Hitchman House: nice old building or landmark?

Seattle's most popular view

It's nice to be famous, although the long wait getting there can wear on you. Ask activist Irene Wall, who has been zealously watchdogging the Port of Seattle's waterfront hotel project for the last few years. Among Wall's concerns is that the Marriott Hotel building will rise above the Alaskan Way Viaduct across from Victor Steinbrueck Park at the Pike Place Market, thus partially blocking the panoramic view.

However, it wasn't until recently that Wall's lonely fight turned Market cause c鬨bre. Wall's story has been featured in several newspaper articles (most recently, in a front page story and picture in the Pike Place Market News and a Casey Corr column in The Seattle Times). Victor Steinbrueck's widow, Marjorie Nelson Steinbrueck, recently joined Wall at the park for a petition drive against the potential view blockage.

The sudden round of public support and media attention is welcome, as Wall's next battle will be her appeal of the project to the state Shorelines Hearings Board. As this is technically an appeal of the city's decision to permit the hotel's construction, she will face attorneys representing the developer, the Port of Seattle, and the city.

Even if Wall's appeal is unsuccessful, there could be one final chance at scaling back the bloated hotel. According to the city's 1994 property use and development agreement with the Port of Seattle, if there are "major changes" to the proposed project or its design guidelines (Wall argues there have been), they would require further review and approval by the City Council. Trouble is, the job of determining whether the changes are indeed "major" lies with three city departments, including the one that approved the application in the first place. Not to mention that the Port hotel project was one of Paul Schell's last deals before transitioning from port commissioner to mayor a couple of years back.

Chong campaign healthy

The Charlie Chong campaign for Seattle City Council seat no. 7 is off and running, with a campaign kickoff event, a fund-raising letter, and the first controversy. Yes, Charlie claims in a May 21 letter to supporters that "the media and political elite" have begun a "whisper campaign" that he is in ill health. It's not clear if this is accurate (whisper campaigns being hard to document unless somebody speaks up), but the source of some rumors might have been an inside job. For several months, Chong's own Web site has included an elaborate description of Charlie's recent heart surgery, along with a timeline of his recovery. An alert campaign staffer has since deleted this potentially pejorative information.

Candidate musical chairs

Watch out for those furiously switching council candidates. Already, two declared candidates have joined Chong in the race for retiring member Tina Podlodowski's seat. Former publisher Alec Fiskin and housing activist Judy Nicastro are Chong's new rivals, and Heidi Wills, a longtime King County Council staffer, is considering joining them. This leaves former council member Cheryl Chow, former state Rep. Dawn Mason, and former county Democratic chair Dan Norton in the other open-seat race.

Making waves elsewhere is Curt Firestone, an organizer of the Progressive Coalition's effort to find candidates to challenge entrenched incumbents. Firestone has turned out to be his own first and best recruit. He is challenging Margaret Pageler, who has drawn the ire of environmentalists who see her as an obstacle to a no-cut policy for city lands in the Cedar River Watershed. Firestone has already raised more than $10,000 for his campaign and, ironically, has proven to be his own best donor—the 10 grand includes loans of $3,400 from the candidate himself.

Flashy signs shelved

The City Council voted June 1 to impose a moratorium on permits for new signs that use video or rapidly changing messages. Although a recently erected sign near the Stewart Street off-ramp influenced this action, council aide Paula Hoff says that other new signs, including those at Paul Allen's renovated Cinerama movie theater, tipped city regulators that new, high-tech signs may be a future challenge for the city. "It made people realize the technology is getting quite advanced," says Hoff. "A sign is not just a sign anymore."

Not quite a landmark

Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Board unanimously voted June 2 to deny landmark status to the Capitol Hill home known as the Hitchman House. It would be hard to call this decision surprising, although a group of neighborhoods had done a fine job documenting the history of the house at 611 13th Avenue E, which was formerly owned by Pacific Northwest historian Robert Hitchman.

The board's challenge was similar to many of its other recent proceedings—figuring out at what point an attractive older structure becomes worthy of landmark protection. It brings back a comment a board member made during the unsuccessful designation proceedings for Whittier School, one of the old structures being replaced under the Seattle School District's capital program. "This is a nice old building," said the board member. "But we aren't the Nice Old Buildings Preservation Board, we're the Landmarks Preservation Board."

In the case of the Hitchman House, the nice old building is set to be replaced with six expensive townhouse condos.

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