Letters to the Editor

City needs to act to save historic houses | Letters, July 17

On July 1, the city officially approved the demolition of a building designated as one of the “Most Endangered Historic Properties” by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

The house at 216 Ericksen Ave. is one of seven historic homes still standing on a street where shipyard workers once lived in the early 1900s. The distinctive architecture of this contiguous row of houses, along with its history, has been a source of enjoyment and education for residents and tourists. The demolition of this historic house portends the eventual demolition of several others.

The city’s approval of the application for demolition was apparently based primarily on an attorney’s opinion on how to interpret language in our Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance concerning the protection of these homes from demolition.

Unfortunately, while the language in the Comprehensive Plan was never more explicitly detailed in our code, past council members and a senior planner for the city stated that the intent of that language was clearly to preserve these homes from demolition.

Prior to this recent city approval, these laws have been upheld with respect to two other homes. Property owners are granted other benefits under the present law when these historic homes are left standing.

Two years ago the island’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) submitted proposed law changes that would have provided better protection for the historic homes on Ericksen. Unfortunately, the city did not respond and also failed to codify Comprehensive Plan policy in the Winslow Master Plan that prohibits increasing the mass of buildings in the historic district. The new building at 216 Ericksen will be larger than is typically allowed.

Once again the city’s failure to be proactive in trying to preserve our historic places, as required by our Comprehensive Plan, has allowed them not only to approve this demolition, but also to include a larger building in its place.

Sadly, it may be too late for 216 Ericksen, but now that the council is in charge, we need to ask it to make development of clearly written ordinances a priority in order to save what is most valuable of our island’s historic built environment.

Charles Schmid, Jon Quitslund, Barbara Winther, William Shopes (HPC chair), Annette Stollman, Liz Murray, Sally Adams, Jim McNett (HPC member), Jane Allan

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