The Tacoma City Council could vote Tuesday to permit earlier intervention when a property owner neglects a historic building.
The proposed law isn't expected to get immediate use. Though high-profile cases of imperiled structures in recent years would suggest otherwise, the city doesn't have a backlog of buildings awaiting aid.
Officials say they know of only one property, a 123-year-old structure originally used as a home, that might qualify as "neglected" and be eligible for aid under the ordinance the council will consider this week.
Work to shore up Old City Hall, which the city designated as "dangerous" in July, can continue no matter what the council does.
Current law allows city officials to force repairs only when a building becomes dangerous, a condition characterized by buckled floors, blocked exits, faulty utility connections or any other disrepair that makes a part of the building likely to injure people or damage property.
The proposed ordinance would set a lower threshold for city action in the hopes of avoiding "demolition by neglect." Properties could be deemed "neglected" if they exhibit deteriorating or warped flooring, sagging horizontal supports, unstable masonry, or plants growing on or inside the building. They also could qualify for the city's help if neglect allows for the deterioration of "character-defining features."
Sharon Winters, vice president of Historic Tacoma, said the nonprofit organization redoubled its efforts to push for laws that would better protect historic properties in 2009, when the city ordered the 118-year-old Luzon Building demolished after more than a decade of neglect.
"It takes an icon like that to wake people up, " Winters said. "I think the Luzon really caused people to be very concerned about that loss and didn't want it to happen again."
City officials acted this summer in hopes of avoiding a similar outcome for the 120-year-old Old City Hall. The city is working with the property owner to repair its leaking copper roof before winter rains begin.
Reuben McKnight, the city's historic preservation officer, said he hopes fewer than a handful of properties each year would require city intervention under the proposed code, which would extend to buildings listed on historic registers or considered contributing structures in historic districts. Excluded are residences with four or fewer units.
City records requested by The News Tribune identify only one building that might qualify for action: a former home in the North Slope Historic District that has been transformed into a business. The city received a complaint about the condition of the 1890 building earlier this month, but hasn't yet investigated the claim.
A copy of the complaint was not available Monday. The Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer website lists the structure in poor condition.
McKnight said the city can help owners of historic properties find money for renovations and repairs. Such assistance includes local grants for historic preservation, low-interest loans and tax incentives.
The proposal being considered by the council also would create an "emergency preservation subfund" and include $250,000 with which the city would pay for repairs to historic properties. The city would get its money back by placing a lien on the property.
Kate Martin: 253-597-8542