The citizen advisory board charged with preserving Lakewood’s historic properties is trying to ensure its own legacy.
Although the city Landmarks and Heritage Board has met for 13 years, city officials recently concluded it has never officially existed — not legally, anyway.
As they work to correct that oversight, Lakewood leaders also are considering making changes that board members worry will gut the board’s authority to protect community landmarks for future generations.
The eight-member board designates historic properties as landmarks. A property can be designated if it’s more than 50 years old and, as one example, is tied to a significant historic event or individual.
To date, the board has listed seven landmarks, including the Boatman-Ainsworth House on 112th Street Southwest and the Old Settlers Cemetery on Washington Boulevard.
The board also must give approval if a property owner of a listed landmark proposes major alterations or demolition of the property.
Under current rules, anyone can nominate a property for landmark designation. But under the draft ordinance now being considered, only the property owner could.
In addition, the proposed ordinance would remove the penalty of up to $500 per day that the board can assess if a historic property owner fails to follow the board’s standards.
The changes were proposed to recognize private property rights and to remove penalties that could be seen as a disincentive for owners to seek landmark status, according to a staff report.
Walter Neary, a board member and former city councilman, doesn’t like the proposed changes.
“Without any penalties, it (landmark status) is basically an honorary designation,” he said. “You don’t need a committee to do that. You can just put a pretty plaque out on it.”
Neary also said limiting nominations to property owners could make it more difficult to designate landmarks such as Western State Hospital or the Fort Steilacoom Historical District because it would require state approval.
The City Council and board will meet next month to hash out their differences over the draft ordinance.
Earlier this year, the City Council asked two of its members to review the city’s 12 citizen advisory boards. With money tight, the council wanted to know if some committees could be merged.
Councilman Jason Whalen said the point was not to “quell citizen participation or to gut committees;” rather, it was “to find a mechanism for efficiencies.”
The review stumbled upon a major oversight.
When the City Council adopted Lakewood’s landmark preservation ordinance in 2000, it gave itself authority “to create and empower a citizens’ committee to act as the Agency for and on the City’s behalf.”
But Acting City Attorney Matthew Kaser said the council never took that step.
The draft ordinance would fix this oversight and, as a safeguard, would ratify all actions previously taken by the landmarks board.