Supporters of historic Sumner Ryan House get legal boost

Mar 14, 2024, 12:23 PM | Updated: 12:29 pm

Photo: A grassroots campaign to save the historic Ryan House in Sumner scored a legal victory in Pi...

A grassroots campaign to save the historic Ryan House in Sumner scored a legal victory in Pierce County Superior Court on Weds, March 13. Supporters gathered outside the courthouse in Tacoma. (Photo courtesy of Nick Biermann)

(Photo courtesy of Nick Biermann)

A grassroots group working to save the historic Ryan House on Main Street in Sumner scored a legal victory. A Pierce County Superior Court judge ruled in their favor in a dispute with the city Wednesday.

“We had handmade signs and T-shirts, buttons, stickers,” Nick Biermann told KIRO Newsradio. “We had more than a dozen people who showed up who were in the courtroom listening to the hearing. We were there in that full show of support.”

Biermann is chairperson of Friends of the Ryan House, a project of the not-for-profit Sumner Historical Society. He is also one of the organizers of the grassroots campaign.

Background of the campaign: Frustration in Sumner over city’s rush to demolish historic Ryan House

Judge agrees with Save Our Sumner Committee

“The judge […] decided in favor of the Save Our Sumner Committee, headed by Nancy Ryan Dressel, versus the City of Sumner,” Biermann said. “And agreed that the city did not follow the proper procedures required by SEPA, the State Environmental Policy Act, for public disclosure and public input during the process.”

Last September, the Sumner City Council abruptly decided to demolish the historic Ryan House in downtown Sumner, switching gears on what had been a multi-year effort to raise money and restore the home. The Ryan House was built sometime in the 1860s and then donated to the city a hundred years ago. It housed the library and figured prominently in the city’s comprehensive plan as a link between the past, present and future of the City of Sumner.

A group of citizens has been trying to get the city to listen to them about preserving the house. One arm of that campaign was a lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court. It alleges the city didn’t follow the law in terms of public process, giving proper notice, and seeking public input before deciding to demolish the house and issuing themselves a demolition permit.

City forced back to drawing board

Wednesday, Judge Stanley Rumbaugh agreed with the citizens and sent the City of Sumner back to the drawing board – essentially forcing them to start over with the process if they do, in fact, intend to continue their efforts to demolish the Ryan House.

“The immediate effect is that the demolition permit that had been issued for the Ryan House by the City of Sumner is now invalidated,” Nick Biermann said. “And the City of Sumner has to go through the process of updating a comprehensive plan, with the proper public input and hearings that are required by state law.”

Biermann said Judge Rumbaugh’s ruling validates what they’ve been saying all along to the City of Sumner, the process of choosing to demolish the Ryan House was flawed and the decision was hasty.

“We’re relieved that the judge saw it the way that we had been saying it the whole time,” Biermann said. “And they didn’t say what the city was essentially saying – that it’s their property, they can do whatever they want with it.”

Next steps for Ryan House

The next milestone in the effort to preserve the historic structure is an already-scheduled public meeting in Sumner on Thursday, April 4 to discuss changes to the city’s comprehensive plan – where Biermann said the future of the Ryan House is sure to come up.

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Meanwhile, Biermann hopes that now this legal matter has been decided, the City of Sumner will join with his group to come up with a solution that preserves the Ryan House.

“We have to come together and work together to find the money,” to preserve the Ryan House, Biermann said.

He pointed out that the City of Sumner had already raised $1.5 million toward a restoration budget of $2.2 million for the historic structure.

“We need to work together and find the funds to continue the work toward renovation and restoration that they had started a few years ago,” Biermann said. “We can’t do it without the city.”

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.

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