Judge Rules Against Pioneer Square Developer, Blocking Alaska Way Complex

The project would add an 11 story building to Pioneer Square on Alaska Way, a location expected to be in high demand once the viaduct comes down.

Photo illustration by Jose Trujillo

Last year we reported on efforts in Pioneer Square to stop an 11 story apartment building from being built on a site that currently holds a parking garage. Yesterday, a King County Superior Court judge ruled against the developer’s argument that the project be allowed to continue.

The project has a tangled history. In July 2015, the Pioneer Square Preservation Board ruled against the proposed 316 Alaskan Way project, finding that it would be out of scale with the height and character of the surrounding neighborhood. Two weeks later, Department of Neighborhoods head Kathy Nyland reversed that decision. Opponents appealed to the Hearing Examiner (sort of like an administrative judge), who in January 2016 reversed Nyland’s reversal.

So proponents appealed to the King County Superior Court, where they argued both that the building was in-scale with the rest of the neighborhood, and that the rules requiring new buildings to be “compatible” with the rest of the neighborhood is unconstitutionally vague. Yesterday, Judge Bill Bowman ruled against the appellants. His ruling included three components:

  • Seattle’s rules requiring new Pioneer Square buildings to be in scale with surrounding buildings is not unconstitutionally vague, because the city has “objective standards” and a formal definition of “scale.”
  • The Hearing Examiner reasoned correctly that the new building would violate a rule requiring it to be no more than 15 feet taller than other buildings on the block.
  • The formal decision will go back to Nyland: “It is hereby ORDERED that this decision be remanded to the Department of Neighborhoods’ Director for consideration of the additional evidence presented to the Hearing Examiner.”

Members of Save Our Square, the group opposing the project, were pleased by the ruling. “The developer’s lawsuit was an existential threat to our community’s efforts to protect historic buildings and historic districts,” Pioneer Square resident Jessica Lucio said, according to a press release. “Judge Bowman’s ruling makes clear that the city must determine whether new buildings are in-scale with their surroundings and that the ordinance designed to do that is constitutional. That is a huge victory for the community.”

We contacted the developer, Gerding Edlen, for comment. We’ll update this post if and when they respond.

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