the buildings relate to surrounding historic structures.

C. Goals

To help reverse the decline of our neighborhood’s historic assets and to supplement or improve the existing tools to protect them, we will advocate for the preservation of those assets, and for new developments that complement them, based on the standards and guidelines outlined in the sections below.

Our goals are the same as the goals set forth by the city for historic districts: