Yes, more people in a room staring at a drop screen and throwing around design jargon. But it’s important. It’s a meeting of the Architectural Review Committee of the Landmark’s Preservation Board. It’s a mouth full, but the committee is considering proposals for The Troy Laundry site, a historic building in the South Lake Union Neighborhood. It’s yet another opportunity to take the right fork in the road when it comes to preservation, maximizing new development rather than putting the site under glass, forcing the project to step back from the historic buildings.
The details are still emerging with the project, but Touchstone Development is proposing a new development on the site that would have a pretty significant increase in building mass. The concerns that are most often voiced at these meetings is how the existing historic structures will fare with all that new construction. That means having to push the available productive square footage in order to “pay respect” to the existing building. All of this process makes sense. The last thing the city of Seattle needs is exiting historic buildings overshadowed by big bulky buildings that diminish the form being preserved.
But there is often a tendency to take big steps back from historic buildings, like the buildings are spotted owls, a delicate and endangered species. In the debate over rezones in Pioneer Square these same issues came up. I don’t believe there is a conflict between density and preservation. I think ideas like Transfer of Development Rights for historic buildings would resolve many of the issues that arise. But sometimes we have to be bold, pushing the limits of height, bulk, and scale in order to accommodate future growth.
Here’s what I said in the public comment period:
I live on Capitol Hill. This site is within my regular walkshed; I often pass by this site on my way to South Lake Union.
I would urge the board to allow the maximum use of this site. There’s a reason that this is an area that I just pass through — there’s no there, there yet.
The proposal to do more with the site would begin the much promised transformation of this area from a place one passes through into a destination.
You all know that preservation isn’t about putting buildings under glass. It’s the opposite. Preservation is about activating historic structures and keeping them part of the urban fabric.
Limiting development now would simply slow down positive change and perhaps retard it. An active and well utilized site is just we need to make the Troy Laundry property part of a vibrant, active, and sustainable neighborhood
This is an important site, and the push to maximize usable space for more people to use the site is a game of inches and feet. The proponents and committee will have to wrestle with many issues, but making this site work is a once in a generation opportunity. But as a city, we ought to be more aggressive because what we don’t build here will have to go somewhere else and with a Council reluctant to upzone, we’ve got to get everything we can from new projects.