City will review historic preservation program in 2009

The City of Tacoma’s historic preservation program could undergo some major revisions in the New Year as city officials prepare to embark on the development of a citywide historic preservation plan.

In a memo written earlier this month by Community and Economic Development Director (CEDD) Ryan Petty to City Manager Eric Anderson, Petty cites a need to examine the program in order to respond to recent inquiries from residents and councilmembers.

“Over the last several months, the City Council has received several requests from the community for improvements and additions to City policies and procedures relating to Historic Preservation,” states Petty in the Nov. 10 memo. “In addition, staff and the Landmarks Preservation Commission have identified the need to address other important areas related to the City’s historic preservation program.”

Petty adds that CEDD will address these issues through the development of a citywide Historic Preservation Plan. Funding for the comprehensive review is included in the proposed biennium budget, and would be conducted by the Planning and Landmarks Preservation Commissions next year.

Issues raised in recent months and expected to be addressed in the coming year include:

— A revision to the streets and public places naming policy;

— Development of a citywide monument and commemorative marker policy;

— A review of demolition permit applications;

— Development of procedures to “de-list” historic properties;

— Development of code enforcement procedures for historic properties and districts;

— A revision to review procedures for historic district designation; and

— Establishment of additional historic districts, including the “Wedge,” Whitman Area, and West Slope neighborhoods.

“This doesn’t happen often,” said historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight this week. “I think it shows a heightened level of interest in historic preservation. The program is 30 to 35 years old. Since 2005, we haven’t made many updates at all. I think we can be much more detailed and focused.”

McKnight points to a busy year for historic preservation in 2008 as one reason for the policy work: the local advocacy group Historic Tacoma has asked City Hall to consider a demolition policy with an eye toward preserving and re-using older structures instead of sending building materials to landfills; representatives from the Wedge, Whitman, Old Town, and West Slope neighborhoods have expressed interests in creating historic districts; and some city councilmembers have asked McKnight to look at whether current policy adequately addresses naming public places and de-listing some properties.

“There are a lot of policy areas that we can always improve,” he adds. “Certain things we don’t have in our code presently that we have been asked to look at.”

Petty and McKnight are scheduled to make a presentation to City Council during a study session Jan. 13.