West Slope Neighborhood Conservation District?

A group of neighbors concerned about protecting the character of their neighborhood is asking the City to designate the area as a conservation district.

The neighborhood on the table for conservation district status is an area of the West Slope called Narrowmoor, and the blocks they want to protect look a little different from your typical historic district.

Originally established in 1941, the Narrowmoor neighborhood consists of about 280 homes, and a few undeveloped lots. The homes are primarily simple two story homes - one floor, and a daylight basement - mostly constructed from the 1940s through the 1960s. The homes were located on their lots to maximize their views of the Tacoma Narrows.

It's that orientation to the view that the neighbors want to protect. When the homes were built, the original developer established covenants restricting design and construction within the plats in order to preserve views and the character of the area. But residents say they've had trouble with enforcement of those restrictions, leading to tear-downs and disputes around new development related to scale and view preservation.

In 2007 a group from the neighborhood requested a historic district designation for the area, but that was denied in 2009, "due to lack of historic integrity and lack of neighborhood consensus." The current request is for a conservation district, a designation intended to discourage unnecessary tear-down, and "inappropriate" additions or new construction, but without the lengthy design review required in a historic district for exterior building alterations.

The group's proposal includes a list of criteria for new construction and additions.

  • Restricting building height to that of existing rooflines, with no more than a main level and a daylight basement
  • Limiting building design to "consistent and compatible" with existing structures
  • Specifying roof pitch
  • Limiting building footprint to 25% of lot size
  • Requiring that lots be a minimum of 12,500 square feet
  • Prohibiting view-obstructing vegetation

In reference to these proposals, the LPC packet has this to say:

The items below are proposed for regulation under the proposed conservation district. Some of these 
areas likely cannot be regulated by the City under the conservation district code, and some others will 
require additional clarification of language to be effective. 

At its meeting on May 28, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will hear a presentation on the proposal, and give their feedback.

Is Tacoma ready to protect a low-density, mid-century development pattern? 

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Dean Wilson

To clarify a couple of points on the story, the West Slope Neighborhood Coalition (WSNC) in 2007, requested the City of Tacoma considera designating the Narrowmoor Area as an Historic District, given its preponderance of mid-century architecture and the unique design elements invoked by the original developer.

The city funded a feasibility survey for that purpose, and while the authors concluded that the Narrowmoor Area did not fully meet the federal criteria for an historic district, they recommended that the city consider the establishment of stand-alone conservation districts. These districts, normally used as buffers to an historic district. could be far more flexible to meet a community’s needs without the rather onerous restrictions of an historic district.

In 2010, the City adopted stand-alone conservation districts as part of its comprehensive plan and the WSNC enthusastically embraced the concept and submitted its application late last year. This would be Tacoma’s first stand-alone district and the WSNC believes it could be an excellent model for other areas of the city to consider.

As to the question, “Is Tacoma ready to protect a low-density, mid-century pattern?”, I believe the answer is a resounding “Yes!”. The proposed conservation district clearly aligns with Tacoma’s Comprehensive Plan (Neighborhood Element) to preserve the unique features of the West End area. and the unique qualties of the Narrowmoor Area most certainly meet the criteria for preservation under the policies cited for a conservation district.

~ Dean Wilson, Co-Chair, WSNC

May 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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When is WSNC going to venture into the Lincoln District, possibly one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tacoma and start a conversation on preservation?

May 27, 2014 at 9:55 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Iain Parsons

Thanks Dean! Can you clarify what is unique about the Narrowmoor neighborhood that merits preserving it in it’s current state? I’m curious what makes it substantially different from other Tacoma Neighborhoods or special in nature that wood deserve city protections? How will this benefit the city of Tacoma residents? What is the special character you are seeking to preserve?

June 16, 2015 at 11:10 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Limiting building footprint to 25% of the lot and preventing future subdivision?  What a terrible precedent to somehow begin protecting suburban/low density development in the city.

Why would the City ever want to take on the responsibility of a developer’s restrictive covenant, one completely antithetical to the City’s growth, transportation, and development aims contained in the Comprehensive Plan?  Because of the architecture? So when will someone start a conservation district for a plat of 80’s split level homes or the more historically relevant craftsman 1920-1930’s homes?  It is a boondoggle in the making where the City will have to make a specific neighborhood plan for each one of these conservation districts, each with their own unique code.

Just protect the views with the same overlay used on the Historic District.  Restricting the development potential on Jackson next to a freeway is just insane.

May 25, 2014 at 11:51 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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The West Slope Neighborhood offers certain unique benefits that no alternative neighborhood can offer. Factors such as the lot size, the water view, and the remoteness from high density populations are statements of material fact that contribute to both the economic value of the real estate, and the social well-being of individuals.

One may not ever have the economic means or the desire to live in such an idealized neighborhood, but its promise of spiritual liberation does present itself as something to aspire to.

It is not a controversial statement to say that the City of Tacoma has a duty to preserve the ethic of communal responsibility.

Unfortunately, the general climate of confusion about facts, rights, and duties has contributed to the legitimacy of expediency as method of progress—the popular notion of equality of everything. A first-hand observation of present facts may lead one to conclude that equality ruins.

May 26, 2014 at 10:22 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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The West Slope Neighborhood has no unique benefits.  The list you describe could be in Browns Point.  I would contest a conservation district is in fact equality for everything in the conservation district.  Nothing is allowed to change, defacto it is still a bad idea using your logic.  Let individual land owners build what they want to build.  The social well-being of individuals is individuality of course.  But also it is unwise to conserve a land inefficient, car-centric building style as if it was something worth protecting.  At least in a city.

May 26, 2014 at 11:42 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Every asset that Tacoman’s are entrusted with—whether it’s money, procedures, buildings, land—all of it is depreciating. All of it is becoming worth less over time. All of it is becoming obsolete. The solution to this problem is to redevelop Tacoma into a chaotic overcrowded economic mechanism beset by the towering minutiae and complications generated by fools in a rudderless boat.

Is that your argument?

May 26, 2014 at 7:36 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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While I enjoy your heterodoxical way of thinking, largely what you have described has already come to pass.  Tacoma is already an economic mechanism, largely quite easy to follow and is as chaotic as understanding basic economic principles.  And while your faith waivers in its denizens to lead you to some level of organization beyond the complications already generated by 1950’s living that you apparently hold so dear, people ultimately need to live somewhere.  Preferably in infill development where resources and the environment can be preserved at optimum.

The neighborhood should establish a legal fund to enforce their covenants through a retroactive HOA.  It should not marry itself to design standard levels far exceeding of neighborhoods are actually historically unique and worth preserving as far as the City’s goals are concerned.

May 27, 2014 at 3:18 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I think I see your point. It’s impossible to make any sector of Tacoma foolproof, because fools are so ingenious.

May 27, 2014 at 8:58 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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In your terms we could say the foolish are still dealing with the more foolish.  It is the natural progression of civilization and society.

May 27, 2014 at 9:37 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Since Civilization has not yet ended, there is no natural progression.

But beyond that, maybe the West Slope coalition would be foolish for not shifting there language by using terms like “Imposing Gentrification.”

May 27, 2014 at 3:03 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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@Xeno- Dude… You reek of self-importance! Although I may not have your command of the English language- and I MAY not have come from a gentrified upbringing- I do have a voice… and I’m gonna (look it up) make it known. I think you’re full of SHi7. You attempt at justifying why we shouldn’t save a neighborhoods’ identity because it’s proximity runs adjacent to a freeway is like saying “let’s just put a WalMart opposite Gettysburg” - because according to you “it’s progressive”.. and people will always need to shop…  Do you not think that “1950s” architecture is as important as Greek revival or Victorian? What about Frank Lloyd Wright?!  I was just in a conversation 10 min ago BEFORE I read this article (with a co-worker) - and she stated how horrible it has become in the Titlow Beach area since the days of her childhood there- the closing of the pool where she used to swim, and the parking regulations, etc.  Point being: If there weren’t people like US voicing our opinions on saving history… they’d be people like YOU tearing it down…  Oh, I should add… you’re dumb. (my own special vernacular)

September 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Jim C

I was doing some reading on the City’s Planning Dept. website and realized I don’t think I saw this reported, either here or in the TNT:

“On behalf of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, I am pleased to forward for the Planning
Commission’s formal consideration a recommendation to establish a new conservation district overlay zone in the West Slope Neighborhood of Tacoma.”

http://cms.cityoftacoma.org/Planning/2015 Annual Amendment/2015-11 PC Review Packet (6-17-15).pdf

July 28, 2015 at 3:20 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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