Appeals filed in Weyerhaeuser mansion wedding venue case

Staff writerJuly 15, 2014 

MANSION OUTSIDE EXTERIOR

The Weyerhaeuser mansion in Tacoma’s North End is still at the center of controversy between neighbors and the Blue Ribbon Cooking School.

RUSS CARMACK — Staff photographer file, 2004 Buy Photo

The year-long disagreement over an appropriate reuse for Tacoma’s historic Weyerhaeuser mansion appears to be headed for months more of hearings despite the city’s mid-June decision to grant a conditional use permit to use the mansion as an event venue.

A mansion neighbor and a group representing other nearby residents have both asked the city’s director of planning and development services to reconsider his decision. And the mansion owners and prospective buyers have filed a formal appeal to that June decision.

That reconsideration and appeal could take months.

Both the neighbors and Corban University, which owns the mansion at 4301 N. Stevens St., along with prospective buyer Blue Ribbon Cooking, questioned the accuracy of multiple assumptions the city made in granting the permit. They called for changes that would substantially alter the permit conditions imposed by the city.

Neighbors contend the use of the mansion as a venue for weddings and other celebrations in recent years has caused noisy late-night disruptions in the well-to-do North End neighborhood and filled the streets with cars used by event guests.

Blue Ribbon, a Seattle event producer that has leased the mansion for the last two summers, said the restrictions imposed by the city are vague and unreasonable.

Blue Ribbon has proposed buying the mansion from the Salem, Oregon-based university for use as an event site. The university wants to move to a more compact site and to shift more of its classes online.

The Tudor-style mansion has a sweeping view of Commencement Bay. Built in 1923 by timber company president John P. Weyerhaeuser, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its seven-acre grounds also contain a chapel, a classroom building, a greenhouse and a garage. The mansion has been used as both a college campus and a home for Catholic nuns since the family left in the ’30s.

The permit issued by the city in June after months of deliberations and comments from interested parties would allow events attended by up to 150 people to be held in the Tudor style mansion on North Stevens Street. Those events can be held only if the prospective owners expand parking on the site, hire security personnel and require the events to end at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and 8 p.m. on other nights of the week.

Corban and Blue Ribbon said the nighttime limits were unreasonable considering the cleanup time needed after the events conclude.

That cleanup time, the appellants claimed, has little effect on the neighboring homes because the staff handling the cleanup is small and their activities cause no neighborhood impact.

“Restricting hours to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday with the last hour reserved for cleanup activities by appellants’ staff and vendors would be more realistic and appropriate for the proposed use and would be more consistent with the record,” Corban and Blue Ribbon’s attorney wrote in the appeal.

The cooking school and university maintained the blanket prohibition on amplified music was overly broad. Amplification could be limited to levels that don’t disturb neighbors, the two maintained.

The appellants also questioned the need for professional security at “all” events suggesting that some smaller events would require no outside security staff.

Neighbors in their call for reconsideration questioned many assumptions made in the permit.

They questioned the city’s decision that an environmental study would not be needed before the permit could be granted. The permit as written would allow the parking of more than four dozen cars on the grounds of the mansion where no parking lot now exists. That new parking could have environmental effects, they suggested.

Neighbors also suggested that the city’s count of existing parking spots on the mansion ground was not supported by evidence. The city’s permit gave the mansion credit for having 25 parking spots on the grounds. Neighbors said many of those spots would likely be unavailable to event guests because residents in the mansion’s living quarters would occupy those spots even during events.

City planner Phillip Kao said the reconsideration decision could come by mid-August. If those who sought the reconsideration were unhappy with the results, they would have seven days to file an appeal. An appeal before the city’s hearings examiner could take months. The examiner’s decision could be appealed to Superior Court.

In the meantime, events will be able to continue under the liberal conditions existing before the permit decision.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663 john.gillie@thenewstribune.com

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