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Pioneer Square Historical District
Pioneer Square Preservation District FAQ

1. What does being in the Pioneer Square Preservation District mean to business owners like me?

In contrast to the high-rise buildings and streets in other downtown districts, Pioneer Square is characterized by lower brick and stone buildings, tree-lined streets and avenues, cobblestone parks, and diverse street-level retail establishments and restaurants, all contributing to the neighborhood's warm and intimate feel. Pioneer Square exists as we find it today through the efforts of visionary architects, community leaders, and City officials who, in the late 1960s and 1970s fought to save the historic buildings from eminent demolition in the name of urban renewal. During that period, several beloved buildings were destroyed, prompting the grassroots movement that created Pioneer Square as Seattle's first preservation district. Today, property and business owners benefit from the tourists and shoppers attracted to Pioneer Square by the neighborhood's historic and architectural character. This unique character is protected through the Pioneer Square Preservation Board's implementation of use and design guidelines that were established to preserve the district's special appeal.

2. What kinds of changes require approval?

Any new business or service must be reviewed and approved by the Pioneer Square Preservation Board and Department of Neighborhoods Director before any other permits will be issued by the City. Any of the following changes in the appearance of a building also must be approved: any change to exterior of any structure, a new sign or a change to an existing sign, new construction, demolition of any structure, and any change in the public rights-of-way including public spaces such as parks and sidewalks. See the Rules for the Pioneer Square Preservation District for detailed design guidance.

3. I want to put up a new sign. What requirements must it meet?

The Pioneer Square Preservation Board has enacted guidelines to ensure that the architectural character of the district is not loss through undue proliferation of signs, that signs do not impede visibility into and out of street-level businesses, and that signs are installed in a manner that does not damage historic building fabric. The Rules for the Pioneer Square Preservation District outline requirements for all signage visible from building exteriors. If you plan to add or alter a sign in Pioneer Square, please contact the Department of Neighborhood's Historic Preservation Program as early as possible so we can explain the review and approval process and recommend next steps. You can reach us at (206) 684-0227.

4. How do I get approval to make a change in the appearance of the exterior of my building?

Before making make any change to the exterior of a structure in the district, the Department of Neighborhood's Historic Preservation Program as early as possible so we can explain the review and approval process and recommend next steps. To get your project reviewed and approved by the Pioneer Square Preservation Board, you need to submit an application for Certificate of Approval. (See Instructions for Applying for a Certificate of Approval in the Pioneer Square Preservation District.) If your proposal includes design changes, you will be asked to present your application to the Architectural Review Committee before presenting your plans to the full Pioneer Square Preservation Board. The Architectural Review Committee will help you sort out any unresolved issues regarding your proposal and will make a recommendation to the full Board. Environmental review is generally required for large projects and usually consists of review of an environmental checklist. Upon approval of your proposal, the Board recommends that a Certificate of Approval be authorized by the Director of the Department of Neighborhoods.

5. What is the Pioneer Square Preservation Board and how does it make decisions?

The Board reviews applications for Certificates of Approval for changes of use and exterior architectural alterations in the district and recommends approval, approval with conditions, or denial to the Director of the Department of Neighborhoods, who makes final decisions concerning applications. The Board may also make recommendations to the Mayor, the City Council, and any public or private agencies concerning land use and social issues in the District.

The Board bases its decisions on the standards established in the District Ordinance (SMC 23.66), Rules for the Pioneer Square Preservation District and the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. Contact the Department of Neigborhood's Historic Preservation Program at (206) 684-0227 for a paper copy of these documents.

6. Who is on the Pioneer Square Preservation Board?

The Board consists of nine members appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by Seattle City Council. Each member fills a specific position on the Board, representing property owners, retail business owners, human services providers, architects, historians, attorneys, and one at-large representative. At least one Board member must be a resident of Pioneer Square.

7. When is the next District Board meeting?

The Board meets on the first and third Wednesday of each month starting at 9:00 a.m.. Architectural Review Committee meetings are held on an as-needed basis, usually one week prior to the full Board meeting, also starting at 9:00 a.m. Once an applicant has submitted a complete application, the Pioneer Square Preservation Board Coordinator schedules specific times for applicants to present their proposals to the full Board and Architectural Review Committee as necessary. All meetings are open to the public.


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