A Tacoma hearing examiner this week cleared the way for a Seattle company to continue using the historic Weyerhaeuser mansion as a venue for weddings and other events but added further restrictions to the permit allowing events at the estate.
The highly detailed, 47-page decision by examiner Phyllis Macleod was not a clear victory for either the Seattle catering company that wants to convert the English-style estate at 4301 N. Stevens St. into an event venue or the residents who have complained about the noise, boisterous conduct and parking issues that weddings and other events have brought to the North End neighborhood.
“It would be safe to say that my clients were disappointed with the decision,” said Tacoma attorney Robert Casey who represented a group calling itself Friends of the Historic Weyerhaeuser Mansion. “They have yet to decide whether to appeal the decision to Superior Court.”
“We’re looking forward to moving forward now with a clear set of rules about holding events at the mansion,” said William Lynn, an attorney representing the mansion’s owner, Corban University, and the event company’s Blue Ribbon Cooking School.
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Lynn said Blue Ribbon still is undecided whether it will proceed with its plan to buy the mansion from the university, which formerly used the home and the grounds as a theological seminary. The university moved out last year.
The decision was the latest chapter in a two-year disagreement between the mansion’s neighbors in the high-end residential area and the event catering company which saw the former residence of timber baron John P. Weyerhaeuser and his wife, Anna, as a perfect site for wedding ceremonies, business meetings and other gatherings.
The city had issued a conditional use permit for the 1923-vintage estate last summer after what had been occasional events became frequent, especially in the summertime when the mansion’s gardens were in bloom and its panoramic view of Commencement Bay was on full display.
Neighbors and Shawn Roberts, the owner of an adjoining home that had once been part of the estate but was segmented from the grounds and sold, complained of loud noises from parties and celebrations, drunken partygoers and streets crowded with vehicles owned by wedding guests. They appealed the city’s permit as unlawful and inadequate to ensure the tranquility to which they had become accustomed.
Neighbors argued that using the mansion for events violated the city’s comprehensive plan for the neighborhood, but event organizers and the city claimed that city rules for reuse of historic structures allowed uses not enumerated in the comprehensive plan.
The historic reuse rules allow some flexibility in the use of historic structures, said the hearing examiner.
Under the new ruling, a set of conditions will apply to events held at the mansion:
• Event attendance will be limited to 150 persons.
• Parking inside the mansion grounds will be provided at the ratio of one parking place for every three guests with additional parking spaces for staff members. Currently, the mansion doesn’t have enough internal parking places for a 150-person event, thus the need for additional parking spots before capacity events are scheduled.
• The number of outdoor weddings will be limited to three per week during the May through September “wedding season.” The decision also will allow up to four additional weddings during the season.
• The mansion’s Rose Garden area will be off limits to guests after 7 p.m. The Rose Garden is adjacent to the McRoberts property.
• For weddings and other events, setup and operations will be limited to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. On Fridays and Saturdays the limits will be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Up to four staff members will be allowed to clean up after an event provided they do so quietly.
• Amplified music will be limited during outdoor events. A brief musical prelude and recessional will be allowed in the mansion’s Rose Garden with volume levels limited to 72 decibels. Any speakers will be oriented toward the mansion, not toward the adjacent McRoberts home.
• Music, either live or recorded, must be limited to indoor areas with the exception of the limited music at Rose Garden wedding ceremonies.
• For events attended by more than 30 guests, the organizers will hire off-duty Tacoma police officers to provide security.
• The mansion owners must construct a wall designed to screen activities and noise at the mansion from the adjacent McRoberts home at 4415 N. Stevens St.
If there was one change provided in the hearing examiner’s decision that was most favorable to the event company, it was her deletion of the city’s prior requirement that the conditional use permit be limited to five years.
The university and Blue Ribbon said such a limitation would make it difficult if not impossible for potential users to make investments in the estate and its grounds knowing that they had only a five-year guarantee that they could continue to use the mansion as an event venue.
The examiner further required the city to approve the standard rental contract for events to ensure that it contained all of the conditions enumerated in the decision.