Could a historic district help keep the latest wave of intensive development from completely changing the face of the heart of West Seattle?
That was a big topic last night for the Southwest District Council, with five groups (West Seattle Junction Association, Alki Community Council, Morgan Community Association, Admiral Neighborhood Association, Fauntleroy Community Association) sending representatives to the group’s first post-summer meeting at South Seattle Community College.
Only one guest this time – Columbia City resident, property owner, and revitalization activist Rob Mohn, invited to talk with the SWDC about historic preservation and neighborhood revitalization. As SWDC co-chair Susan Melrose from the WSJA explained, community leaders are wondering what they can do to “preserve the charm” of the neighborhood even as redevelopment revs into higher gear.
Mohn says the Columbia City Landmark District – one of seven in the city – far predated him, founded in the late ’70s. He says that district has design-review authority for projects in the area it covers, instead of a city-convened volunteer Design Review Board like the Southwest DRB that has jurisdiction here. He said the district originally was founded with a lot of guidelines about renovations, “to preserve the stock of buildings during a time when (there wasn’t much development).” Now, there is development interest, he pointed out. The district is seen as a plus, he believes, because of the area’s “sense of place.” And because it’s helped preserve older building stock, rents are lower and a “funkier” mix of small businesses remains, he said. New building proposals – like a 65-foot, 193-unit apartment building over a supermarket that’s on the drawing board – are reviewed for compatibility. But even the existing buildings, he said, are catalogued as either contributing to the district or not contributing to it, with different standards and rules for the buildings in the latter category.
But – “I’m afraid (that) for you guys, the horse is already out of the barn,” he said, though council members pointed out that none of the “good” buildings are slated for redevelopment – yet.
Fauntleroy’s Vlad Oustimovitch brought up Ballard, which also has preserved its historic buildings via a historic district.
This discussion continued an exploration that began at SWDC meetings earlier this year, looking at possibilities for preservation – landmark status for individual buildings, or perhaps a district that would focus on West Seattle’s historic trolley network spanning all three junctions (Admiral, Alaska, Morgan). Melrose and Morgan’s Chas Redmond plan to walk the area to map its features.
“That’s what it’s ultimately about – people in the community getting organized, and (then) getting support from the larger community,” said Oustimovitch.
As he put it, it would be a “long and winding road” to develop a historic district – while suggesting there are two points to focus on first: Developing the narrative, and finding funding. The council itself has few resources – its members are volunteers representing local organizations. So the discussions will continue, while Redmond and Melrose do some initial work to explore possibilities. She said, “It’s an opportunity to galvanize the community and get people to work together.” The council also plans to invite Southwest Seattle Historical Society leadership to a conversation to help put all this in the area’s historical context. (“The trolley (network’s history) may or may not be the vehicle,” cautioned Oustimovitch.) The council hopes to reach beyond its mostly-western-West-Seattle borders for support, too.
The meeting started with notes from the neighborhoods that were represented:
*Admiral – Jim Cavin talked about the successful 4th of July Kids’ Parade (WSB coverage here) and the just-completed six-concert ANA-presented Summer Concerts at Hiawatha series.
*Alki – ACC president Tony Fragada said he will be attending tonight’s Ballard public meeting about the environmental assessment for the proposed Greener Skies package of flight-path changes and more (which he brought up during Mayor McGinn’s Town Hall in West Seattle last week, as reported here).
*Fauntleroy – Board member Oustimovitch mentioned the RapidRide station construction and the Barton Pump Station upgrade project next to the ferry dock, as well as the briefly proposed, then killed, Go Ape project (WSB coverage archive here). The Fauntleroy Fall Festival is happening on October 14th. He was asked about the Murray sewer-overflow-control project at Lowman Beach and reminded everyone of next Tuesday’s city hearing.
*Junction – Upcoming development and looking ahead to fall events, which start with the West Seattle Junction Car Show a week from Sunday.
*Morgan Junction – Board member Chas Redmond also mentioned the Murray CSO project hearing. MoCA is also talking with the city about whether park-levy money might be available to purchase the land immediately north of Morgan Junction Park (as reported here in June, it’s up for sale).
One more meeting note: The council’s meetings, long held at SSCC, might move next year; the Southwest Teen Life Center was mentioned as a possible new location. SWDC meets the first Wednesday of most months.