A man takes in the proposed design guidelines for the Central Area during an open house on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
A man takes in the proposed design guidelines for the Central Area during an open house on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

Next to a recently shuttered Red Apple grocery story, Central Area residents gathered at Black Zone last Tuesday, Sept. 26, to review the latest draft of neighborhood design guidelines written to protect and promote local culture as the area grows.

The Central Area Design Guidelines Coalition hosted the open house and has been driving the design guideline proposal since its formation in 2016. The coalition is made up of the 23rd Avenue Action Community Team, the Central Area Land Use and Review Committee, the Historic Central Area Arts & Cultural District, Central Area Collaborative and the African American Veterans Group of Washington.

However, the idea of design guidelines specific to the needs and desires of Central Area residents was born a year earlier, when members of the groups that became the coalition gathered in the living room of Tyrone Brown’s family home.

“This is one of the few opportunities where the community can actually have a say [in how the neighborhood is developed]. We can actually be at the table. And the architect will have to come to the table and speak to what the community wants,” Brown said.

Brown is the chairman of the Historic Central Area Arts & Culture District and a longtime Central Area resident.

Development in the Central Area is already subject for review under city design guidelines, but the Central Area Design Guidelines Coalition wants the Seattle City Council to adopt neighborhood-specific guidelines that take the specific needs and interests of residents into account.

The Central Area developed as a predominantly African-American community in the first half of the 20th century, as other Seattle neighborhoods signed agreements to exclude African-Americans from owning or using property. A 1926 Supreme Court decision legalized racial deed restrictions, like those adopted throughout Seattle back then.

By 1960, the Central Area was about 70 percent African-American. But by 2010, African-Americans made up only 23 percent of the Central Areal/Squire Park population, shrinking by 35 percent between 2000 and 2010. Whites were the majority, having grown by almost 40 percent in the same decade.

“We were losing our black footprint, for lack of a better term, in the Central Area,” said Robert Stevens, Jr., a founding member of the coalition.

The Central Area is still dealing with the effects of redlining, a discriminatory practice of denying bank loans based on neighborhood that was made illegal in 1968. Redlining made it difficult for residents of the Central Area to build and maintain their homes and businesses, leaving the neighborhood vulnerable to gentrification and economic downturn.

Initiatives to combat the long-term effects of redlining are part of the Seattle city design guidelines, but the proposed guidelines for Central Area take those initiatives further.

According to the proposed guidelines, anything built in the Central Area will: “Reflect the unique historical character of the Central Area community, retain the rich characteristics valued by both the community’s long term residents as well as its new and future residents, and facilitate inclusive and equitable growth and development.”

The coalition also wants to form a citizen review board to help enforce the design guidelines and continue to involve the community.

“I think this has shown us that all of these groups can work together, and maybe that we can’t work without each other,” said coalition member Sharon Kholsa.

Last week’s open house was the last round of public comment before the draft proposal is finalized. The bill will be reviewed by several city departments, undergo public comment periods, and be analyzed for environmental impact before it goes to the city council for a vote. If there are no appeals, the coalition hopes the bill will be adopted by city council in mid-2018.

By the time the design guidelines likely become law, Central Area residents won’t be able to celebrate in the space that currently houses Black Zone.

The event space and art gallery is part of the Promenade 23 shopping center, which was purchased, along with the commercial center across the street, for nearly $31 million by Vulcan Real Estate in early February. To make room for Vulcan’s planned development of mixed-use buildings, Black Zone and the other businesses in the shopping center will close by the end of the year.

Read the full draft of the Central Area Neighborhood Design Guidelines.