MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Citizens beg City of Everett to compromise on dog park and gazebo

Apr 24, 2024, 4:50 PM | Updated: 5:45 pm

Photo: Everett Clark Park gazebo....

Everett Clark Park gazebo. (Photo: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

The Everett Historical Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to indefinitely postpone taking action on the city’s request for permission to demolish the historic gazebo at the city’s Clark Park.

While this vote may seem like a victory for preservationists, the actual meaning is a little complicated and will take time to fully play out. It could mean the gazebo is safe for now until the city makes a revised proposal, or it could mean the City of Everett may decide to move ahead with its demolition plans without Everett Historical Commission approval.

As KIRO Newsradio reported in February, the 1921 Clark Park Gazebo in downtown Everett is threatened with demolition because the City of Everett wants to tear it down. Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and the Everett Department of Parks and Facilities want to establish an off-leash dog area at Clark Park, which happens to be a plan that pretty much everyone supports.

However, the City of Everett also said it must tear down the gazebo in order to build the off-leash dog area. It said the gazebo has been a magnet for crime and other undesirable behavior which is driving away regular park users. At the same time, the city has admitted multiple times that getting rid of the gazebo won’t eliminate these same problems at Clark Park. It’s a message that has confused many people, but regardless of the confusion, they still insist the structure must be removed.

Patrick Hall is chair of the Everett Historical Commission and made the motion at Tuesday night’s meeting to indefinitely postpone action on the gazebo.

Does Hall have any idea why Everett is opposed to a gazebo-saving compromise?

“They’re probably skeptical that the idea is going to work, and (it) probably also complicates their plans a little bit,” Hall told KIRO Newsradio on Tuesday. “Of course, I’m speculating because I don’t know for sure. I’m sure it just seems like it’s probably a lot easier just to demolish the gazebo and be done with it.”

The Everett Historical Commission is a board of volunteer advisors who are asked to approve or reject changes to historic landmarks in Everett, whether the landmark is owned privately or owned by the city. The city first asked for approval of the plan to tear down the Clark Park gazebo at a meeting in February.

The Historical Commission deferred taking action at that meeting and Chair Patrick Hall instead offered a compromise: to go ahead and build the off-leash dog area and see if it does what’s called “activating” the park – making it busier with positive things and increased numbers of regular park users. Meanwhile, the compromise called for leaving the gazebo in place for a year or two. The idea is to see if all those dogs and dog owners coming to the park at all hours will help displace the unwanted behaviors at the gazebo, and make the park come alive again.

In this compromise, the dog people get their park and the history people keep their gazebo.

Incidentally, plenty of people in Everett appear to be both dog people and history people, according to KIRO Newsradio’s highly unscientific poll.

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City of Everett offers mitigation for gazebo

The City of Everett, mainly through comments made by Parks and Facilities Director Bob Leonard at the March meeting of the Everett Historical Commission and by statements shared by spokesperson Simone Tarver, has made it clear that they are not interested in a compromise that would serve the dog people and the history people. They want to tear down the gazebo, though they did offer to pay tribute to its memory by installing interpretive panels with historic photos, and by using the look and feel of the gazebo to suggest the design of the fences and other elements of the off-leash dog area – which is known as “mitigation” in the historic preservation world.

Many commission members and other preservation advocates who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting (and at previous meetings in February and March) have made it clear they won’t be satisfied with historic photos, sympathetic design elements or any form of mitigation.

“I’m standing up for my childhood memories of playing in Clark Park, while my dad read the newspaper and my mom shopped downtown,” said Commissioner Theresa Gemmer. “Having lost much of the grounds (to a tennis court built 40 years ago), the gazebo is the only memorable feature that I see now.”

When Historical Commission Chair Patrick Hall made his formal motion to indefinitely postpone action on the city’s request, he submitted and read aloud a long letter outlining the issues around the gazebo, and objecting to the process the City of Everett has chosen to take in seeking to demolish the structure.

“In conclusion, we understand and appreciate that the city is trying to reduce crime and create a healthy environment for its residents under very difficult financial circumstances,” Hall read from his letter. “We also believe that the best way to achieve these goals is to collaborate with the Historical Commission on possible solutions, rather than by trying to simply force your will upon it.”

“The Commission remains willing to entertain less drastic alternatives if and when they are proposed by the city,” Hall continued.

“So that’s my motion,” Hall concluded. “Do we hear a second?”

The motion was seconded, and the Historical Commission voted unanimously to approve.

According to Patrick Hall, the City of Everett could now choose to ignore the commission and simply move ahead with the demolition plan. The commission’s role is to advise, but they don’t have much in the way of actual legal power, he acknowledged.

One further wrinkle in the process could result in the Everett City Council weighing in on the future of the gazebo.

Gazebo demolition may require approval from Historical Commission

The reason, according to Patrick Hall, is a disagreement as to whether demolishing the gazebo requires a “certificate of appropriateness” – an administrative document typically approved by any landmark or historic commission when a property owner wants to modify a historic property – or whether a more formal “waiver” would be required. A waiver is typically required when a historic structure is demolished or even partially demolished; the City of Everett has argued the gazebo is not formally part of the reason why Clark Park was recognized as a city landmark, and that a waiver is not required.

Patrick Hall concedes this part of the debate over the gazebo is not easy for a layperson to grasp, but that it’s very important to understand.

“I know that this whole issue about the ‘certificate of appropriateness’ versus the waiver is pretty nerdy stuff,” Hall told KIRO Newsradio. “But the bottom line is that a certificate of appropriateness goes to the planning director and he can make the decision (at the employee level) and a waiver requires a vote by city council.”

“And even though it seems nuanced that’s a pretty stark difference in my mind,” Hall continued.

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Chris Moore, director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, made public comments during the meeting and agreed with the interpretation that demolition requires a waiver, though he pointed out he does not support the demolition of the gazebo.

What supporters of preserving the Clark Park gazebo have said now at three successive meetings of the Everett Historical Commission is that they want Mayor Franklin and Parks Director Leonard to work with them on creating a solution. The non-profit group Historic Everett has offered to lead the effort to raise money to support restoration and preservation.

In a statement emailed to KIRO Newsradio late Tuesday night in response to a request for comment on the indefinite postponement, City of Everett spokesperson Simone Tarver appeared to indicate that the city is pretty much poised to just move ahead with their demolition plans without the Historical Commission’s approval.

“It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to get the commission’s input on how the gazebo’s look and style could be incorporated into the new dog park design,” Tarver wrote. “But, looking ahead, we will be working on next steps, keeping our goal of reactivating this obviously beloved neighborhood park as our focus.”

KIRO Newsradio emailed back immediately late Tuesday asking if this means the City of Everett plans to move ahead with demolition. As of 11 a.m. Wednesday, we have not received a response.

Gazebo could still be torn down amid vote to postpone

Andrea Tucker of the non-profit history and preservation group Historic Everett attended Tuesday night’s meeting. She told KIRO Newsradio the vote to postpone is not cause for celebration, but it is a reason to be optimistic.

“I think it’s cause for breathing a little bit for some of us,” Tucker said. “It’s a step to take a breath and then see what everybody’s next steps are.”

Tucker said she is eager for Historic Everett to lead the effort to raise money to restore the gazebo and said potential donors are standing by – as long as the City of Everett sees its way to striking a compromise that allows the gazebo to remain standing in Clark Park with all those dogs and people running around it.

“One of my Historic Everett members walked up to me (after the meeting) and said, ‘Let me know when you need some money,'” Tucker said.

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

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