Board votes 6-3 to landmark Denny’s building

After over two hours of presentations, comments and debate in front of a standing-room only crowd, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted 6-3 to designate the exterior of the Ballard Denny’s a city landmark. “I’m very surprised,” said Allan Michelson, who spoke out in favor of saving the Denny’s. “I couldn’t tell which way there were going. It was tortuous.” Before the vote, many of the board members admitted they were “on the fence.” The building “has a hard time crossing the integrity threshold,” board member Ronald Martinson said. Christine Howard said she was “struggling with the integrity.” But board member Stephen Lee (on the right below) led the charge in favor of saving the building. “To me this building bookends Ballard and still has enough integrity,” he said, noting that he lives nearby.

After ten minutes of discussion — which followed a lengthy presentation by land owner Benaroya Companies as well as public comment — the board reluctantly took it to a vote. Martinson and Howard were among the six board members who ended up voting in favor.

John McCullough, the attorney hired by Benaroya and Rhapsody, made it clear after the vote that they’re weren’t done fighting. “The issue is not to build on the remaining property,” he told the surrounding media (photo below). “The issue is what the land owner paid for (it).”

McCullough said the next step is to show that the board’s decision “deprives the property owner of economic use of the site,” which goes to the Hearing Examiner and ultimately the Seattle City Council. When asked about an alternative plan suggested by Grace Architects that would incorporate the restaurant along with the same number of condos (below), McCullough said it’s “highly unlikely to obtain the 125-foot rezone” that the plan would require.

Meanwhile, a group of Denny’s supporters who gathered down the hallway after the vote proclaimed they were ready for the next stage of the fight. “There will be plenty of opportunity to rehabilitate the building effectively and make it an integral part of the community,” Michelson said, who’s the head of the architecture library at the UW. “With minimal effort,” he added.

The room was packed for the board session. Only a small handful of the public who addressed the board spoke out in opposition of landmarking the building. One of them was Ken Alhadeff, the owner of Majestic Bay Theatres. “If you choose to designate, you must be part of the solution,” he told the board. “And then what? What’s the next step? Who will restore it? What will it be?”

Our minute-by-minute coverage of the meeting follows below…

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