The 20 trees that the city cut down in Occidental Park last year certainly can’t be replaced, but activists in Pioneer Square were hoping the pergola could.
In a unanimous decision June 20, however, the Pioneer Square Preservation Board voted to uphold its decision and not return the glass-capped pergola to the park. It was removed last year as part of a controversial remodel in which one-third of the park’s trees were cut down, most of its benches removed and the park’s cobblestones replaced with plaza pavers — moves, the activists argue, that were aimed at the area’s homeless and poor.
On April 16, a King County Superior Court judge ordered the preservation board to revisit the pergola issue after ruling that the city had removed it illegally. Under the city codes that govern the historic district, a structure cannot be removed without pre-approval and funding for something else to go in its place, which the city did not have at the time of the park’s remodel in 2006.
After going into a 45-minute closed-door session with Judith Barbour, a land use attorney from the City Attorney’s office who fought the activists in court, the preservation board got around the judge’s ruling by citing a portion of Seattle Municipal Code 23.66.115, which allows the board to authorize such demolition or removal “to protect the public health, safety and welfare” even when no replacement structure is planned.
Shawn Jezerinac, a representative of the Pioneer Building who went to the meeting, says board members stated, in effect, that the judge had sent the matter back on a technicality, as if he “had just dinged them for not following protocol,” Jezerinac says.
The activists’ attorney, Jim Klauser disagrees and now says that, if the city won’t consider reusing the pergola, it may try to get away with not conducting a study the judge ordered on the health of the remaining trees, either. So, last week, Klauser filed a new court motion calling on the city to prove it’s complying with the judge’s order.
The pergola vote clears the way for the Parks Department to install what it wants in the park: a 625-square-foot retail kiosk. City staff insist the kiosk’s design will be subject to public comment at future meetings. But that’s not the same as returning the pergola, which residents and business owners had demanded Parks do at a workshop held in May.