Volunteer Park is zoned “Single Family 7200” which makes it illegal to expand a building used as a museum. Documents filed with the city include two proposed changes to Seattle Municipal Code to make the expansion legal. We believe one of these approaches has been discarded, so there is currently only one proposal.
Other – Code Amendment Request (PDF): This is the approach we understand has been abandoned. It would add existing museums to the list of permitted uses in single-family zones in SMC 23.44.006.
Other – Draft Ordinance (PDF): The change SAM currently wants to make. This adds the SAAM building specifically as an exception to SMC 23.42.106 which prohibits the expansion of a structure occupied by a nonconforming residential use:
3. The Seattle Asian Art Museum building and use located in Volunteer Park, as it exists on January 1, 2017, may be expanded subject to the following development standards:
c. No expansion may exceed the elevation of the highest point of the existing building.
d. Parking and loading for the proposed expansion is required as provided in Sections 23.54.015 and 23.54.035. As a Type I decision, the Director may reduce parking and loading requirements…
3.c. above is sneaky: “No expansion may exceed the elevation of the highest point of the existing building.” SAM’s proposed South Addition would become the tallest and most visually abrupt face of the entire building. However since it extends downhill to be lower than the rest of the structure, it can be taller without exceeding the elevation of the existing roof. This is not the usual way of assessing building height, it is obfuscatory language intended to make an oversized addition seem modest and proportionate.
About the Process
The Protect Volunteer Park team is seeking to understand the process by which City Council will consider this proposed ordinance, so we can ensure that those concerned about the project will have their voices heard.
Other projects in Seattle go through a full public engagement process when they wish to build something not allowed by the zoning. Here is a City web page describing the process for the new Green Dot Middle School to exceed zoning height limits in Hillman City: Volunteers Needed for Advisory Committee. A robust process ensures that a full range of community voices will be heard.
We are hoping to similarly make our voices heard as City Council considers the Asian Art Museum’s requested zoning exception. We hear this is expected around the 2nd quarter of 2017.
We also hear that the MUP and Landmarks processes are roughly scheduled to be completed in May, although MUP approval could be delayed 4-6 additional months depending on the Environmental Review. It would be around this time that City Council would consider releasing the funds for the project, in addition to the zoning modification.