City Shorter Pike-Pine Feature for the Attention-Deficient
posted by December 1 at 11:34 AMon
Seattlest gets it, the Weekly doesn’t.
This week, I wrote a story about changes coming to the Pike-Pine neighborhood, where a six-story condo development is displacing seven locally owned, independent businesses. (Another proposed development threatens four more, including neighborhood institution Linda’s.) I argued that while density is generally a positive development when it replaces empty lots and industrial uses (as new condos did in Belltown), tearing down the things that make a neighborhood desirable in the first place is bad. People want to move to Pike-Pine because of its “character”; therefore, new developments that destroy that character, rather than filling in empty or underutilized lots, are bad.
Quite a few people seem not to have read the entire article, and have accused me of being a NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard-er) when, as the Weekly’s editor put it, it affects my “favorite watering hole,” the Cha Cha. Leaving aside the fact that I hadn’t set foot inside the Cha Cha for several years before visiting for this story, I’d like to offer a few relevant paragraphs for those too lazy to read the entire thing. (Bolds helpfully added.) Mark Fefer, you’re welcome.
The pace of development is unprecedented for the area, and on par with that in a much different center-city neighborhood—Belltown, where condo towers replaced a wasteland of parking lots, warehouses, and unused industrial space. There was some grumbling about the loss of a relative handful of independent businesses in Belltown (like the original Cyclops, World Pizza, and the Ditto Tavern), but development of mostly derelict land in that neighborhood led to a greater gain (dense, if pricey, housing for people who might have otherwise moved to the suburbs). By contrast, the newest development in Pike/Pine threatens to displace the good stuff that’s already there: the independent bars, clubs, shops, and restaurants that made the area desirable to developers in the first place.
Contrast these and other block-razing proposals with developments that have gone up on empty or underutilized lots in the neighborhood: the Braeburn and Cameo developments on 14th Avenue and East Pine Street, which replace a closed Red Apple supermarket and an empty parking lot, respectively; the 12th and Pike Lofts, which will restore a historic building and add 24 new housing units; and the Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program building at Broadway and East Pine Street, which will replace a Texaco gas station with 44 low-income apartments.
But as developers run out of empty lots along Pike/Pine to develop, they’re starting to eye blocks where businesses already exist. The end result? The death of Pike/Pine as we know it.
Developers and real-estate agents love to talk about the “vibrancy” of neighborhoods like Pike/Pine. The website for the Braeburn describes the neighborhood as “vibrant and diverse.” An ad for the Brix, which is going up at the north end of Broadway, calls the area “the neighborhood that shows Seattle how to have fun.” Promotional materials for the Press Condos right across the street from the Weber + Thompson development that will displace the Cha Cha, the Bus Stop, and Manray show black-clad hipsters in ripped jeans sitting around in bohemian bars. Of 21 local businesses included on a map available on the Press website, half will soon be gone.
When developers talk about “vibrancy,” what they mean is places like the Cha Cha, Bimbo’s, Manray, the Bus Stop, R Place, Bauhaus, Babeland, and dozens of other small, independent businesses. Pike/Pine wouldn’t be “vibrant” without those businesses. Yet as empty lots get harder and harder to come by, developers are increasingly gobbling up land that’s already occupied—by the very businesses that make the area attractive for development in the first place. What goes up in their place is often chichi salons (like Swoon in the Braeburn), chain stores (like Kinko’s at the north end of Broadway), non-retail uses (like the builder and architect who fill two of three storefronts at the new-ish 615 East Pike lofts) and, frequently, empty storefronts.
It’s not that there isn’t room in a neighborhood for Walgreens and Kinko’s and pricey salons—all three are improvements on the empty lots they replaced. But when the Walgreens and empty storefronts and salons start displacing established local businesses, the character of the neighborhood—the hook used to draw high-end buyers into the area—is destroyed.