A Conservation District to Preserve Lack of Density?

A conservation district for the West Slope Neighborhood is among the issues being reviewed for the 2015 Annual Amendment to Tacoma's Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Code. We wrote about this last spring when residents took the idea to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Since then the application has been approved by the Planning Commission for further review. Over the coming months City staff will continue the review process, including a public outreach process and technical analysis.

The Westslope Neighborhood Coalition requested a conservation district to protect the character and views in the neighborhood of single-family residences.

The purpose of the proposal is to preserve and protect the distinctive character of the area and to protect the neighborhood from unnecessary demolition, inappropriate new construction, and inappropriate additions. 

The West Slope Neighborhood consists of four plats originally laid out in 1941, with about 280 homes built primarily in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. The homes are predominantly two stories (one full story plus a daylight basement), accessed at grade from the upper street, with lots laid out to maximize views. The original developer established covenants restricting design and construction of homes within the plats. Difficulties enforcing these covenants have led neighbors to court to settle disputes, and the neighborhood coalition to pursue becoming an officially recognized district.

Different from a historic district, a conservation district would require City approval of new construction, demolitions, and additions to existing buildings. Guidelines could be established for things like site planning, building height and design, subdivision of lots, trees and vegetation, etc. As a conservation district, rather than a historic district, review would not be required for smaller changes like windows or siding. 

It's an interesting time to think about protecting a low-density development pattern - the proposal appears on the list of possible amendments alongside other planning conversations focused on increasing density and accomodating future growth. Depending on your perspective, it could be viewed as either antithetical to those plans, or an appropriately-timed move to protect a neighborhood that could otherwise see significant alterations as pressure for greater density grows.

Along with protecting neighborhood character and views there's the question of whether the midcentury development is something we as a city want to protect. We will continue to see low-density development in other parts of the county, but that kind of development on a neighborhood-wide scale in Tacoma is less likely. And the low-slung, midcentury architecture, though not what we may be used to thinking of as historic, is characteristic of an era that is now half a century in the past.

Tacoma isn't alone in considering these questions. Cities around the U.S. and Canada have declared conservation districts to protect midcentury neighborhoods, and Seattle has been looking at neighborhood conservation districts as a tool for protecting neighborhood character.

If we're going to encourage density and infill development, do we also want to think about corresponding protections for lack of density?

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What precipitated this?  Isn’t there enough view-sensitive zoning and single-family only designation in the code for the West Slope?  The addition of a conservation district seems a little overkill to me, but maybe there’s something I’m missing.

December 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Again, no reason the City should be brought in to a bunch of property owner’s dispute over covenants.  It is like inheriting a lawsuit.  We already have height restrictions and they want them to minuscule levels to cover the covenants via the conservation district.  This City is posed for growth, not suburbia.

December 29, 2014 at 7:28 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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There’s a place for multi-level trailer parks and taco trucks, and this ain’t it.

December 30, 2014 at 8:36 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I believe that we are expecting population growth for various reasons including a explosion of future climate change refugees.Tacoma will be facing huge population growth probably much greater by far than predicted.Unfortunately we have to adapt in order to survive.We are like astronauts on Spaceship Earth except we are on one with a big problem like Apollo 13.We humans collectively are in a lot of trouble due to our unsustainable lifestyles and unless there are drastic changes quickly we won’t survive and will make the anthropocene extinction event a reality much sooner.We can delay the collapse of human civilization with changes.

I don’t think it fair or equitable for the wealthy or even the upper or lower middle class to be exempt so this proposal to protect this obsolete model is counter to sustainability.It’s the wealthy and the big upper middle class consumers whom are more responsible for this anthropogenic CO2 problem (due to greed) when humanity and most species are facing extinction due to excessively extravagant lifestyles.Capitalism proves itself eventually to be a model for disaster like the fall of the Roman Empire,ancient Greek civilization,the Maya,Mesopotamia etc.
In other words conservation of this area should be rejected.

When we densify populations the Tacoma automobile centric form of transportation should be phased out as well otherwise traffic will be impossibly gridlocked as currently it’s already bad to say the least.Don’t believe me well look at the now more densified mixed use areas.Motor Vehicles are clogging up that area.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the personal motor vehicle (environmentally unsustainable)  just has to be phased out just like the tobacco cigarette.There are substitutes so those whom adapt will survive.Tacoma will have to eventually become mostly a Car Free city.The Auto centric transportation model won’t work in the future.Los Angeles currently exemplifies the issues like a woman whom takes 2 hours in a car to travel 4 miles in gridlocked rush hour traffic (wasting valuable fuels and polluting CO2!)  whereas a active travel cyclist could do so in 20 minutes.When everyone owns/drives a car in a densified area no one will get anywhere.Take the emissions angle and it’s a huge environmental disaster too.

January 4, 2015 at 10:02 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Whether or not the West Slope Neighborhood of Tacoma is the last refuge for Western Civilization is a closed question. Where else in Tacoma should one expect philosopher-kings to preside over the surrounding city-states?

Beyond a reasonable doubt, the West Kingdom has already forged a contingency plan to deal with the invading bus loads of climate-change barbarians. Furthermore, does anyone really believe that the increase in city-wide bicycle paths and mid-block crosswalks were constructed for wealthy princes?

Connect the dots. Sleeper cell radicals inhabit all the charted districts in Tacoma. Many Tacoma politicians manage to retire rich even though they were paid modest salaries while in office. Ever heard of the notion called influence peddling?

January 5, 2015 at 6:51 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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