Seattle Historic District Could Remove Street Dining

Despite the popularity of Ballard Avenue’s outdoor dining pergolas, some district board members argue the patios don’t match the district’s historic character.

2 minute read

February 7, 2023, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

The popular outdoor dining patios created during the pandemic in Seattle’s Ballard Avenue Landmark District could be going away, if the district’s board has its way, reports Ray Dubicki in The Urbanist.

Despite widespread community support, some board members see the eateries as an eyesore that “defile the historic district.” One supportive board member challenged the idea that removing the patios in favor of street parking would improve the situation. “Why are we supporting cars instead of economic vitality,” Miriam Hinden asked.

Because of the historic nature of the district, board members want to require elements that would be cost-prohibitive for most business owners. Legally, because of their location on public right-of-way, the structures will always be deemed temporary by the city.

Dubicki points out that this highlights an inherent flaw in historic district guidelines: they don’t account for new concepts such as parklets or dining patios, leaving it up to board members to debate the appropriate number of pergolas on the street and what materials would fit in with the existing character of the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the street cafes “have done more than revitalize a stretch of shops and restaurants that were hard hit by pandemic shutdowns. They’ve become iconic in their own right.”

The original movement to preserve the district is based on economic revitalization, Dubicki notes. “Not a preservation movement. A revitalization movement.” The aesthetic qualities outlined in the historic district guidelines “are subjectively applied to new structures” anyway, Dubicki argues. “A lively Ballard Avenue is completely within the historic character of the district.”

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