Lakewood weighs shift on historic properties

Heritage board encourages council to update city code to allow preservation without consent of owner

Staff writerFebruary 17, 2014 

The Lakewood City Council could make a decision Tuesday allowing historically significant properties to be designated historic without a property owner’s approval.

The city’s Landmarks and Heritage Advisory Board is encouraging the council to approve an update to city code ensuring the city’s historically significant properties are preserved in perpetuity.

“I am opposed to historically significant property being razed simply for economic development,” Councilman John Simpson said. “I think we have an obligation for those who come after us to preserve a certain character and quality of structures that speak to Lakewood’s heritage.”

If the council approves the update, it would give the heritage board authority to recommend a historical designation, but the City Council would have the final say.

Although the change could give the board authority without owner approval, city leaders say property rights are valued.

“My sense is personal property rights would be given serious consideration by the current council,” Councilman Michael Brandstetter said.

In its 14-year history, the heritage board has never designated a property without the owner’s approval, said Walter Neary, heritage board member and former Lakewood councilman. About seven properties have been classified in that time, he said.

“I don’t think anyone can say this has been willy-nilly,” Neary said. “Seven buildings in 14 years? We’ve waited until property owners are ready.”

The Lakewood Colonial Center and Theatre is one property where Neary says he thinks the board could act without owner approval. That’s because multiple property owners are in the commercial area, making it hard to get a consensus.

The commercial center at Gravelly Lake and Mt. Tacoma drives SW was opened in the late 1930s by Norton and Mary Clapp as one of the West’s first shopping centers. It is not designated historic, but many think it should be. There are no immediate plans to give it a historic designation, Neary said.

The Fort Steilacoom Historic District, which includes state-owned Western State Hospital, is another area that should be protected “just in case someone ever came up with the crazy idea to level the hospital and build a development on it,” he said.

The decision before the council is part of a larger code update that clarifies the heritage board’s role. Last year, Lakewood officials learned the board was not legally recognized as the official body responsible for designating historic places in Lakewood, even though it had acted in that capacity for 14 years.

The City Council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday because its regularly scheduled Monday meeting falls on a holiday.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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