City Council committee wants more discussion of Wedge historic district boundary

A Tacoma City Council committee has delayed the first reading of an ordinance that would create an historic district and several conservation districts in the city’s Wedge neighborhood.

At issue is where to draw the district’s eastern boundary. MultiCare Health System owns four homes that have been included in a district boundary approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission. According to property records, the vacant homes, which sit in the shadow of MultiCare’s sprawling hospital campus, are located at 1216 South Fourth Street (built in 1925); 1218 South Fourth Street (built in 1923); 417 South M Street (built in 1905); and 407 South M Street (built in 1908). The homes are located in an area limited to residential use. MultiCare officials have written letters to City Hall asking that their homes be excluded from the proposed historic district and the boundary be re-drawn.

Similarly, Salvation Army of Tacoma owns three properties that would be included in a proposed conservation district. One of the properties, located at 1521 Sixth Avenue, includes a former motel built in 1927 that now serves as the Salvation Army’s emergency lodge for 67 low-income people. Salvation Army officials plan to expand the services offered on the site by demolishing the former motel and building a new facility.

Finally, the owner of a 1923 building located at 502 South M Street would also like his property excluded.

Tacoma City Council was expected to hear the first reading of the ordinance Aug. 17. However, during council’s neighborhoods and housing committee meeting Aug. 2, in which a do-pass recommendation was sought before it reached the full council, the district’s proposed boundary derailed that plan.

“I don’t think we’re ready for a do-pass today,” said Councilmember Lauren Walker, who also chairs the neighborhoods and housing committee. “I feel there’s support for the historic district, but we’ve got some boundary issues that are the main things hanging us up. Some people feel comfortable with what the planning commission is recommending. Some people are more comfortable with what MultiCare is proposing. My guess is that if we were to vote today on whether we were going to support what the planning commission was recommending, we would probably be split. That’s just a guess. I feel like we need a compromise rather than just putting this to a vote and having the historic district go down.”

Walker urged staff to come up with another suggestion or convene a meeting between Wedge residents and MultiCare representatives to reach a compromise over the boundary. “I would really prefer the neighbors and MultiCare to come back with some ideas,” said Walker.

But several people who attended the meeting told the committee the process has already worked its way through Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, Planning Commission, and a series of public hearings with all interested parties voicing their support of, or opposition to, the district.

“I do feel there’s been due process here,” said Historic Tacoma Board President Sharon Winters. “For the past year, the Planning Commission has spent a lot of energy on this and I really think the council is going to have to come up with a compromise if there is a compromise to be developed.”

“I think there’s been a formal process that people have had the opportunity to go through,” said Assistant City Manager Tansy Hayward. “I think part of the process that is in place has attempted — through the hearing processes that have been in place — to try and lift out some level of compromise.”

Wedge resident Reid Carr lives near the eastern boundary and MultiCare’s four vacant homes. He told the committee the hospital purchased the homes when the area was already zoned for residential use. “If they sold them off now, they would make a ton of money,” said Carr, who attended the meeting with his children. “They are nice houses. They don’t need those. There are plenty of other places for MultiCare to expand. Sell them.

“I don’t understand why they are fighting for these homes,” Carr added. “It just doesn’t make sense to make. I think the boundary should stay as proposed. I don’t think MultiCare has an argument left.

“This is really what we get paid the big bucks for — to work out a compromise,” said Depty Mayor Jake Fey. “We certainly can give people an opportunity to express their opinions to us. But I think ultimately after some more thought and discussion amongst ourselves, it’s up to us.”

The council committee is expected to revisit the issue during its meeting Aug. 16.

The Wedge neighborhood, with its quaint homes and tree-lined streets, rests against MultiCare’s growing hospital campus. The proposal has worked its way through City Hall since June 2008, when three Wedge residents — Jean Carter, Char Cooper, and Laurie Hunger — submitted the historic district nomination to the city’s historic preservation office. According to the nomination, the Wedge neighborhood is an area of Tacoma that boasts more than 50 homes dating back 80 years or more. It’s also where Tacoma pioneer Aaron Titlow, candy company entrepreneurs Frank and Ethel Mars, and Titanic survivor Anne Kincaid resided. And it is ringed by Wright Park, the North Slope Historic District, and many of the city’s oldest churches.

The historic district nomination is partly aimed at preserving the neighborhood’s character and history in light of MultiCare’s decision to demolish a 90-year-old church to make way for new construction, as well as concern over future demolition and development.

Five historic districts exist in Tacoma. Three are listed on the local Tacoma Register (Old City Hall, Union Depot / Warehouse, and North Slope); four are listed on the National Register (Old City Hall, Union Depot / Warehouse, North Slope, and Stadium / Seminary); and four are listed on the Washington Heritage Register (Old City Hall, Union Depot / Warehouse, North Slope, and Salmon Beach).

The last time the City designated an historic district was in 1994. In 1999, an effort to create a historic district in the Old Town neighborhood failed after some homeowners feared the designation would limit their abilities to modify or develop their properties.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Tacoma Daily Index has covered the Wedge historic district nomination since the application was submitted to City Hall more than two years ago. The Index has published two-dozen articles about the issue, including interviews with the authors of the nomination and residents in the neighborhood, public testimony of people who support or oppose the nomination, and photographs of a walking tour of the neighborhood with Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. To read the articles, visit the following links:

Boundaries, properties disputed in Wedge Historic District proposal (07/23/10) —

SEPT. 5, 2008 – MARCH 27, 2009 (PART ONE) —

APRIL 16, 2009 – MARCH 10, 2010 (PART TWO) —

MARCH 24, 2010 – JUNE 17, 2010 (PART THREE) —