How best to protect West Seattle’s character? Southwest District Council mulls historic-preservation possibilities

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:

*AdmiralJim 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.

9 Replies to "How best to protect West Seattle's character? Southwest District Council mulls historic-preservation possibilities"

  • Trying! September 6, 2012 (7:44 pm)

    Wow, so much was covered in this meeting. I’m with the GSNC and we are also submitting an application for a Park. Even though we are near Schmitz Park and Me kaa-mooks. First, we can not use Schmitz as a community park. It’s a preserve and there are no facilities. Me kaa-mooks is blocked because there is no walkable path and we have to go far out of our neighborhood to get to an entrance. We are struggling to find a park or any open space for meetings or as a neighborhood gathering location. I guess we all have our struggles. I understand the crush of development in our areas. I don’t know how much we can do at this point. The developers seem to have it wrapped up?! We are trying to get the OK for our park proposal~6.8 acres virgin territory in West Seattle/Genesee neighborhood before the condos get it ;-/

    • WSB September 6, 2012 (7:53 pm)

      Trying! – just so you know, there was no GSNC rep there – someone wondered aloud why – they’re among the groups that comprise the SWDC. So your group might want to be sure to designate someone for next time! – TR

  • Trying! September 6, 2012 (8:04 pm)

    Thanks, TR, I understand. We had a hard time getting one of our group there for the meeting. At the last meeting we felt discounted as members. I’m not saying this was true! Because we don’t encompass any part of California Ave., we had a difficult time getting our group to attend a meeting that is concentrated on the Historical designation and the current focus of the SWDC. Can the next meeting have a wider focus?

    • WSB September 6, 2012 (8:52 pm)

      The heart of West Seattle concerns all of West Seattle, was the prevailing sentiment – The Junction, for example, isn’t just the business district for people who live on surrounding streets, it’s a business district for people from all over West Seattle – and beyond. Anyway, I just thought I would mention that. I hope that your leadership will bring up concerns with folks offline, face to face… you know they’re all doing it on their own time as community volunteers too, and they’re all good people (at least in my five years of experience covering that community group and most of the ones represented there)!

  • IHeartAlkiLittleNewYork September 6, 2012 (9:19 pm)

    I value historical districts and would support that effort, given that even the kids serving Husky Deli ice cream cones are worried every old building will soon be gone. BUT, since the entire city was founded on Alki, was that even discussed and acknowledged. I hope so. WS/Alki is the birthplace of this city. That is rarely acknowledged or promoted by local commerce. WS history is so much bigger than the California merchants’ business corridor.

    • WSB September 6, 2012 (9:26 pm)

      Right now the talk is centered on areas that are under major development pressure – in particular, The Junction. Alki is not.

  • vraxvallhala September 6, 2012 (9:50 pm)

    I do not value “hysterical districts” as they are. In 10 years, you people will be complaining that the board will not let you paint your house off-white instead of cream color.

  • Trying! September 6, 2012 (10:04 pm)

    WSB, I think we would all be there for you if you acknowledge we are all part of this effort. We have to support eachother! Yes, certain priorities jump up with a deadline looming, but that doesn’t mean we ignore other important neighborhood concerns. If we don’t get a presentation in for our area/Genesee by Sept. 17th it is lost for 4 years and by then a developer might have the 6.8 acre property and it would be lost. But neither our Genesee, Alki, or the Junction needs take priority over eachother. We have to work together! And, yes we are not paid for this effort!

  • i heartlittlenewyork September 6, 2012 (10:07 pm)

    Oh I understand that TR. My meaning was to have the sense of history Alki possesses and extended it to the other hoods, that’s all. Sarah and the Historical Society will know how to do that! I think it is a terrific direction to move.

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