Door-to-door letter campaign drives Old Town Tacoma historic district debate

A battle over the history — and future — of a neighborhood is brewing in Old Town Tacoma.

One group wants to see Old Town Tacoma designated a historic district. A nomination was submitted to City Hall on Sept. 15, 2009, and included a six-page petition signed by more than 100 residential property owners or renters in the area who support the plan. The group argues Old Town is the city’s oldest neighborhood and includes 55 residential homes dating between 1869 and 1960. Five properties have been placed on either the local, state, or national registers of historic places.

Another group has gathered more than 200 signatures opposing the plan, arguing that such a designation would place restrictions on its freedoms as property owners, and the neighborhood itself consists of buildings and homes that are not as historically significant as perceived.

For a couple months now, both camps have gone door-to-door to make their respective cases and try to win over residents and property owners. Petitions for and against the historic district are being passed around the neighborhood even today. Last week, Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission directed staff to draw up a postcard survey that will be mailed to stakeholders in the neighborhood. They will use the responses from that unbiased survey to gauge the sentiments of residents and property owners as to whether there is enough support to move the nomination through City Hall.

On Friday, the Tacoma Daily Index obtained copies of two letters circulated to Old Town neighbors last month. Each letter aims to persuade residents to side with one or the other side of the issue.

The letters are published here in their entireties:

DATE: March 21, 2011

TO: All Homeowners Within The Proposed Old Town Historic District

FROM: Homeowners Committee Opposed to Historic Designation

We are a group of homeowners who reside within the boundaries of the proposed Old Tacoma Historic District who are opposed to the formation of the Historic District. As you might recall, a similar petition was filed and processed in 1999 but there was so much citizen opposition to it that it was strongly defeated by City council. Again, we are opposed to the creation of the historic district for the same variety of reasons:

1. The creation of the district would cripple your ability to modify, remodel, put an addition on, or even replace a window on your home. Anything that would require a permit would require a full review by a new layer of bureaucratic government along with the design review “Police.” We strongly object to this additional governmental intrusion and some design “panel” telling us what we can or cannot do to our own homes. This will be a huge hurdle to improving your home. The municipal code states that, in a historic district, the city’s landmarks preservation commission must approve any modifications to the exterior of a home, including something as simple as a window replacement.

2. If you wished to demolish your home in order to build a new one, you would most likely be precluded from doing so if it lies within the new historic district boundary.

3. “Old Town” is historic, but there are simply too few structures which are architecturally significant. Many homes have been replaced and there is now a strong blend of old and new, traditional and modern, even contemporary and some with southwest style architecture. The few structures which may be architecturally significant can be nominated as historic structures without restricting the entire district.

Old Town is a great place to live and we want to keep it that way. But we also want the ability and flexibility to remodel and improve without governmental intervention or operation by committee.

Please join us in opposing this designation. There is a petition being circulated in opposition. Please sign it. Send a letter or e-mail to the City Planning Commission Members and your Tacoma City Council Members. Make a phone call to your City Council person. Attend the first of many hearings on March 23 at 4:00 p.m. before the Planning Commission, Room 16, Tacoma Municipal Bldg. N., 733 Market Street.

If you have questions, or wish to stop by to sign the petition, please e-mail us at: oldtownboosters@gmail.com.

Or stop in to the Spar Tavern where a petition will be available for signatures.

REASONS WE SHOULD MAKE OLD TOWN A HISTORIC DISTRICT

Date: March 23, 2011

To: The Citizens of Old Tacoma

From: Kathy Ursich and Caroline Gallacci, Ph.D.

We are the two people who initiated the Old Tacoma Historic District nomination.

You have received a flyer saying that there was a historic district petition filed in 1999 “but there was so much citizen opposition to it that it was strongly defeated by the City Council.” This is not correct. There was not a petition at this time and no City Council action was made relative to a historic district in Old Tacoma. The City Council has yet to decide if Old Tacoma should be a historic district.

The flyer your received at your doorstep suggests that a design review “Police” can dictate to you as to what you can or cannot do with your property. The Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission is a group of citizens, people just like yourself, whose responsibility is to determine how best to preserve the city’s heritage. Please remember this: when one argues that being in a historic district prevents someone from doing what they want to do with their property, you are also preventing another person from preserving their historical home and protecting an area that is so significant to our city’s history.

The flyer you received also says that there “are simply too few structures which are architecturally significant.” Our research shows that there are numerous historic markers pointing to Tacoma’s firsts including church, school, house, hospital, sawmill, and post office. In addition we have identified many homes that were designed by noted Tacoma architects. Collectively, the architecture in Old Tacoma displays the life of a working class ethnic neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century that deserves recognition and should be preserved.

Yes, Old Town is a great place to live. But it is such a wonderful place because of all the historic buildings that contribute to a unique experience. It is rumored that the opposing flyers and petitions are sponsored by certain developers who do not want Old Town made a historic district for reasons of their own so that they can build large view obstructing ugly houses!

By making Old Town an historic district we protect the history of the neighborhood and the integrity and characteristics of the older homes and assure new homes fit the scale of where we live. Your house will have more value and sell faster if it is located in a historic district.

We encourage all of you to consult the Tacoma City Code. This legislation tells you what being in a historic district means. You can find this online, at the Tacoma Public Library, or by contacting the city.

Please feel free to e-mail us for questions or comments.

Kathy — Ursich Delfiblue@comcast.net

Dr. Gallacci — CGallacci@comcast.net

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For earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage of the Old Town Tacoma historic district nomination, click on the following links:

Postcard survey will likely decide Old Town Tacoma historic district issue (04/14/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1958901&more=0

More signatures gathered in opposition to Old Town Tacoma historic district (04/11/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1956166&more=0

Group forms to oppose Old Town Tacoma historic district proposal (04/07/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1954778&more=0

Landmarks Preservation Commission will tour proposed Old Town Tacoma historic district (03/15/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1941459&more=0

**UPDATE** Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting canceled (02/23/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1930670&more=0

Landmarks Preservation Commission will tour proposed Old Town Tacoma historic district (02/22/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1929534&more=0

Historic Aspirations: Is 2011 the year Old Town Tacoma becomes an historic district? (01/26/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1914503&more=0

Residents again seek historic district designation for Old Town Tacoma (12/06/10) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1887602&more=0