Old Town Tacoma historic district nomination appears defeated

An effort to designate Old Town Tacoma a historic district appears to be quashed.

According to a postcard survey conducted last month by the City of Tacoma and mailed to property owners in the proposed historic district boundaries, 40 per cent of the respondents opposed the historic district nomination. The strongest opposition came from 124 home owners who opposed the plan, compared to 28 home owners who supported the plan. A staff report prepared by historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight shows that postcard surveys were mailed to 402 home owners, business owners, and nearby property owners, and the city received 171 responses. “Staff recommends that the Landmarks Preservation Commission table the proposal with no further action,” wrote McKnight in the staff report. Still, the commission could recommend submitting the nomination to the Washington Heritage Register, which “is honorary and has no effect on property rights or gaining City permits,” noted McKnight. Supporters could also submit a “thematic” nomination to the commission that would allow individual property owners in the neighborhood to nominate their individual properties to the city’s historic register.

Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission will discuss the Old Town Tacoma historic district nomination at its meeting on Weds., June 22 at 5 p.m. at 747 Market St., Tacoma Municipal Building, Room 248. Copies of the agenda and meeting materials are online here http://cms.cityoftacoma.org/cedd/TacomaCulture/Historic/2011/documents/LPC_Packet_062211.pdf .

A nomination prepared by Kathy Ursich was submitted to City Hall on Sept. 15, 2009. It included a six-page petition signed by 115 residential property owners or renters in the area who supported the plan. It also included a Dec. 8 letter of support from the North End Neighborhood Council. The nomination excluded Old Town’s business district and commercial properties located in the zoned “C-2 commercial” area from the proposed historic district overlay in the hopes it would be enough to attain approval.

“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 their letter of support. “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.”

Earlier this year, a citizens group formed to oppose the nomination. 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” argued 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 per cent 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.”

Several unsuccessful efforts have been made over the past 35 years to create a historic district in Old Town. 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.

“Well the results were what I expected,” said Ursich in an e-mail to the Tacoma Daily Index on June 16. “We just had too much opposition.”

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

Door-to-door letter campaign drives Old Town Tacoma historic district debate (04/19/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1960916&more=0

Postcard survey will likely decide Old Town Tacoma historic district issue (04/14/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1958901&more=0

More signatures gathered in opposition to Old Town Tacoma historic district (04/11/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1956166&more=0

Group forms to oppose Old Town Tacoma historic district proposal (04/07/11) — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1954778&more=0

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