The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation (LPC) Commission is expected this week to move closer to a decision regarding a proposed historic district in the city’s Wedge neighborhood.
During its meeting March 25, the LPC will select a preferred alternative for the historic district boundaries, and release the information for public comment at upcoming meetings.
“I’m asking the commission to settle on the district boundaries we go public with,” said Tacoma Historic Preservation Officer Reuben McKnight during an interview Tuesday. “Put a proposed district out there for public hearing testimony. Based on that, issue the observations and findings, and then make recommendations. The preferred alternative is the public document — settle on a preliminary set of what we are defining and what the public can respond to.”
If approved, the proposed district would stretch north to south from Division Avenue to Sixth Avenue, and zig-zag in several places along the eastern border: the alley between South L Street and South M Street; the alley between South M Street and South Sheridan Avenue; and a portion of South M Street near Sixth Avenue (see map).
Based on subsequent public comment, the LPC is expected to make a final decision on district boundaries May 13.
— TWO KEY RECOMMENDATIONS —
In a memo outlining boundary recommendations and prepared by McKnight for Wednesday’s meeting, two important issues surrounding what to exclude and include are highlighted.
First, the designation would exclude a row of homes along the 500 block of South L Street. According to the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Web site, the block includes nine homes owned by five different individual owners. The homes date back between 1890 and 1906. Earlier this year, Paul Post, who owns four homes on the block, told the LPC that he and other owners opposed the historic district nomination if it included the block.
Similarly, MultiCare Health System, which operates a large medical campus that borders the block, wrote a letter (available here — http://www.wahmee.com/docs/multicare_letter_020209.pdf ) to the commission arguing the 500 block of South L Street should be left out of the Wedge Historic District since “it is apparent that the owners of the majority of the properties therein are absentee/investor owners and do not wish their properties to be a part of the Historic District.”
In the memo, McKnight recommends excluding the houses because of the opposition and its disconnect from the rest of the neighborhood. “The commission can reasonably expect that a majority of owners will oppose the nomination,” writes McKnight. “[T]his block is isolated from the core district, making it difficult to rationally connect with the core district.”
Second, the recommended alternative would include a block bordered by South 4th and South M Streets. Four homes on that block are owned by MultiCare: three are vacant, and another is leased to a single family. The homes are located at 1216 So. 4th St. (built in 1925); 1218 So. 4th St. (built in 1923); 417 So. M St. (built in 1905); and 407 So. M St. (built in 1908). The block also includes three other homes not owned by MultiCare. One resident, Diane Walkup, owns two homes on the block and has strongly supported the historic district designation.
Last month, MultiCare asked that the four heritage homes be excluded from the proposed district boundary. In a Feb. 2 letter from MultiCare to the LPC, MultiCare Senior Vice President of Community Services Lois Bernstein expressed the hospital’s “concerns about the Wedge Historic District application, its boundaries, and its potential impact on our long-term ability to continue to respond to the growing health care needs of the region.
“It is our position that the Wedge Historic District should follow current zoning boundaries and exclude any MultiCare-owned properties,” added Bernstein. “As such, we believe the Wedge Historic District should not include any areas that are currently zoned as Hospital Medical and should also be redrawn so as not to include any MultiCare-owned properties.”
But in his memo, McKnight recommends including the homes. “MultiCare’s stated position is that it does not want properties within its ownership included in the district. However, the subject properties are also predominantly historically intact.”
— A NEIGHBORHOOD SLICE OF HISTORY —
The Wedge neighborhood is a part 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 its ringed by Wright Park, the North Slope Historic District, and many of the city’s oldest churches.
On June 27, the Tacoma Wedge Association Historic Subcommittee submitted an application to McKnight seeking historic district designation for the area. Though the neighborhood is zoned for residential use (R2SRD — Residential Special Review District), the nomination aims to further preserve the neighborhood’s character and history, and prevent any unforeseen instances similar to the demolition of nearby First United Methodist Church. Three years ago, the congregation sold its 1916 church building to MultiCare for $8 million; it was later demolished to make room for a hospital expansion. The building was located one block from the Wedge neighborhood’s eastern border.
According to a cover letter prepared by the subcommittee and included with the application, the group is requesting district status for residential properties, and has asked that commercial and non-residential buildings be excluded should the area receive the designation.
“We believe that the Wedge area has historic relevance and should be considered to have merit in the establishment of a Tacoma Wedge Historical District,” the letter states.
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).
In 1999, an effort to create a historic district in the city’s Old Town neighborhood failed after some homeowners feared the designation would limit their abilities to modify or develop their properties.
In 2007, a small group of homeowners in the city’s Whitman area began an effort to create a historic district in their neighborhood (see Tacoma Daily Index, “Status Seekers,” 07/03/07 — http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_status_seekers.pdf ).
Last year, Historic Tacoma, a non-profit organization that aims to preserve Tacoma’s architectural legacy through education and advocacy, included the Wedge neighborhood in its list of nine architecturally, culturally and historically significant sites on a “Watch List” of endangered historic properties.
— A LONG REVIEW PROCESS —
The LPC began to review the nomination Sept. 10. Since then, the commission has held a series of public meetings to discuss several elements of the application, such as district boundaries, buildings inventory, and the neighborhood’s historic significance.
The process is expected to continue through July. The city’s planning commission will also review the request. On March 4, commissioners met Wedge residents, property owners, and MultiCare officials for a walking tour of the neighborhood. The LPC will conduct a public opinion survey of Wedge property owners May 27 to gauge support or opposition of the plan. It will also host a public hearing June 24 before making a final decision July 22.
The LPC will discuss the Wedge Historic District boundary during its meeting Weds., March 25 at 5:00 p.m. The meeting will be held at 728 St. Helens, Tacoma Municipal Building North, Room 16. For more information, visit http://www.tacomaculture.org/historic/home.asp .
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For earlier Index coverage of the Wedge Historic District nomination, read the following articles online:
1. Will Tacoma’s Wedge neighborhood go historic? (09/05/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1318920&more=0
2. A Slice of History: Two meetings will explore Wedge historic district nomination (09/23/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1355266&more=0
3. MultiCare, Wedge residents discuss hospital expansion, historic district effort (10/02/08) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1385425&more=0
4. MultiCare weighs in on Wedge historic district nomination (02/09/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1485714&more=0
5. Big decision ahead for proposed Wedge historic district (02/11/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1487900&more=0
6. New timeline for Wedge historic district review (02/18/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1491340&more=0
7. A Hike through History (03/05/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1502432&more=0
On March 4, the LPC went on a walking tour of the Wedge neighborhood. For photos from the tour, visit the Index’s blog at http://i.feedtacoma.com/TDI-Reporters-Notebook/walking-wedge-photos-from-neighborhood/ .
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The Index has a blog. Visit us at http://i.feedtacoma.com/TDI-Reporters-Notebook/