The Harvard-Belmont Landmark District, which twists and winds among the stately homes that cluster on north Capitol Hill, was designated in 1980 to help preserve the unique mix of eclectic, turn-of-the-century homes and meticulously landscaped grounds that characterize the area. Encroaching development, always a threat in the populous neighborhood, was virtually halted at the district’s boundary. But several early-20th-century houses remained outside the scope of the landmark district—”gerrymandered,” in historian Walt Crowley’s word, to be excluded from the district. An application to preserve the old homes has been filed at the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board. The applicant? The homes’ owner, the Cornish College of the Arts, which plans to sell them to a condo developer when it leaves the area for new Denny Triangle digs next fall. The developer, Admiralty Development, wants to build condos and town homes on the property. (Admiralty president George Kropinski was unavailable for comment.)

Why apply for landmark designation for buildings an owner knows will be destroyed? According to Cornish spokeswoman Meike Kaan, the landmark applications are part of the “normal process” for selling and redeveloping the property. The application is what Crowley calls a “pre-emptive nomination, [made] on the assumption it will not be found significant.” Once a landmark application is denied, a new one may not be filed for five more years. A finding of historical significance, Kaan notes, would limit Admiralty’s ability to build anything new on the property—to the point, she says, that “they wouldn’t be able to alter the structure of the building at all.” Not everybody thinks that’s a bad thing. Historic Seattle’s Heather Macintosh says one of the structures—the so-called Green House at 720 Boylston St.—might be one of the oldest on Capitol Hill. Built in 1893, the house is an administrative building for the Cornish school.


Bruce and Paige Clark understood City Hall to say it was OK to build a playhouse in their Queen Anne Hill front yard. Then a neighbor noticed it wasn’t so much a playhouse as a 16-foot-tall kiddie dream home: two levels, shingled roof, plank floors, board-and-batten exterior, view deck, gutters and downspouts, full-sized doors and windows, and concrete foundation—costing $15,000 (see “Problem Playhouse,” March 14). Reacting to the neighbor’s complaint, and contending that a city building inspector’s earlier exemption of it as a “play” structure was unjustified, City Hall said the structure failed to meet land-use standards; it must be torn down or moved and attached to the Clark’s stately family home on 11th Avenue West. The Clarks appealed to a city hearing examiner and lost. They then appealed in King County Superior Court. Now they have lost again. Judge Nicole MacInnes recently ruled, in part, that “a ‘mistake’ by a government official cannot dictate and determine how and if zoning laws will be enforced.” The Clarks, both attorneys, might now appeal to the state Court of Appeals. They’re also weighing a lawsuit against the city. They say they had a settlement worked out with the approval of the mayor’s office, but a neighbor threatened a lawsuit of his own. “Kafka-esque” is Bruce Clark’s one-word summation.

Erica C. Barnett, with staff reports