More signatures gathered in opposition to Old Town Tacoma historic district

A citizens group has submitted more signatures from people who claim to oppose a plan to designate Old Town Tacoma a historic district.

On Thursday, the Tacoma Daily Index was first to report 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” is 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 (“Group forms to oppose Old Town Tacoma historic district proposal,” TDI, 04/07/11 — ).

“Old Town is a great place to live and we want to keep it that way,” wrote the group, which is chaired by William R. Kellis, in a March 25 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 approximately 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.”

Since then, a second letter, dated April 4 and sent to Tacoma’s historic preservation officer, notes 69 more people have signed the petition in opposition. “The total now comes to 213 residents in opposition to the designation,” wrote the group in the April 4 letter. “We are hopeful that these additional signatures will be sufficient to convince the Landmarks Preservation Commission that this proposal does not have community support, and that the proposal should be withdrawn. If that is not the case, our next goal will be to get another 50 signatures on the petition combined with a huge turnout and outcry from the community at the commission meeting on the 27th of April.”

The group first voiced its concern during a public meeting March 23.

“At that meeting, significant concern/opposition to the proposed designation was expressed by property owners and residents,” writes historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight in a staff report prepared for the Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting on Weds., April 13 ( ). “There is no legal ‘standing’ given to a petition within the historic preservation ordinance within considerations of historic district designation. Because the means and methods of distribution of a petition are not known, nor is it known how the petition is presented to potential signatories (for instance, whether the information given with the petition is accurate), petitions should not be mistaken for or used in lieu of a deliberative process. However, a petition can give the commission a sense of public opinion or interest in a particular matter. The petition submitted to the City in 2009 in support of the Old Town Historic District proposal was intended to demonstrate that there is significant public interest in consideration of a district designation. Likewise, the petitions submitted in opposition to the designation in 2011 should be taken to show significant opposition to such a proposal.”

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 a 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 most recent nomination prepared by Kathy P. Ursich and submitted to City Hall on Sept. 15, 2009 (“Residents again seek historic district designation for Old Town Tacoma,” TDI, 12/06/10 — . 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 from the proposed historic district overlay. Proponents hope this will be enough to attain approval. The nomination also includes a six-page petition signed by more than 100 residential property owners or renters in the area who support the plan. It also includes a Dec. 8, 2008 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” write Kyle Price, North End Neighborhood Council Membership Secretary, and Jonathan Phillips, North End Neighborhood Council Chair. “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 would 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 the staff report for this week’s meeting, McKnight compared the petition submitted in 2009 supporting the historic district proposal and the petitions submitted in March and April opposing the plan. “[P]ersons representing 34 percent of the affected area have signed a petition in opposition in 2011,” notes McKnight. “In 2008, persons representing 17 percent of property owners signed a petition in support of the proposal. Twenty-two individuals have signed both petitions, which could be interpreted to mean that some of these individuals have changed their minds, or that some did not understand the intended effect of one or both of the petitions, or a combination of the two.

“In summary, it is clear that there is significant organized opposition to the historic district proposal, at least as it has been presented by the signature gatherers,” adds McKnight. “Nonetheless, it is also clear that there is some support for the concept, although because the bulk of the signatures were gathered in 2008 and because there has not been a concerted effort to generate support for the district, it is unknown to what extent these numbers represent actual support for the district.”

McKnight notes the commission could take a number of steps: it could be “tabled indefinitely or denied with no further review; it may be tabled for a specific period of time to allow further information gathering, or the commission may proceed with its review of the proposal.”

“The principal question before the commission is whether, given the community feedback submitted to date, there is additional information regarding public opinion needed by the commission to determine its next steps,” notes McKnight.

On Weds., April 13, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled to discuss the issue. The following comments were received by the City of Tacoma’s historic preservation officer, Reuben McKnight, between March 23, 2011 and April 6, 2011. They were included in a packet of materials prepared for this week’s commission meeting. For a copy of the agenda, staff report, and meeting materials, visit .


Dear Mr. McKnight:

Thank you for the information you so kindly provided at the Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting last night. It was very interesting. The homeowners who are in opposition, however, are very disappointed that, in spite of a petition with over 144 signatures in opposition to the designation, and in spite of the public outcry at the meeting, the City does not see the writing on the wall and seems intent on continuing the process. Until we hear otherwise, we will have to assume that this historic district designation process is going forward.

As a result, we will continue our petition drive over the course of the next two weeks. We currently have 162 signatures of property owners inside the boundaries of the proposed district who are opposed to the formation of the historic district. We are confident that, by the first week of April, we will have close to 225 signatures on the petition, representing 75 percent of homeowners in the proposed district. Our opposition group is highly organized now, and currently have 130 e-mail addresses of residents opposed to the designation. If and when the need arises, we will commence mass e-mailings to all of our planning commission members as well as all of our elected officials.

We firmly believe that this proposal is dead on arrival as soon as it reaches the political arena, and frankly cannot understand why the City would expend the time, effort and taxpayer monies to continue the process when there is so little community support for it. At this time, we would like to formally request that the City of Tacoma Department of Historic Preservation withdraw the request to establish an Old Tacoma Residential Historic District based on the lack of community support. If this decision cannot be made within the Department, we would like to request that, in view of the lack of community support, the Tacoma City Council direct the Department of Historic Preservation to withdraw the request.


Please include my strong opposition to the proposed Historic District designation. I own the properties at 2313 and 2319 N. 29th St. in Old Town. Home owners in this neighborhood are awfully curious as to who initiated this idea . . . The City of Tacoma?


We are opposed to Old Town becoming an Historical District at this time. I was at the informational meeting on March 23. I have read the nomination document for Old Town and most other documents on the site . We have lived in Old town for 16 years at the same address. Our house is in the proposed area and cited in the nomination document on at least three pages. Our house was gutted and rebuild [sic] in 1987 to resemble a 1890s Queen Anne Victorian, not a normal style for this area, a pretty house but nothing like the orginal style of house it was when it was part of the 3 sisters, 3 houses of the same style in this block. I signed the petition in 2008 as did a number of folks who own houses here. We wanted the proposal to go forward so we could learn more and evaluate its merits. We now are oppsoed to this area being declared an historical district. In addition, I am a block watch coordinator for Old Town. Due to my contacts with many local residents within the proposed area, I can assure you that the number of owners opposed to the petition is quite high. You should be receiving more letters.

I guess what we object to the most as a community is that the Landmarks Commission and perhaps the Planning Commission and eventually the City Council don’t appear to have some fair way to tabulate the vote of the property owners of every residence in the proposed district. In effect, a straw vote by postcard. I think now is the time for someone to start recording every letter received about this and tabulating them by address and name. Now is the time to send those post cards to every registered owner asking them to vote for or against this after they become informed on the merits and demerits of the case. Now is the time to establish a streamlined protocol for registering a comment such as this.

We are both opposed to an Old Town Historical District at this time.


We oppose the proposed historic district designation for further regulations upon the Old Town Historical District. We would like our position on this matter to be recorded with the City of Tacoma.


I want to make sure my strong opposition to the proposed historic district designation for the Old Town Historical District is recorded with the City of Tacoma. I am adamantly opposed to any further regulations or designations for our neighborhood in regards to a historical district.


We received the “Proposed Historic District in the Old Town Neighborhood” letter because we are property owners in the proposed district. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the public information session today, 3/23/11, so we would like to submit our concerns via e-mail. We own an undeveloped piece of property on North 31st Street, parcel #8910000140. Our parcel is in the first complete block east of the excluded business and C2 Commercial Zone. As stated, this proposal’s intent is to preserve existing historic homes and maintain the historically compatible character of the neighborhood by requiring a design review for new and remodeled homes. We would like to request the 2600 block of North 31st Street be exempt from the proposed residential historic district due to the fact that this block does not have any historic value to protect. Currently, there are seven homes along this block, with only one possibly meeting the definition of having any historic value. As recorded in the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer epip the seven homes on this block were built in the following years: 1925 (remodeled 1980), 1998 ,1984, 1980, 2003, 2005, and 1979 (remodeled 1982). All these homes were built with the style of the era they were constructed. It would be and extra, unnecessary burden for new construction in this block to meet a “character” that does not exist in the immediate neighborhood. We ask that you please take our comments into consideration and personally visit this area to verify for yourself that this is not an unrealistic request. We would appreciate a response to our request and will definitely attend the next public information session, April 27, 2011.

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

Group forms to oppose Old Town Tacoma historic district proposal (04/07/11) —

Landmarks Preservation Commission will tour proposed Old Town Tacoma historic district (03/15/11) —

**UPDATE** Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting canceled (02/23/11) —

Landmarks Preservation Commission will tour proposed Old Town Tacoma historic district (02/22/11) —

Historic Aspirations: Is 2011 the year Old Town Tacoma becomes an historic district? (01/26/11) —

Residents again seek historic district designation for Old Town Tacoma (12/06/10) —