The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation wants to remind residents that the deadline to summit Public Comment on the future of the historic Masonic Retirement Home is June 2, 2022.

As we previously reported, the City of Des Moines in May issued a SEPA Determination of Significance regarding Zenith Properties LLC’s application for a demolition permit for the 27-acre property located since 1926 at 23660 Marine View Drive South.

Due to the nature of the request, the applicant – Zenith Properties LLC – was required to complete a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist. The City of Des Moines determined that their proposed action is likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and is requiring Zenith to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as part of their application.

HOW TO COMMENT
Scoping is the first step in the EIS process and includes a public comment period, which begins on Tuesday, May 3 and extends until Thursday, June 2, 2022 at 4:30 p.m PST (Provide comments here). A minimum 21-day public comment period is required by state law. The City of Des Moines has elected to expand the comment period to 30 days.

The City will host a virtual public meeting on Tuesday, May 17 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. PST. Those wishing to provide verbal comment at the meeting should register in advance here.

Here’s more from preservationists:

CALL FOR PUBLIC COMMENTS
The City of Des Moines has drafted three alternatives for the public to comment on by June 2, 2022:

1. Historic Preservation and Potential Future Adaptive Reuse – This alternative assumes preservation and structural stabilization of the existing structures on site, resulting in a condition that may allow for potential future adaptive reuse, including a cost-benefit analysis that incorporates reasonably available historic preservation program and tax incentives.

2. Demolition – This alternative assumes the demolition of all the existing structures and vacant buildings on site as proposed.

3. No Action – This alternative assumes a continuation of the existing site conditions, including retention of the existing structures as vacant and unutilized – and serves as the baseline for comparison of the other alternatives as required by SEPA.


OUR RESPONSE

The Washington Trust believes the scope of the EIS should rightfully be expanded beyond the current scope distributed in the City’s Notice. We have identified several concerns with the current scope, outlined as follows:

1. Applicant’s Stated Objectives
As noted in the proposal, the applicant “has indicated that they have five objectives for the proposed demolition of the existing structures”.

a. Objective 2 states “Remove on-site unsafe conditions/potential hazards due to existing structural condition.” The submitted asbestos report from July 2019 concludes “None of the materials sampled contained asbestos,” and the submitted lead paint inspection from November 2019 recommends hand washing, biological monitoring, and training on hazard communication, safety, and respirators as they relate to lead exposure in typical construction work conditions. No assessment has been submitted to substantiate the claim of structural hazards and unsafe conditions.

b. Objectives 3, 4, and 5 have been itemized separately, but can be combined to read “prevent further trespassing, vandalism, and graffiti to the existing structure.” These objectives can easily be met in the short-term by securing the property with construction fencing and a variety of security measures typical to development staging and property management. The long-term solution is to rehabilitate the structure for its active use. Demolition of the existing structures as proposed is the ultimate form of vandalism and is antithetical to the stewardship that is assumed with the prevention of trespassing, vandalism, and graffiti in and around those structures.

2. City of Des Moines Comprehensive Plan
The Des Moines Comprehensive Plan was adopted by City Council in June 2015 per Ordinance No. 1623 as “a 20-year plan that articulates our community’s vision and values about how we will grow into the future” in accordance with the State’s Growth Management Act of 1990. The future of the “Landmark on the Sound” site addresses several values and goals within the plan:

a. Land Use Goal 1“Preserves and enhances the quality of life and the diverse residential neighborhoods of the community, and serves them with vibrant business districts, open space, recreational facilities, affordable housing, and other supportive land uses.” The Masonic Home site alone has historically and continues to feature open space, recreational facilities, affordable housing (as 200 retirement home units), and other supportive land uses. The proposal for its demolition with no public redevelopment plans that could guarantee both more and better of the existing functions is counterproductive to the City’s goals.

b. Land Use Goal 2“Promote a land use mix that helps to diversify the local economy, reduce poverty, and enhance the community by attracting new businesses, family wage jobs, new city revenues, and housing choices.” Rehabilitating and reactivating a site that already has so much visual, architectural, cultural, and historic value – especially one of a comparable scale to that of the Masonic Home – has time and time again proved to attract the functions called out in this goal.

c. Housing Goal 1“Encourage the development, preservation, or replacement of housing stock that is affordable to all economic segments of the community.” Preservation must first be adequately considered for the site, even prior to consideration of replacement, for which no plans have been made public.

d. Housing Goal 2“Encourage and support a variety of housing opportunities for those with special-needs, particularly those with challenges related to age, health or disability.”The property was the former home for retired Masons and already features several interventions that assist those with challenges related to age, health or disability including interior and exterior ramp access, large common areas, and in-house retail, dining, and even medical facilities.

e. Housing Goal 3“Protect existing and planned residential areas from adverse impacts associated with incompatible land uses.” The property was historically used as and still features the space for 200 units including large common areas.

f. Housing Goal 4 “Encourage the development of an appropriate mix of housing choices through innovative land use and well-crafted regulations.” Proposing demolition without first considering rehabilitation and second providing replacement plans is neither innovative nor a well-crafted plan.

g. “Des Moines needs to plan for an additional 3,480 Housing Units” – The proposal for the demolition of 200 units, including large common areas, with no public redevelopment plans that could guarantee both more and better of the existing housing stock is counterproductive to the City’s goals.

h. “Des Moines needs to plan for an additional 5,800 New Jobs” – The proposal for the demolition of the structures that once employed workers within the industries: hospitality, retail, recreation, medical and elder care, and civic/religious/non-profit – with no public redevelopment plans that could guarantee both more and better of those displaced industries is counterproductive to the City’s goals.

3. Sustainability and Climate Change
The scoping notice makes no mention of the climate impact resulting from the demolition of the historic Masonic Home or the additional structures to be built on the site. It is estimated that as much as 40% of waste deposited into landfills comes from building construction and demolition projects. This does not consider the embodied energy present in the nearly hundred-year-old, five-story, 130,000 square foot building; the energy utilized to construct the building initially would result in an estimated minimum of 20,000 tons of building material transported to and deposited into a landfill. An assessment of the climate impact from the proposed demolition (and potential new construction) is critical before proceeding.

The above issues can be used to request an expansion of the considered scope of the EIS.

More info, including letter templates, are here: https://preservewa.org/advocacy-alert-des-moines-masonic-home/