A historic designation means stewardship for the future | Editorial

Property owners within the proposed Center Historical District have some legitimate reasons to oppose such a designation. The most obvious is that it could lower their property values, according to some real estate agents. And after the free fall in prices over the last several years, that’s an understandable concern.

But it was troubling to hear several people at the King County Landmarks Commission hearing Thursday night say the designation was unnecessary as evidenced by the care owners have shown for their properties over the years. Indeed, some said, the mere fact that Center is worthy of protection was proof that a designation was not needed.

That’s a questionable set of assertions. Center is a rare historic crossroads in King County largely because Vashon has not experienced the immense growth pressure the rest of Pugetopolis has faced.

And while commendable, the stewardship this current crop of property owners has shown toward their buildings is not the issue. The issue is the fate these properties will face in the future, when people we now don’t even know own the buildings and when economic pressures we can’t foresee are brought to bear on the Island.

Indeed, the message Thursday night — we don’t need King County to tell us how to take care of our properties — sounded like a set of talking points straight out of the conservative wing’s playbook. It also seemed disingenuous on Vashon, where hundreds of Islanders worked mightily over the last decade to try to block Glacier Northwest from exercising its property rights. Vashon was finally successful when a government entity — King County — stepped in, securing the property for future generations.

Clearly, many at Thursday’s meeting were motivated by their immense desire to see Vashon Allied Arts succeed in bringing to fruition its plans to build a state-of-the-art performance center at the crossroads south of town. These are good, passionate people who love the arts, who respect VAA, who have been working for years to see Vashon get a decent performance hall.

But there, too, it seems the notion of what’s happening is misguided. Some, in comments during the hearing and afterward, suggested a conspiracy was at work: The designation is really an effort to derail VAA, a veiled plan to throw another stumbling block before the project.

The effort was brought forward by Duane Dietz, a down-to-earth Islander who didn’t show up Thursday because he was feeling profoundly isolated in his effort to get a historic district designated. He doesn’t like VAA’s plans. But there’s no indication that he’s working in concert with others who don’t like it.

Finally, some took issue with The Beachcomber’s statement last week that VAA’s permit is vested and can easily remain so. As Rick Wallace pointed out in an email to the paper, a permit won’t be extended beyond two years if construction has not “substantially commenced” and zoning or other applicable laws have changed.

These are good points; The Beachcomber did overstate the ease with which a permit could be extended. At the same time, VAA’s project appears to have considerable support and significant donors behind it. It’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t be able to “substantially commence” construction within two years of receiving its permit.


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