Wedge historic district ordinance reaches Tacoma City Council May 10

After nearly three years of public meetings, discussions, and debate, Tacoma City Council is scheduled May 10 to hear the first reading of an ordinance that will create two overlay zoning districts — a historic district and a conservation district — in Tacoma’s Wedge neighborhood.

The current proposal (pictured right) included in the ordinance is different than the plan approved by Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission and Planning Commission. That plan called for four homes owned by MultiCare Health System to be part of the historic district. According to property records, the vacant homes, which sit in the shadow of MultiCare’s sprawling hospital campus, are located at 1216 South Fourth Street (built in 1925); 1218 South Fourth Street (built in 1923); 417 South M Street (built in 1905); and 407 South M Street (built in 1908). The homes are located in an area limited to residential use. MultiCare officials have written letters to City Hall asking that their homes be excluded from the proposed historic district and the boundary be re-drawn. The homes will be part of a conservation district instead of the historic district, as it was originally planned.

Similarly, a building located at 1521 Sixth Avenue and owned by Salvation Army of Tacoma was originally included in the historic district. The former motel, built in 1927 that now serves as the Salvation Army’s emergency lodge for 67 low-income people, will be part of a conservation district instead of the historic district, as it was originally planned. Salvation Army officials plan to expand the services offered on the site by demolishing the former lodge and building a new facility on an adjacent parcel.

Conservation districts have fewer property-use restrictions than historic districts.

Wedge neighborhood residents and property owners have been at odds for years over the MultiCare and Salvation Army properties. On Nov. 15, 2010, Tacoma City Council’s neighborhoods and housing committee could have made a final recommendation to the full council, but failed for the second time in three months to reach a consensus. During that meeting, the council committee worked through a variety of iterations for the proposed historic district and conservation district: leaving alone the district boundaries approved by the landmarks preservation commission and the planning commission, which includes MultiCare and Salvation Army properties; modifying the approved district boundaries by excluding MultiCare’s properties; and modifying the approved district boundaries by excluding Salvation Army’s properties.

The Wedge neighborhood, with its quaint homes and tree-lined streets, rests against MultiCare’s growing hospital campus. The proposal has worked its way through City Hall since June 2008, when three Wedge residents — Jean Carter, Char Cooper, and Laurie Hunger — submitted the historic district nomination to the city’s historic preservation office. According to the nomination, the Wedge neighborhood is an area 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.

The historic district nomination is partly aimed at preserving the neighborhood’s character and history in light of MultiCare’s decision to demolish a 90-year-old church to make way for new construction, as well as concern over future demolition and development.

During Tacoma City Council’s study session on Tues., April 5, councilmembers discussed the changes to the historic district and conservation district in the Wedge neighborhood. Here are some of their comments from that discussion.


Why I think this is here today is when this became before [Tacoma City Council’s] neighborhood[s] and housing committee for a do-pass recommendation, it did not achieve one. Many options were looked at and each one kind of came [to a] two-two, two-two, two-two [vote in favor or against]. And there was public comment held at that meeting. Furthermore, the planning commission began its review of the historic [district] on August 19, 2009, at which time I was the vice-chair of the planning commission. So I did get a kind of pre-look at this and pre-discussion. I then resigned from the planning commission before I was appointed to the city council, just to make sure everyone is clear.

After that meeting, it was pretty apparent, to me at least, that with some of the property owners, we’re not necessarily against the historic district or formation of the historic district. It was all coming down to the boundary map of where it was. And so having a day job which deals with these kind of issues, I did a sketch to look at another alternative and that was reviewed with representatives of the neighborhood, representatives from Salvation Army and representatives from MultiCare — and Councilmember [Victoria] Woodards has been part of that, helping to get dialogue, as well as Councilmember [Jake] Fey.

Basically, what it did was modify the historic district and actually made the historic district portion smaller, but made the conservation district larger — and it is all within the boundaries of the study area. So it did not go beyond the study area.

The [Salvation Army] lodge is . . . taken out of the historic district and put in the conservation district. The representatives from Salvation Army were concerned that they had different designations on their property. We met just last month with [a Salvation Army representative] and their architect and talked about the conservation district. What is interesting is their plans are to actually tear down the historic lodge because they need required parking for development that they would have on the adjoining parcel. It is not that they need the parking, it is that it is required parking for a facility that actually doesn’t require much parking due to the nature of their customers [and] clients, but because the city requires off-street parking for the development. That building is under pressure not for all the reasons we think a historic building should be under pressure, but actually from meeting our off-street parking requirements.

So while it grieves me to take it out of the historic district — it is a historic building, it can be listed and I think it has great potential to be renovated as a historic building, whether by the Salvation Army or someone else — that is the change along Sixth Avenue.

Over on M Street, and this is interesting, prior to it going to a public hearing last July, I circumnavigated, biking, each alley and street in the Wedge and I think what is really important is to understand that creating an historic district isn’t necessarily about putting a fence or perimeter around the pristine portions of the district. It is about protection of the greater district. And so when you go up and down those streets, you realize that most of those streets are under stress as far as the actual historic quality of them. I mean, Sheridan [Avenue] is beautiful but, you know, all the rest of them have pockets, have gaps, have portions that don’t even exist anymore. So looking at it architecturally, it is the alley between M Street and L Street that really, to me, is if you are going to protect the historic district, where you would put that. So that all becomes conservation district.

And you can see that little toe that sticks out is an important toe. It is the big toe, so to speak. There are a number of historic properties on there. They all could be listed. There is nothing that stops any structure from being listed, whether it is in the conservation district, historic district or just is. And so this looks at pulling that back to really get more consensus. Not happy consensus. I think I totally understand those members of people in the neighborhood who think it is really important to have the historic district over M Street. But this is just an alternative plan that I produced after that meeting to see if this might get more consensus. We did, like I said, meet with members of the Wedge neighborhood, who have been incredibly patient, as well as incredibly on-task, through these many [years].

And understand that it is not ideal for a historic district, but it does establish a historic district. And representatives from MultiCare who still have properties in the historic district with this boundary alternate, feel they can support it. Again, not with flying colors, but [they] are able to support it as an alternate boundary proposal.


I appreciate my colleagues taking further steps to try to understand better and bring more stuff to this. I just get a little concerned. We’ve got a battle going on in Old Town, a battle on the West Slope, lawsuits in the North Slope, and a battle going here. I am all supportive of creating these [historic district], but it seems like every time we start creating these, we get battles going and I know we will get those from people who support and oppose and I don’t have an answer. Old Town is becoming a huge battle, getting a lot of response. West Slope is a huge battle going on to create an historic district or conservation district. I hate to use Jake’s favorite “M word” — moratorium. I don’t want to propose that. But it is almost like, “Do we need to sit back and take a look at what we’re doing here?” We have neighborhoods battling over this stuff and it seems like that is not the way it is supposed to be. What we’re doing is creating these battles and I am getting a little goosey as we move forward on this stuff as we have all these battles we’re creating.


This has been on hold for a while to see whether we could find a way where the different parties could be — at least most of them could be satisfied, not perfectly satisfied, but reasonably satisfied with the outcome. And I think that is kind of a good thing for us to be doing, to make sure that in our public policy decisions, we try to create some kind of middle ground when we can, that residents in the area can support. [Councilmember Spiro Manthou] mentioned the potential historic district in Old Town that is before us and about whether we need to get a better handle on that. And I think the way to get a better handle on those things is what we have before us — going through the planning commission, the preservation ordinance and if we want to make changes to process and requirements and that type of thing, I think that’s the place to do it. So rather than delaying this because we’re not necessarily comfortable with maybe the ordinances we have now, it is what the Wedge community had to work with and I think for all parties who participated in the planning process, we can’t go back and change the rules on them.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The Tacoma Daily Index has covered the Wedge historic district nomination since the application was submitted to City Hall nearly three years ago. The Index has published dozens of articles about the issue, including interviews with the authors of the nomination and residents in the neighborhood, public testimony of people who support or oppose the nomination, and photographs of a walking tour of the neighborhood with Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. To read the articles, click on the following links:

Nearly 3 years later, Wedge Historic District decision still looms (04/05/11) —

Tacoma City Council to discuss Wedge Historic District proposal April 5 (04/01/11) —

Tacoma City Council committee defers decision on Wedge historic district proposal (11/18/10) —

City Council committee wants more discussion of Wedge historic district boundary (08/10/10) —

Boundaries, properties disputed in Wedge Historic District proposal (07/23/10) —

A House in the City, A Home to Neighborhood History: One resident’s connection to Tacoma’s storied Wedge area (04/16/09) —

SEPT. 5, 2008 – MARCH 27, 2009 (PART ONE) —

APRIL 16, 2009 – MARCH 10, 2010 (PART TWO) —

MARCH 24, 2010 – JUNE 17, 2010 (PART THREE) —