Weyerhaeuser mansion events taken to court by neighbors

The three-year fight over the proposed reuse of a timber baron’s historic Tacoma North End mansion as an event venue has moved to a new battlefield.

The Weyerhaeuser mansion’s nearest neighbors, Shawn McRoberts and Sarah McAlister, a couple whose home abuts the estate’s boundary, have filed an appeal in Pierce County Superior Court of a city hearing examiner’s February decision. That decision granted a conditional use permit for events at the mansion.

The couple, in a lengthy petition to the court, complained that the hearing examiner erred in considering all of the estate’s buildings as a historic site, claimed that the use of the mansion for weddings, celebrations and other events was incompatible with the surrounding residential neighborhood and protested that the adaptive reuse of the mansion was contrary to the city’s North End Goals and Policies.

“The failure of the hearing examiner to consider the appropriateness of a party house in a quiet residential neighborhood as the first consideration of the application is a critical defect in the decision and requires that the decision be reversed and that the conditional use permit be denied,” the petition said.

The court action is the latest round of a battle between the mansion’s owner, Oregon-based Corban University, its prospective buyer, Blue Ribbon Cooking School of Seattle, and many of the estate’s neighbors.

Corban had for many years used the Tudor-style mansion, its adjacent classroom building and chapel as a divinity school. The school now has moved most of that activity to its Salem, Oregon, campus and has rented some of the quarters at the mansion to missionaries, said Kevin Brubaker, the university’s vice president of finance. Blue Ribbon has made an offer to buy the 1923-vintage estate at 4301 N. Stevens St. contingent on its obtaining a conditional use permit to have events on the site.

Corban might use the site for a limited number of events this summer due to the uncertainty over the conditional use permit.

Blue Ribbon has leased the estate, called Haddaway Hall by timber mogul John Weyerhaeuser and his wife, Ann, for three years as a site for catered events. The Weyerhaeusers lived in the home from 1923 through 1936. Since then, the mansion has served as a convent, university housing and a theological seminary.

Neighbors complained that attendees at mansion events occupied most of the on-street parking spots in the high-end neighborhood, were boisterous on leaving the functions late at night and that the events themselves featured loud music that disturbed the peace of the neighborhood.

McRoberts and McAlister complained that while they agreed with the concept of erecting a sound attenuating wall between their property and the event space at the mansion, they feared the design of that wall itself would prove to be an eyesore and a detriment to their use and enjoyment of their property.

If the wall were say 20 feet high and erected on the property line between the couple’s home and the mansion, it would be unattractive and incompatible with the neighborhood, and ineffective at mitigating loud noises from the mansion’s rose garden or terrace before they reached the couple’s home’s third-floor rooms, the petition claimed.

While the hearing examiner’s decision had set limits on the size of the events (150-person maximum) and the frequency of those happenings (three or four times weekly during warmer months), those restrictions were inadequate to protect the neighborhood from the detrimental effects of the noise and turmoil those events create, they said.

Corban’s Brubaker said the university is trusting that the judge will do the right thing in considering the adaptive reuse of the property. Blue Ribbon was unavailable for comment Friday.

Both have said they’ve attempted many times to work with the neighbors to limit the side effects of the events and that they have instituted rules for event participants designed to preserve the neighborhood ambiance and tranquility.