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Historic district gets OK

NORTH BEND — In a move that could bring in more tourist dollars


but has irritated some property owners, a section of North Bend's


downtown commercial area was officially designated last week as a Historic


Landmark District.


The district includes 17 buildings and two vacant lots, and was


nominated for the designation by the North Bend Landmarks and Heritage


Program, a cooperation between the city and the County's Landmarks


and Heritage Program. The program's purpose is to support local history


through preserving significant buildings.


"When you think of downtown, you think of it as the


community's heart. One great thing is (that) North Bend has a core area, so you can


see how the town developed," said Michele Finnegan, management


analyst for the city of North Bend.


She added that a brown historic sign will be placed on Interstate 90


and should bring tourists into town.


"It's going to be pulling people off of I-90 right and left," said Julie


Koler, historic preservation officer for the county's landmarks program. She


explained that national areas and historic sites rate first in the country's


tourist attractions.


The city of Snoqualmie has had a historic landmark district for a


couple of years, but city officials said it's too soon to know how many tourists


are drawn in as a result.


Several of the designated buildings in North Bend were built


between 1915 and 1940, an era of increasing highway tourism. At that time,


downtown North Bend was a gateway between mountain passes and the


Puget Sound, and businesses served traveler's needs.


With the designation comes a set of regulations and guidelines for


any exterior alterations to the buildings, and incentives for building owners


to revive their structures, including a 10-year tax valuation freeze,


architectural design assistance and better access


to grants and low-interest loans.


The decision was made July 27 after a five-week public comment


period by the City of North Bend Landmarks Commission.


The committee is made up of five King County Landmarks and


Heritage Program commissioners, plus North Bend representative


Gardiner Vinnedge.


"For this particular nomination, what's special is you can see (an


early) downtown North Bend in these buildings; you can see the different


periods of architectural style," Vinnedge said.


But when speaking about the type of comments received during the


public-hearing process, Vinnedge said the designation process was


misunderstood and that some building owners thought the historic designation


would force them to refurbish their buildings, which, he said, is not the case.


"If property owners want to maintain the current configurations of


their buildings and don't want to make changes or restore them, they can


do that," Vinnedge said.


He added that if the historic designation were detrimental to


property owners, then it wouldn't have been set it up in the first place.


Oral comments were not accepted during last week's meeting, but at


the June landmark commission's public hearing, several of the


nominated buildings' owners spoke against the designation.


According to the meeting's minutes, Bill Glazier, who owns


four buildings in the district, said the designation would mean the local


government could tell owners how to maintain their buildings. He added that


the city has too many design restrictions, and, as a result, many people


don't have enough money to meet them.


Records also show that Mark Cilley, a representative of two of


the historic buildings, said North Bend residents should be the ones to


decide whether the district receives historic designation. He added that building


owners should have more say in their property's fate.


In explaining the historic designation, officials point to county


documents that report, "the historic preservation regulations are not


designed to force property owners to maintain their property in a certain way or


to restore their building."


However, Landmarks Commissioner Bob Cokewell, North


Bend, was the only official to vote against the designation. He explained that


although he thinks the plan is an excellent idea, he voted no.


"I voted against it because the majority of the people who


testified in front of us were against it," and


they represented the majority of the properties.


He explained that, of the people who testified at the June meeting,


eight people who represented 10 buildings were against the historic


designation, and five people, who represented


three buildings, supported it. Of those who testified, some were not building


owners but concerned residents.


According to officials and county documents, the commissioners


were supposed to base their vote only on whether the buildings in the


district met certain historic criteria and not take opinions into account.


"Even though I should not have taken (their testimony) into


consideration, I felt the majority of the people should be listened to," Cokewell


explained.


"But I would have liked to see a special hearing set up for those


building owners who were against it to show them the benefits of it,"


he added.


Still, others see a clear benefit to the designation.


Brian and Karlene Slover are pleased to be part of the district.


They own the North Bend Theatre and restored it last fall with help from


the county's landmarks program.


"We're really glad that we (restored) it historically," Karlene


Slover said. "Downtown North Bend has so much potential, and we feel that


we have an obligation to do something with our property. You can say,


`It's my property and I can do what I want with it,' but we do have to think


about the downtown as a whole."


Officially, North Bend's historic designation will stand, unless


appealed.


Anyone wanting to appeal the decision must submit in writing his


or her claim of how the criteria under which the entire district was


designated were not met. The appeal must be filed with the city no later than


Sept. 8.

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