After nearly three years of tweaked proposals, public meetings and dueling opinions, the neighborhood known as the “Wedge” appears headed for city Historic District status.
Or at least part of it does, as the Tacoma City Council is poised to finally take a vote on a compromised measure that seeks to protect the historic character of most homes at the neighborhood’s core.
But the newly proposed boundaries for the neighborhood’s Historic District soon to be considered by the council do not contain several properties on the neighborhood’s fringes, including homes owned by MultiCare Health System and the Salvation Army’s aging bungalow-style “Family Lodge.”
“The historic significance of the neighborhood is really quite important,” Councilwoman Lauren Walker said Tuesday. “I’d like to see that historic significance maintained … instead of having it all fall apart and not move forward.”
Not all Wedge residents are happy about the proposed compromise.
“I’m disappointed,” said Diane E. Walkup, a neighborhood resident for 26 years. “I may be naive, but I would hope that facts and testimony can be presented right up til the final vote. But I feel things are decided before the final vote.”
No formal council vote has yet been scheduled. But on Tuesday, after the city’s historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight updated the council on a long process that has failed to reach a consensus for the proposed district’s boundaries, the council agreed to move ahead to formally consider the new option.
Drafted by Councilman David Boe, the new alternative removes the Salvation Army and Multi-Care properties from a proposal recommended by the city’s Planning Commission, instead placing them into a less restricted Conservation District just outside of the historic zone.
Representatives for both nonprofits had raised concerns about how land use restrictions under the city’s Historic District designation would affect future use of their properties. Several other properties, including two churches, already were proposed to be sited in Conservation Districts outside of the recommended Historic District.
“Basically, what (the new proposal) did was modify (the recommendation) and actually made the Historic District smaller, but the Conservation District larger,” Boe said.
Both nonprofits and neighborhood residents have expressed at least moderate support for the new alternative, Boe added.
“We support the council’s suggestions,” Marce Edwards, a spokeswoman for MultiCare, said Tuesday. “We have no plans for the properties, but we like to reserve our option for future growth. We have no plans, but someday we might have plans.”
But Walkup, whose Wedge residence on South M Street is surrounded by vacant houses owned by Multicare, said the health care company actually bought three of its four properties within the proposed Historic District’s study area 13 years after a 1990 city council zoning change that sought to protect the dwindling residential neighborhood from encroachment.
“It’s supposed to be a residential area,” she said, noting that she’s tried to work with MultiCare over the years to reach a mutually beneficially relationship. “It’s not supposed to be a hospital speculation zone.”
Sandwiched between the Hilltop and the North Slope neighborhoods, the triangular neighborhood known as the “Wedge” mostly consists of early 20th Century homes, including the Titlow Mansion and the J.C. Todd House on South Sheridan Street. Through the years, development – primarily expansion of the MultiCare campus – has devoured nearby residences.
In June 2008, Wedge residents requested the city consider Historic District status for the area enclosed within Division Avenue, Sixth Avenue and South L Street.
Such status seeks to protect designated properties by adopting specific design guidelines, requiring design approvals for certain changes to historic properties and discouraging demolition. Meanwhile, less restrictive Conservation Districts merely require approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission for demolitions and new construction design.
The landmarks commission held 14 meetings on the proposed district from 2008 to 2009, before issuing a recommendation to the Planning Commission. In 2010, that commission approved a modified proposal to the city council. The council’s Neighborhoods and Housing Committee then took up the issue, reviewing several proposals, but failing to identify a preferred one.
A city post-card survey of the Wedge’s property owners show mixed support for the historic district from respondents, with 20 in favor and 13 opposed, McKnight said.
If approved, the Wedge would join the North Slope as the only residential neighborhoods in Tacoma to obtain Historic District status.