Opposing sides emerge in Wedge historic district nomination

For the past nine months, Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) meetings where commissioners discussed the proposed Wedge historic district have drawn the same core group of people.

The regulars include Jean Carter, Char Cooper, and Laurie Hunger — three Wedge residents who co-wrote the nomination and submitted it to City Hall last year; Diane Walkup — a Wedge resident who wants her property included in the district boundary; a trio of MultiCare Health System representatives who want the hospital’s properties excluded; and, ahem, the editor of a small legal newspaper.

That changed during a public hearing June 24. The people who jammed a conference room at City Hall during the meeting provided the first opportunity for landmarks commissioners to hear from people outside that core group. The hearing also brought the first sign that two camps are emerging over the issue: residents who support the proposal, and residents who do not.

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 it is ringed by Wright Park, the North Slope Historic District, and many of the city’s oldest churches.

According to historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight, in late-May approximately 600 postage-paid mailers were sent to Wedge property owners, residents, interested parties, and people who live near the proposed boundary in hopes of collecting feedback on the proposal. The mailer included a drawing of the district’s proposed boundaries and information about the public hearing.

The mailer also posed questions under three categories:

1. Please check the best choice below:

(a.) I own a home in the proposed historic district;

(b.) I rent a home in the proposed district;

(c.) I reside near the proposed area but not within the proposed boundaries;

(d.) Other.

2. Do you support the proposed historic district being established?

(a.) Yes

(b.) No

(c.) Neutral

(d.) I don’t have enough information

3. Additional comments for the Commission?*

*Additional comments may also be submitted in letter or e-mail form.

Materials from the June 24 meeting indicate 31 mailers were returned to City Hall.

Sixteen respondents own homes; 4 rent homes; 7 reside near the proposed district; and 3 are classified as “other.”

Twenty respondents support the plan; 5 oppose it; 1 is neutral; and 4 say they don’t have enough information.

Additional comments include the following:

— The alley between M Street and L Street is a natural boundary to keep the neighborhood intact;

— Creation of an historic district will be a big step forward for the Wedge;

— I would also like to see a historic district west of the North Slope;

— I own an apartment building in the district. Please take my building out of the historic district;

— Would upgrade of my building and land prices go up?

— We live in the North Slope Historic District and have appreciated the benefits of a historic district;

— I do not want to be a part of the historic district;

— This district is being requested by a small group of people with a personal agenda. I don’t want my home included in this district;

— I support this only if it involves South M Street;

— Long overdue. I totally support.

The meeting materials also included six letters of support and opposition. Here are those letters:

I. Mark Bardwil, Chair, North Slope Historic District Board of Directors

We enthusiastically endorse the creation of the Wedge Historic District with its proposed boundaries as Division Avenue to South M Street to Sixth Avenue, and to Sprague. The Wedge is a intact neighborhood of historic single and multi-family homes dating largely from the 1890s to the 1930s. It encompasses architectural gems such as Ambrose Russell’s 1906 chalet house (1318 S. 4th) and the 1927 Creso Court (1512 Sixth Avenue), a fine example of a bungalow court, as well as houses associated with early Tacoma leaders such as the Aaron Titlow house (410 S. Sheridan). The many buildings within the proposed boundaries meet the criteria for individual inclusion on the city’s historic register. However, listing the entire Wedge as a historic district will preserve another of Tacoma’s early streetcar neighborhoods.

Since the 1990s when the North Slope Historic District began to take shape, property owners from the Wedge neighborhood have discussed with us the possibility of a historic district there. Just as with our own neighborhood, we have long thought that a Wedge Historic District was the best way to prevent further demolition and encroachment there. We have met with and encouraged Wedge property owners to pursue that goal. We are very pleased to see that their hard work has finally come to completion. We urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to forward Wedge Historic District nomination on to the Planning Commission with a “do pass” recommendation.

II. Gregory M. Loy, Wedge resident

I am a resident of Tacoma. I purchased my home approximately 20 years ago and it has been my primary residence since. I am vehemently opposed to my home being included in the Wedge Historic District and would like to go on the record as such. If you have any questions or need further explanation you may contact me at the information below.

III. Michael and Gabrielle Scannell, Wedge property owners

This letter is in regards to the property we own in the proposed Wedge Historical District. I had the pleasure of meeting you and other attendees of the March 25th meeting that my husband and I attended. We were alerted of this meeting not by residential community members but rather by the offices of MultiCare. Since we don’t live at the property, a six-plex called the Stringfellow and originally known as the Nason, we may not have heard about this meeting, as the Wedge residents nor the City saw it necessary to notify all property owners/taxpayers about the proposal.

While we are very much in support of efforts and enthusiasm to celebrate Tacoma’s heritage and improve its future, and are certainly not against a historical district being established in the Wedge area, we are strongly against including our parcel in the confines of the district. We are currently in the designated Hospital/Medical zone and wish to retain that designation.

This property was purchased by my husband almost 20 years ago, as a commercial investment property, back when you couldn’t get a pizza delivered there and there wasn’t much appreciation for the area’s heritage as an historical residential community. As owners we have strived to retain our building’s character out of respect for its beauty and history, and will continue to maintain it as such. We feel that it is this kind of dedication to a property that allows for proposals such as this one. But we do not want our commercial investment, surrounded on three sides by MultiCare property, in a designated Hospital/Medical zone, to be included in this district.

IV. Rev. Dr. M. Lynn Smith?Henry, Congregation of Celts

I live within the Wedge and represent the Congregation of Celts.

I have been watching the events related to the meetings between the City of Tacoma and the minority of individuals in the Wedge who are advocating for an historic district.

Such districts represent an egregious and abusive disregard for the rights of property owners by taking away their ability to efficient[ly] and economically improve their property consonant with the most cherished of traditions of our society and as guaranteed under constitutional law.

There is no compelling history in this neighborhood which warrants such an historic district. The fact that one (possibly two) historic individual(s) lived in this neighborhood is not at all a justification for considering such a designation. Therefore, it would be hard to make a case that the “history” of the community would be jeopardized or credibly damaged by individual property owners making modifications to their properties within this neighborhood. The zoning is presently very restrictive — it was rezoned in the 1990s — and need not be more so.

The voice of the few should not be allowed to speak for the many. I urge the city to disapprove of this proposed district or make provisions for owners within the proposed district to “opt out.”

Should this district be approved, we will legally challenge the validity of such a district. Further, it appears from the meeting notice received via USPS that there are certain properties within the proposed district that will be granted exceptional provisions which amounts to unfair and unequal treatment. This is a bad idea. The City of Tacoma has other historical districts — aplenty in fact. We do not need another in a neighborhood which is at best a transition community between the North and South end and really does not have any significant history of which to speak.

Once again, I want to reiterate that this district is being promoted by a few individuals who have a personal agenda and who are not happy with the nearby presence of the MultiCare system and any possible expansion by them into the neighborhood. To keep any such expansion from happening, they are sadly willing to place financial burdens and restrictions on the properties of others in order to carry out their personal agendas. I want to go on record that I and my organization stringently oppose a creation of an historic district in this neighborhood. This is a sadly misguided effort with a few individuals who have a personal agendas and it should not be allowed to succeed.

V. Julie and Jay Turner, Wedge residents

As neighbors of the Wedge, we would like to support the nomination to form an historic district in that neighborhood. The structures represent an important part of the history of our city — an area where the builders and workers of Tacoma lived in the early years of our city. Please pass the nomination.

VI. Jonathan Phillips, North End Neighborhood Council

The purpose of my e-mail is to inform you of the North End Neighborhood Council Board’s enthusiastic support of the Wedge Neighborhood in their application to be designated as an Historic District.

A letter of support will reach you in the next two days, but I wanted to e-mail you so you would know of our support immediately. Please inform the Landmarks Preservation Commissioners of our support for this new Historic District in the North End Neighborhood.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

For earlier Index coverage of the Wedge Historic District nomination, click on the following links/articles:

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

8. Decision expected this week on preliminary Wedge Historic District boundary (03/24/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1514668&more=0

9. Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission sets ‘working boundary’ for Wedge Historic District (03/27/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1517636&more=0

10. A house in the city, a home to neighborhood history (04/16/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1529595&more=0 or http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_walkup_residence.pdf

11. Another opportunity to weigh in on Wedge historic district proposal (05/21/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1553879&more=0

12. Wedge Historic District public hearing June 24 (06/19/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1573389&more=0

13. Wedge residents share support for historic district during public hearing (06/25/09) — http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1576698&more=0

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

For coverage of the LPC’s walking tour of the neighborhood, visit http://i.feedtacoma.com/TDI-Reporters-Notebook/walking-wedge-photos-from-neighborhood/ .

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

For more information about the Wedge historic district, visit http://tacomaculture.org/wedge.asp .

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The Index has a blog. Visit us at http://i.feedtacoma.com/TDI-Reporters-Notebook/ .