Exit133 is about Tacoma
Tacoma Historic Preservation and Old City Hall
The situation at Tacoma’s Old City Hall has become as stagnant as the water rotting its wallboard (in case you missed the story, here’s everything you need to know). Aside from a conversation at yesterday’s City Council study session and reports of Tacoma Public Utility workers entering the building today, we seem no closer to comforting answers.
Two things are perfectly clear: 1. Money is probably not going to fall out of the sky, and 2. the City’s efforts to revise its approach to historic preservation – underway since the fall of the Luzon building – will be completed too far in the future to address the current neglect of Old City Hall.
At Exit133, we were curious about the changes being discussed for Tacoma’s Historic Preservation program. So, with a little digging through council commission report records, we uncovered some answers. On November 17th, the Planning Commission met to discuss public feedback on the proposed Historic Preservation Plan, which they had reviewed in conjunction with the Landmarks Preservation Commission in September. The meeting summary can be found here.. These changes will be applied to the 2006 Culture and History Element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The changes are intended to go into force in 2011.
For your convenience, we have posted below excerpts of the recommended code changes and the public comment.
The item to watch will be “prevention of demolition by neglect.” It is obvious – especially now – that prospective building owners have a broad choice of structures when considering purchases in Tacoma. Not all of those buildings are historic. When purchasing an historic property, it is understood that the site is a public resource as it relates to cultural value. It ought to be the responsibility of the owner, not only to comply with specialized modification and design review processes, but to actively engage in the preservation of the structure. We hope that the City makes significant headway toward defining how it will partner with building owners to guarantee adequate preservation.
A couple more thoughts on city/private partnership for preservation… Inspection and assessment of damage and potential sources of structural compromise must be key to genuine preservation efforts. One is left wondering what blocks the City from being able to inspect and assess Old City Hall when it is common knowledge that the structure is currently a fire hazard in imminent danger of severe water damage.
• The plan should focus on increasing advocacy and outreach.
• There should be some consideration of design standards that reflect site-specific history, not just surrounding architectural characteristics (for example, if a building is demolished, are there future opportunities to acknowledge the visual character of the former building?)
• There should be more emphasis on the importance and potential of heritage tourism.
• Policies relating to conservation districts should maintain some connection with history and historic character.
• Improving the Conservation District tool should be a high priority.
• Support for creating Neighborhood Conservation Districts coupled with tailored design standards
• There should be a strong emphasis on the prevention of demolition by neglect. [emphasis added]
TMC 2.01 Minimum Buildings and Structures Code
Cross reference Landmarks Preservation Commission process with Minimum Buildings Code, including:
• Coordinated process for enforcement actions that involve City Landmarks
Coordination of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Historic Preservation Program with Code Enforcement is a high priority. The City is currently developing procedures to assist in the identification of and Streamlining of terminology regarding historic districts, buildings and City Landmarks
• Consideration of a prevention of demolition by neglect section
intervention for declining historic buildings; ensuring that the codes of these two areas are compatible is necessary. In addition, there are additional tools that could be utilitized to address “demolition by neglect” that are not currently in place.
TMC 2.02 Building Code
• Tailor City energy efficiency regulations to fit historic resources (See Action HP-5A)
Strengthen Landmarks compliance provisions (See Action HP-15A)
• Enhance public awareness by creating a requirement that applicants post approvals on property conspicuously with other permit information.
This is part of a broader effort to streamline the City’s permit process into the Permit Intake Center, to increase efficiency and customer service, while more closely coordinating staff activities and removing administrative redundancy.
Certain “sustainable” or energy retrofitting projects should be approved through design review administratively or “by right.”
Conspicuous posting of Landmarks approvals will serve a public information purpose by informing neighbors as well as building inspectors of a landmarks approval.
TMC 13.06 Zoning
• Revise zoning code to provide additional incentives for preservation, including removal of parking requirements for historic buildings.
Additional recommendations that may be beyond the scope of this amendment cycle include:
• Develop Additional Tools for Neighborhood Conservation (other types of zoning overlays and conservation districts, form-based codes, etc.
• Explore additional regulatory relief based incentives for historic preservation projects.
Many neighborhoods seek historic district status because it is the only available tool to address neighborhood character concerns (See Action HP-8A). In addition, there are inadvertent barriers to preservation in the zoning code that should be addressed…
Update and Clarify Designation Criteria for the Tacoma Register of Historic Places, including:
• Identifying priorities for different levels of designation
• Update criteria for designating individual landmarks
• For potential historic districts, include consideration of historic significance, intent/purpose of designation, consideration of other community planning objectives, and alternative tools to achieve conservation goals for the proposed district
• Clarify the role and level of protection for conservation districts, including procedures for establishing new conservation districts including their intent
• Adding objectives of the design review process (maintaining historic integrity, preserving character-defining features, etc.)
• Develop “green guidelines” to incorporate sustainability as a consideration into design guidelines…
• Develop criteria for relocating a threatened resource…
• Include economic hardship criteria for design review and demolition…
• Clarify how property owner votes are counted for an appeal of a historic district denial.…
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