A long-simmering dispute over the use of Tacoma’s former Weyerhaeuser mansion as an event site appears headed for a showdown in early December before a city hearing examiner.
At stake is the fate of the historic estate perched above Commencement Bay and that of the high-end North End neighborhood that surrounds it. The hearing is set for Dec. 9 in the Tacoma City Council chambers.
The mansion’s current owner, Oregon-based Corban University, is seeking to sell the 1923-vintage English Tudor mansion, a chapel and classroom building on the grounds to Seattle-based Blue Ribbon Cooking School. Blue Ribbon has been leasing the mansion and its grounds from the university for two years as a venue for weddings, parties and corporate events. Corban, which operated a divinity school on the mansion grounds for decades, wants to move its Puget Sound campus to a location closer to Seattle.
Those events, say the mansion’s neighbors, have created chaos along the tree-lined streets near the mansion as event goers used the streets for parking, have brought their boisterous behavior outside the mansion gates as they leave late at night and have raised the decibel level of the neighborhood with loud music.
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Blue Ribbon contends it has taken steps to minimize disruptions in the neighborhood near the mansion at 4301 N. Stevens St. The event company has hired security personnel and cleanup crews and has taken steps to limit noise and hours of the events.
The city, after long deliberations and input from the neighborhood, the university and from Blue Ribbon, issued a conditional use permit setting conditions for the use of the mansion and its grounds for private events.
The university, Blue Ribbon and two groups of neighbors have appealed that permit. The neighbors want tighter rules. Corban and Blue Ribbon say some of those rules are unreasonable.
The dispute has had one round in Pierce County Superior Court when a couple who are the mansion’s nearest neighbors, Shawn McRoberts and Sarah McAlister, filed suit seeking to halt outdoor events at the mansion.
Blue Ribbon contended McRoberts deliberately disrupted mansion events by mowing his lawn during ceremonies and by playing loud music from his deck.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kitty-Ann van Doorninck granted the couple a a two-week preliminary injunction Aug. 15 prohibiting events at the mansion that violated the city’s conditional use permit. The city had not enforced that permit while appeals were pending.
The two parties dismissed the lawsuit 10 days later. Bill Lynn, attorney for the university and Blue Ribbon, said the two had reached a settlement. Neither he nor the couple’s lawyer would disclose the provisions of that settlement.
Lynn said no new events are scheduled on the mansion grounds through the time of the hearing, and Blue Ribbon on its website notes that it is not taking reservations for the mansion or its grounds in 2015 at this time.
Vanessa Volkman, who operates the cooking school, did not return calls seeking comment on the dispute. Corban University confirmed that Blue Ribbon still has an agreement to buy the mansion subject to its obtaining a permit that will allow it to operate the venue profitably.