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Seattle City Council extends Showbox protections, approves Fort Lawton housing

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
2018 File Photo: Seattle City Council members Kshama Sawant, center, Mike O'Brien, left, and Teresa Mosqueda, right

The Seattle City Council voted Monday to extend temporay protections for the Showbox theater for another six months. Council members also unanimously approved plans to build affordable housing near Discovery Park in the city's Magnolia neighborhood.


After about a dozen people testified in favor of the extension, the council voted 8-1 to prolong a temporary expansion of the Pike Place Market historic district that includes the 80-year-old theater.

"There is a commercial synergy between both the market and the Showbox. Many visitors go to both places," Council member and sponsor Lisa Herbold said before the vote.

The music venue became a point of contention last year after reports emerged that a developer wanted to raze the property to build condos. Since then, music lovers and historic preservationists have been trying to "Save the Showbox," arguing that the theater is an iconic part of Seattle's cultural history.

Those arguments prompted the council to initially expand the historic district to protect the theater from being demolished while the city studied whether a permanent boundary expansion would be appropriate.

That study has not been completed because of funding issues. Monday's vote gives the city's Office of Neighborhoods another six months to complete the study.

Council member Abel Pacheco, who was not in office when the council first voted on the expansion, was the lone vote against the extension.

"When we use a blunt policy instrument like the historic district as our tool, we are making housing the cost of saving the Showbox," Pacheco said.

In addition to the units that would have been built if the property were redeveloped, Pacheco said the city would also miss out on payments to its affordable housing fund.

Other council members emphasized that the extension is for further study and cautioned against pitting affordable housing against cultural preservation.

The Showbox property has not yet been sold. But the city does face a lawsuit from the property owner over the expansion of the historic district. A trial in that case is scheduled for this fall.

The Showbox has also been nominated separately as a landmark. There will be a hearing on its designation in July.


Affordable housing advocates did claim a victory Monday in a more-than-decade-long fight over federal surplus propery near Discovery Park.

In three separate and unanimous votes, the city council agreed to rezone Fort Lawton and submit a plan to build more than 200 housing units for vulnerable populations.

The property is owned by the U.S. Army. The city says it could get the land for free if it's used for park space and homeless housing.

A similar plan was initially floated in 2008. But a major lawsuit put the project on pause for years. It came up again in 2017, and the plan made it through the environmental review process. A hearing examiner decision approving that review late last year cleared the way for the city to take the next step.

Opponents argue the property should be devoted entirely to extending Discovery Park and that the type of housing the city is trying to build is out of sync with the rest of the Magnolia neighborhood.

Taken together, Monday's votes are a milestone in the city's effort to redevelop the property. But the federal government still needs to approve Seattle's plan, and it will take even more time for permitting and construction.

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