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Apartment in historic Everett neighborhood zone challenged


Graphic by Pelletier + Schaar Architecture as submitted to City of Everett planning

A rendering of the proposed development.



EVERETT — The Historical Commission said no. The city planning director overruled and said yes.
And the neighbors to a proposed small apartment building along north Grand Avenue’s hillside have been opposed since the very start. They say approving this project undermines the reason Everett has historic preservation zones meant to protect longstanding architecture and character, and erodes why people bought homes in these historic areas.
Now a few neighbors are contemplating filing an appeal, one neighbor said last week.
Planning director Yorik Stevens-Wajda gave the OK to redevelop 2115 and 2117 Grand Ave. on Oct. 31.
Planning staff think the 1925 house at 2115 Grand Ave. is too far gone to rehabilitate it without great expense. The house at 2117 Grand Ave. was built in 1967 and is considered too new to be historic.
The planned six-plex apartment building that would replace these two houses has gone through multiple design revisions and a few hours of debate by the Historical Commission to reach this point, Stevens-Wajda said in an interview.
Outside of needing a special permission about the roof, this project meets all other code, he said.
"I'm definitely conscientious every decision we make is a loose precedent," Stevens-Wajda said.
At its latest meeting Oct. 25, the Historical Commission got hung up on how the design still treats the flat roof as a large usable space.
It asks for a deviation to set almost 50% of the roof — 3,042 square feet in this case — as a common area deck when the city maximum is 30%. Architectural drawings label it a roof terrace and even contemplate a recreational turf and a bathroom.
Whether a deviation is valid is based on how the proposed design is viewed, and that opinion is based on whether the request would give an “equivalent or superior” result versus complying with the standard rules, in this case a 30% roof.
The commission was ruffled. “It sounds like we have rules but if you ask” for a deviation “you don’t have to follow them,” commissioner Teresa Gemmer said.
In a 7-0-1 vote, it recommended disallowing the design because of the roof deviation. In a 8-0 vote that came later, it denied giving an OK to demolish 2115 Grand Ave. as a historic house.
Stevens-Wajda wrote in his approval overriding their recommendation that “(the) proposed roof deck area is designed as an integral part of the building’s design and architectural character and that it appears as unobtrusive as possible and well-integrated into the existing structure.”
A few neighbors, though, have taken to calling it a “party deck” that gives the three-story building a de facto fourth floor.
Linda Stern, for example, pointed out how atypical rooftop decks are. “There is not a single family dwelling or multi-family dwelling in Everett that has a deck like this,” she said.


Graphic by Pelletier + Schaar Architecture as submitted to City of Everett planning

A rendering of the back side of the building, facing the east alley, with people utilizing the rooftop. Car parking is to this alley.



Permitting this design creates a city precedent to allow a deck on the highest roof of a dwelling, Stern said.
“I will be able to look out my window and wave at those people on the rooftop,” Wilma Jones said.
This compromises the privacy of neighbors, said a person named John D. who did not display his last name in the Zoom meeting.
Stevens-Wajda reiterated last week that, overall, the project met standards.
“I know some may be disappointed on the planning director’s decision on one aspect: the roof deck,” he said.
It raises a question to the historical commissioners. At the meeting, commission chair Amy Hieb said this project’s design carries “a host of precedents that might unravel historic overlays.”
Stevens-Wajda does not think this approval creates a boilerplate precedent. If a project is consistent with historic overlay standards and “if we had the same situation or same set of circumstances, I think we would approve it again,” Stevens-Wajda said in an interview.
“I am conscientious there are other potential developments in this historic overlay and other overlays, and we take utmost care” to uphold historic regulations and codes, he said.
Overruling the historical commission has happened before. Retired planning director Allan Giffen overrode the commission 10 years ago about redeveloping a historic house at 1102 Grand Avenue.
An earlier prototype for the 2115 and 2117 Grand project prominently used its flat roof as a lounge area for the building residents. In 2019, Giffen denied that design as not meeting the test to allow deviations. He retired in 2020 after 34 years with the city.
Only a small percentage of Everett’s map is under a historic overlay zone. The zones were formalized in 1993 and include the locations of Everett’s first neighborhoods: around Norton Avenue, around north Grand and Rucker avenues overlooking Port Gardner Bay — where this project is sited — and in the Riverside Neighborhood.
These zones have a special rulebook. In it, it states the goals of preservation should not curtail new development.
Historical Commission members debated the same regarding 2115 and 2117 Grand avenues: They do not want to lose historic homes, but do not want their role to stifle redevelopment.
Separately, the city is undertaking a citywide update to its planning guidelines, under the marketing name “Everett 2044.” Stevens-Wajda said these adjustments may include cautiously looking at potential changes for historic overlays, but none are intended to disturb the look and feel of historic neighborhoods.
On those, ”I would be cautious of expanding the allowance of ‘missing middle’ housing in historic overlays,” Stevens-Wajda said.
Everett’s interest in a wider mix of housing types did not influence approving the Grand Avenue six-plex, Stevens-Wajda said.
The developer is Capricorn Investments Inc., a company owned by the directors of Capricorn Safaris, a popular operator of safari tours of Botswana and nearby African countries. Capricorn Investment’s owners Adam and Brigitte Hedges were not available to give an interview before press time, a paralegal for the law firm representing the company relayed to a reporter.

  

 

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