Problems with Reuse in the Built Environment

When reading Ch. 5 about reducing and reusing in the Built Environment, I immediately began to think about the current NAIOP Challenge that our class is participating in. The challenge is based around the Original Rainier Brewery in Georgetown, a truly historically relevant and architecturally iconic structure representing the rich cultural history of Georgetown and the City of Seattle as a whole. While our team has striven since the beginning to utilize as much of the existing building in our proposal as possible, we have finally concluded that doing so is simply not feasible for the majority of the site. The largest impediment to our ability to reuse the existing structure in the way we had hoped (which was to literally redevelop the interior to modern day standards without adding on anything extra, and while attempting to maintain the original character of the building) is in fact the City of Seattle’s zoning regulations.

While some have argued that it is not the zoning of the site, but the cost of the structural alterations due to its historic landmark status that is the major impediment, we determined that this is likely not the case, as is evidenced by other historical buildings being more successfully preserved and reused than our own. The primary issue with the zoning of this site and its surrounding areas, is that it seeks to protect the industrial uses in the area, despite the opinions of the local community council who would love to see the Georgetown Triangle (as they refer to the area bordered by Airport Way, Corson Ave and Bailey St.) rezoned to allow more commercial and residential uses.

The rezoning of this area would have likely enabled us to protect and utilize the existing structure by raising the rental rate that could have been achieved in the area (due to less high impact uses nearby and a higher rate of agglomerative uses coming in around the site), compared to the cost of construction required by the reuse of the historical building. As it is, with the site surrounded by industrial uses with the exception of the thin “commercial core” along Airport Way, our projected rental rates are so low for almost all uses that only certain uses which in no way lend themselves to maintaining the historical character of the structure are viable on the site.

With that being said, it occurred to me that if the City of Seattle would enable an easier method for re-zoning of any historic site, and the surrounding area that directly affects the historic structure on said site, as a trade off for reusing as much of the structure as possible (say a minimum of 80%), it would likely enable developers to look at historically protected sites with more of an eye to preserving the past while building towards the future, instead of looking at them more as a parcel with some walls that need to be maintained.

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