Planning commission member resigns over historic home's fate

The historic house on 216 Ericksen Avenue is one of six similar homes on the street.  - Sean Roach/Staff Photo
The historic house on 216 Ericksen Avenue is one of six similar homes on the street.
— image credit: Sean Roach/Staff Photo

Gary Pettersen objects to proposed demolition of historic home.

The historic home at 216 Ericksen Ave. will likely face the bulldozers soon.

On Thursday, the city's Planning Commission narrowly recommended plans for the 216 Ericksen site that would replace the house with a commercial building and an underground parking lot. The site will also feature a townhouse/apartment complex.

The decision has caused one member of the commission, Gary Pettersen, to resign based on his belief that the vintage house should have been saved.

Pettersen had been a member of the commission for nine months, and previously served 10 years on the City of Winslow's planning commission.

The dispute over 216 Ericksen has caused a furor among historic preservation activists who wanted the home saved. It has also highlighted the lack of regulation over historic structures within city.

"On that project we totally ignored the comprehensive plan and only viewed (the plans) based on zoning," Pettersen said. "If we have a comprehensive plan and don't enforce it, why have one?"

Pettersen resigned immediately after the commission voted 3-2 in favor of the new Ericksen Avenue development.

"It was kinda a spur of the moment decision I made right after the vote," he said.

The Bainbridge Island Comprehensive Plan calls for the preservation of historic structures, however, there are no regulations in place that mandate preservation. The city's legal counsel has advised that there is no legal justification for stopping the building's demolition purely based on its history.

And while destruction or modification of a historic structure must be approved by the historic preservation commission, failing to receive approval merely results in delisting of a building as “historic.”

The home at 216 Ericksen was built in 1903 and is one of six remaining houses on the downtown street that were built from timbers provided by the Winslow Shipyard.

"The biggest thing is that they were going to demolish an older house in a historic area," Pettersen said. "While one house many not be special, as a group they are important."

Local historical activists and the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation have weighed in on the house, which was part of a qualifying application for the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. It is currently listed on the Bainbridge Island Historical Society inventory.

The new development on the site is being proposed by islander Bruce Brunton, who could not be reached Friday for comment.

The commission's recommendation will now be forwarded to the city's Planning Department. Staff in that department will prepare a report for Planning Director Kathy Cook, who will make the final decision on whether the new development will go forward.

"The planning commission did recommend approval and the director gives serious weight to that," Cook said.

Pettersen said he will continue to follow what happens to the building and advocate for the preservation of the island's historic structures.

"I plan to be and concentrate my efforts on writing letters," he said. "That is how I got noticed and appointed to the commission in the first place."

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