Group forms to oppose Old Town Tacoma historic district proposal

A citizens group has formed to oppose a nomination to designate Old Town Tacoma a historic district. In a March...

A citizens group has formed to oppose a nomination to designate Old Town Tacoma a historic district.

In a March 25 letter to Tacoma’s planning commission and city council, a group calling itself “Old Tacoma Boosters and Citizens Opposed To Creation of an Old Tacoma Historic District” and “Homeowners Committee Opposed to Historic Designation” argues 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.

“Old Town is a great place to live and we want to keep it that way,” wrote the group in its letter. “But we also want the ability and flexibility to remodel and improve without governmental intervention or operation by committee.” Included with the letter was a petition containing over 150 signatures from property owners who oppose the plan. “Only four volunteers obtained these signatures in two days with only 25 percent of homeowners being home to answer the door. We will continue our boots on the pavement petition drive and provide additional petitions showing opposition by over two-thirds of homeowners in Old Town.”

Although Old Town dates back to the 1860s and is Tacoma’s oldest neighborhood, several unsuccessful efforts have been made over the past 35 years to establish the special review district overlay zoning to designate it an historic district.

In 1974, the Old Tacoma Improvement Club sought the designation after conducting a survey that showed support. However, the plan was quashed when commercial property owners opposed it.

In the early 1990s, residents again attempted to seek the historic district designation. The request was reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission, but was tabled by City Council, which “directed the historic preservation officer to redo the design review component so that property owners could more easily determine the architectural requirements for future development,” according to the current historic district nomination, which was prepared by Kathy P. Ursich and submitted to City Hall on Sept. 15, 2009. Also, commercial property owners opposed being included within the boundaries of the proposed historic district.

The current nomination excludes Old Town’s business district and commercial properties located in the zoned “C-2 commercial” area. Proponents hope this will be enough to attain approval.

The current nomination includes a six-page petition signed by 115 residential property owners or renters in the area who support the plan. It also includes a letter from the North End Neighborhood Council supporting the plan. “Old Town is the oldest neighborhood in Tacoma, and while Tacoma has several historic districts, the oldest neighborhood is not one of them” wrote Kyle Price, North End Neighborhood Council Membership Secretary, and Jonathan Phillips, North End Neighborhood Council Chair, in that letter. “There have been previous attempts to form an historic district in Old Town, but those attempts have not been successful, in part because they included the Old Town Business District. This time, the historic district plan to exclude the business district from the boundary.”

The proposed boundaries stretch from North 31st Street, south along North Junett Street to North 29th Street, west to North Carr Street, and south along Carr Street (including both sides of Carr) to Yakima. The southern boundary continues west along Tacoma Avenue North to North 11th Street before returning to North 30th Street. The area 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: St. Peter’s Church, 2910 North Starr Street (1873); Slavonian Hall, 2306 North 30th Street (1907); Seamen’s Rest, 2802 North Carr Street (1883); Starr Street Houses, 2721, 2723, 2801, 2803 North Starr Street (1906); and Olof Carlson House, 1116 North 26th Street (1899).

In its March 25 letter, the opposition group specifically listed the following reasons for objecting to the historic district nomination (published verbatim here):

— “The creation of the district would severely limit our ability to modify, remodel, put an addition on, or even replace a window on our homes. 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. We feel this will be a huge hurdle to improving our home. The municipal code states that, in a historic district, the city’s landmark preservation commission must approve any modifications to the exterior of a home, including something as simple as a window replacement. “

— “If we wished to demolish our home in order to build a new one, we would most likely be precluded from doing so if it lies within the new historic district boundary. We strongly object to this. Many homes need to be replaced.”

— “We are not opposed to historic preservation per se. ‘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. We like it that way. The few structures which may be architecturally significant can be nominated as historic structures without restricting the entire district.”

In December, the Landmarks Preservation Commission adopted a schedule that includes notifying property owners in the affected area, touring the neighborhood, and holding a series of public meetings to review proposed boundaries for the district and determine the neighborhood’s historic significance. Last month, the commission conducted a walking tour of the neighborhood. In addition to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the proposal will be reviewed by the Planning Commission and Tacoma City Council.

For more information, visit http://www.tacomaculture.org/historic .

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier photo caption accompanying this story noted the historically significant Job Carr Museum building was established in 1865. Although the museum is indeed historically significant, and Carr himself settled in his cabin in 1865, it was not clear to readers that the building is a replica that was constructed in 2000.

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DATE: March 25, 2011

TO: Tacoma Planning Commission and The Tacoma City Council

FROM: Homeowners Committee Opposed to Historic Designation

We are a group of homeowners who reside within the boundaries of the proposed 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 the 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 severely limit our ability to modify, remodel, put an addition on, or even replace a window on our homes. 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. We feel this will be a huge hurdle to improving our home. The municipal code states that, in a historic district, the city’s landmark preservation commission must approve any modifications to the exterior of a home, including something as simple as a window replacement.

2. If we wished to demolish our home in order to build a new one, we would most likely be precluded from doing so if it lies within the new historic district boundary. We strongly object to this. Many homes need to be replaced.

3. We are not opposed to historic preservation per se. “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. We like it that way. 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. Attached is a petition containing over 150 signatures in opposition. Only four volunteers obtained these signatures in two days with only 25 percent of homeowners being home to answer the door. We will continue our boots on the pavement petition drive and provide additional petitions showing opposition by over two thirds of homeowners in Old Town.

We are confident that the Planning Commission and City Council will recognize that, absent strong community support (for which there is not) this proposed designation cannot move forward.

Sincerely,

Old Tacoma Boosters and Citizens Opposed To Creation of an Old Tacoma Historic District

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

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

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