A five-year effort to make the Cliff/Cannon Neighborhood a locally registered historic district is picking up speed ahead of a planned workshop at Wednesday’s meeting of the Spokane Plan Commission, where the public can offer comments.
Parts of the area, which includes about 500 houses, are already listed on national historic registries, according to a summary statement in the Plan Commission’s Wednesday agenda. But those registries are “mostly honorary” and don’t provide the same protections or incentives that the local registry can, said Spokane Historic Preservation Officer Megan Duvall.
As part of a locally registered historic district, homeowners could see significant tax benefits from deductible renovation costs and could even pay zero property taxes for several years if they spend enough money rehabilitating their homes, Duvall said.
Homeowners in the proposed Cannon Streetcar Suburb Historic District could also take advantage of a few annual $5,000 grants from the Historic Preservation Office to update their facades with lost character, Duvall said.
If a Cliff/Cannon porch was altered during the 1940s, homeowners who want to peel back to the original porch can get help from the city to do it, so long as they can match the $5,000 grant for an overall $10,000-plus renovation. That project would simultaneously lower their property taxes.
“This is not something we want to do to the neighborhood, it’s something we want to do with the neighborhood,” Duvall said.
The Cliff/Cannon Neighborhood Council started a conversation with the City’s Historic Preservation Office in 2015 to better protect the historic character of the neighborhood, Duvall said.
The proposed district would be named for the streetcar because of its history in forming the area. The steep slopes of the South Hill made for an unattractive location for buyers prior to the streetcar line’s introduction.
The new district would include a range of styles, from the neighborhood’s oldest houses in the ornate Queen Anne style to Colonial Revivals, Craftsman bungalows and sleek midcentury modern homes.
Renovations of these houses’ street-facing facades would go under review to make sure they match the original style of the home, but backyard and indoor renovations would largely remain up to homeowners, Duvall said.
She said limits on renovations and new buildings aren’t as strict as many people imagine. The standards for rehabs include repairing rather than replacing, when possible. If homeowners have to replace, they are encouraged to choose something in line with the original design.
“You don’t want to do Disneyland historic,” Duvall said. “It all contributes to that feel of the neighborhood. There’s room for new stuff too, we just want to make sure it fits in. It doesn’t need to be fake historic. We want it to be a product of its time, but it shouldn’t call attention.”
Completing the process of making the neighborhood an official historic district will likely take a few more months. Wednesday’s meeting is a workshop to inform the Plan Commission about plans for the district. After the commission schedules a hearing, possibly after another workshop, it will send a recommendation to the City Council.
During the spring , the Historic Preservation Office will also mail out ballots to all property owners within the Cannon Streetcar Suburb borders. Their vote will influence City Council’s decision. Residents will have 60 days to return a ballot. If they don’t return it, their vote is counted as a “no.” After the vote, the Landmarks Commission will make the final recommendation to City Council, where an ordinance creating the district and the rules governing it would be added to the municipal code.
The coronavirus outbreak has slowed the process of moving toward a vote, Duvall said. The pandemic put an end to in-person meetings and workshops, like the ones that informed Browne’s Addition homeowners about the process of becoming a registered district.
Even in the Browne’s Addition, which became the city’s first historic district last year, voter turnout was low.
About 85% of people who responded voted “yes” to become a locally registered historic district, but the measure only passed by a little over 50% because of nonresponses, Duvall said.
Duvall said she sees why people are hesitant to join a registry, but it has more benefits than costs, she said.
“It makes people nervous,” Duvall said. “Somebody’s going to be telling me what I can and can’t do with my property. But, while you might have your changes reviewed, the beauty of the district is that so does the guy who lives across from you and the guy next to you. It maintains that character.”
Residents can offer questions and comments during the Wednesday meeting, by sending comments to Louis Meuler at email@example.com or by joining the webinar via phone or computer.
Maggie Quinlan can be reached at (509) 459-5135 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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