Council Questions Landmark Protections for Walgreen’s, Woodland Park Encampment Efforts In “Final Phase”

1. On Tuesday, the city council will impose new restrictions on construction or alterations at two historic landmarks: The Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union, and an early-20th-century houseboat known as the Wagner Floating Home.

One building that won’t be getting new protections—at least, not yet—is a one-story former bank building near downtown that, for more than a decade, has housed a drive-through Walgreen’s store. Fifteen years ago, the Seattle landmarks board granted landmark status to the building, which has a handsome facade on one side but is otherwise unremarkable. In its “statement of significance,” the landmarks board seemed to struggle to explain why, exactly, the building on Denny Way—one of multiple copies around Seattle of a building designed by a different architect—merited extraordinary protection. Among other points largely unrelated to the 1950 building itself, the board cited the defunct bank’s connection to the city’s logging history and the Denny Regrade, the history of drive-through banking in the US, and the “unprecedented freedom” of mid-century Modernist style.

It doesn’t take much for a building to win landmark status in Seattle; a building is only required to be at least 25 years old and meet one of a list of criteria that includes being “associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, city, state or nation” or being characteristic of an area.

Landmarks status usually leads to limits on the demolition of, or changes to, buildings; the Walgreen’s building is unusual in that 15 years have passed since it first received landmark status. During a meeting of the council’s neighborhoods committee two weeks ago, an attorney with McCullough Hill, representing Walgreen’s, explained that protections would result in profits for the company, which could sell off the development rights for the site. This “transfer of development rights” would allow another developer add density elsewhere while preserving a one-story, car-oriented building in the middle of one of the city’s densest neighborhoods.

Committee chair Tammy Morales decided to delay imposing controls on the building, saying she was “just trying to understand what the benefit for the city is” of protecting the one-story Walgreen’s. We asked a similar question on Twitter. In our highly nonscientific poll, 89 percent opposed protecting the former bank. The committee will take up the landmarks question again at its next meeting on May 14.

2. Woodland Park, which Mayor Bruce Harrell used as the backdrop for his campaign vow to remove troublesome encampments, is still the site of a large encampment, several months after Harrell initially told neighboring residents it would be removed. The delay has allowed the city to use the same deliberate approach that was largely successful in relocating most of the people living at the Ballard Commons, which the city closed and fenced off last December. City Councilmember Dan Strauss and advocates for unsheltered people have been championing this approach, even as sweeps have ramped up dramatically since Harrell took office.

According to outreach workers and advocates who have been working with encampment residents over the past several months, the city has worked effectively to find shelter or temporary housing for several dozen people living at the encampment. As they did at the Commons, outreach workers with the nonprofit REACH and the Human Services Department’s HOPE Team created a list of 61 people living at the encampment in February and began working to move people on that list off site. At the same time, the city’s Parks Department set up portable toilets and started removing trash—two key factors that reduce the amount of visible garbage and human waste, which result when people don’t have places to throw stuff away and relieve themselves.

Data show that between September and March, just 196 of 534 people who received shelter referrals from the HOPE Team actually showed up at shelter within 48 hours and stayed for at least one night—an enrollment rate of less than 37 percent.

The result, according to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, has been “at least 30 referrals to shelter or housing,” including three housing referrals and 26 referrals to enhanced shelter or tiny house villages, in addition to 10 people who have “voluntarily relocated from the park” and are presumably living unsheltered elsewhere.

A spokesman for HSD said outreach “efforts will continue over the coming weeks in an attempt to resolve this encampment through outreach strategies alone.” However, advocates working at the encampment note that unsheltered people have continued to move to the area since February, when the city created its list; as a result, the encampment is scarcely smaller than it was when the city’s outreach efforts began. (The HSD spokesman notes that the city has referred at least five of the new people to shelters).

“We’re seeing people get into at least transitional shelter or tiny houses,” a neighbor who has been doing volunteer outreach at the encampment told PublICola. “We wish there were more staff to do [outreach and placements] and, really, more resources behind it.”

And, the volunteer notes, the city has no way of guaranteeing that people show up at shelter or stay there. Although tiny houses have a high rate of enrollment, data provided in response to a PubliCola records request indicate that between September and March, just 195 of 533 people who received shelter referrals from the HOPE Team actually showed up at shelter within 48 hours and stayed for at least one night—an enrollment rate of less than 37 percent.

According to a statement from Harrell’s office, “Planning efforts at Woodland Park are now transitioning to focus on returning the park to its intended use. Our goal is to ensure that everyone receives an offer of shelter, and that the vast majority are connected to the best-fitting shelter and support, after which sections of the park will be temporarily closed to allow SPR to begin restoration work in the park after the removal of the encampment. This will include repairs to picnic shelters, public restrooms, and vegetation.

Asked when the city plans to remove the people remaining at the encampment, a spokesman for Harrell’s office said the city “is not sharing potential timelines or encampment removal dates as they are subject to change.”

3. As we reported last week, Sound Transit is reinstating fare enforcement—on hold since the beginning of the pandemic—and reducing some of the penalties for people who fail to pay while preserving the option to send people to court (and potentially collections) and requiring riders to produce ID when asked. On this week’s Seattle Nice podcast, Sandeep and I debate the new rules—are they paternalistic and invasive, or a needed antidote to Seattle’s attitude of radical permissiveness?

Listen and subscribe to Seattle Nice on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

5 thoughts on “Council Questions Landmark Protections for Walgreen’s, Woodland Park Encampment Efforts In “Final Phase””

  1. Imagine having a place, some belongings, and neighbors and being “offered” to give up all 3 for one night on a cot in a room full of cots with no guarantee of a cot the next night, or a place, your stuff, or your trusted neighbors from then on. I wouldn’t accept that type of shelter either.

  2. “Woodland Park, which Mayor Bruce Harrell used as the backdrop for his campaign vow to remove troublesome encampments, is still the site of a large encampment…”

    You haven’t been up there, have you? It’s certainly not just a single encampment; there are numerous large and small groups all over the park. All the shelters are taken over, with several mega sites grouped together like an expedition to the arctic. Electric extension cords snake out from the junction boxes in the shelters, powering TV, stoves and heaters in the tents. And piles of trash are everywhere. As are guns. And human poop.

    One guy (of course its a guy) has taken over the top of a hill. He has a boat, sitting on a boat tailor, covered. Next to that is his range rover. And he brought and put up a metal chain fencing all around his stuff to keep everyone else out.

    California tags on his boat and vehicle. He just arrived to the party.

    It’s Lord of the Flies up there.

  3. “At the same time, the city’s Parks Department set up portable toilets and started removing trash—two key factors that reduce the amount of visible garbage and human waste, which result when people don’t have places to throw stuff away and relieve themselves.”

    The latter situation seems almost impossible for the public to understand. They can’t imagine themselves living without a bathroom or regular garbage pickup, and figure that the unhoused must be deliberately trying to make a mess in their neighborhoods. .

  4. The former bank, now Walgreens, gets protection but the KING 5 building not far from the Walgreens, didn’t? It’s now an Apple office building. And this was the standard: “associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, city, state or nation”

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