As we reported in our previous blog post, the University of Washington is pursuing legal action, arguing that as a state institution of higher learning, it should not be subject to the City of Seattle's Landmark Preservation Ordinance. The UW uses our landmark nomination for the Nuclear Reactor Building/More Hall Annex as a reason for filing its lawsuit. The revised landmark nomination that was submitted on February 12, 2016 lists Docomomo WEWA, Historic Seattle, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation as co-nominators. Download the nomination packet to see why we think it should be a City of Seattle Landmark.
The UW’s lawsuit names the City of Seattle and Docomomo WEWA as defendants. Historic Seattle and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation have intervened in the lawsuit as defendants. A King County Superior Court hearing has been set for Friday, April 1 (no joke). The hearing is open to the public (for observation only; no public testimony) and will take place at 10:00 am in Judge Suzanne Parisien's courtroom (W-764) in the King County Courthouse (516 Third Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104). Counsel for all three parties will present oral arguments. The hearing should last no more than one hour.
This case, as presented to King County Superior Court, does not involve a trial. The UW filed a motion for summary judgement (or judgement as a matter of law) and the City of Seattle filed a cross motion for summary judgement. We are in support of this approach. The judge will make a decision based on the briefs filed by each party and on oral arguments that will be presented on April 1. Three rounds of briefs were filed by each party during the month of March that presented evidence and arguments.
The UW argues that as a state institution of higher learning, it is not subject to the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (“LPO”); and that as a threshold matter, the University is not an “owner” as defined by the LPO. It also maintains that the LPO effectively takes away the Board of Regents’ “full control of the University and its property.” The University believes that designation of the Nuclear Reactor Building as a Seattle Landmark would preclude it from building its proposed Computer Science and Engineering II building. The University relies on 150 years of statutes and ordinances to establish the Board of Regents’ “pre-emptory authority” to govern University property.
Let’s be clear here. The University of Washington is a public university located in a dense urban community. It does not operate as an island unto itself, isolated from local regulations. To assert that it is not an owner according to the LPO is absurd. Following local regulations, such at the LPO, does not usurp the Board of Regents’ authority over development of University property. According to the City’s cross motion for summary judgement (which was supported by us), “The Legislature accorded the regents of state universities control over their respective properties ‘except as provided by law.’ That other law includes the Growth Management Act.” The University argues that the LPO is a pre-GMA development regulation and does not apply. However, the City of Seattle re-adopted the LPO after the GMA went into effect, so it is a local development regulation that must be followed. The University has yet to exhaust administrative remedies available (landmark nomination/designation process; controls and incentives negotiation; hearing examiner appeal; City Council process).
We don’t know how the judge will rule. Of course, we hope she will rule in our favor and the City's. This blog will be updated when we find out.
As we have consistently maintained, the University has generally been a good steward of its historic resources. We’d like to see it recognize its post-WWII buildings as significant as well. And we firmly believe there are viable alternatives to demolition. Our landmark nomination was filed to seek protection for the National Register-listed Nuclear Reactor building. There are potential adaptive re-use opportunities for the building despite the UW’s assertions that there are none. The landmark nomination/designation and Certificate of Approval processes offer external review of an important historic structure and opportunity for public input. The University's existing historic preservation review process is an internal process. We hope the nomination will go before the Landmarks Preservation Board for review in Spring 2016. We will need your help in advocating for the Nuclear Reactor Building during the landmark process. There will be opportunities to send letters/emails to the Landmarks Preservation Board, testify in support of the nomination at the public meetings, and help get the word out to others.