Preservation effort divides Everett’s oldest neighborhood

EVERETT — Walking along the wide, tree-lined streets of Everett’s Riverside neighborhood, it’s easy to spot proud homeowners.

Just look for the scaffolding.

While real estate has taken a dip of late, rising home prices in recent years have ignited the rebirth of Everett’s oldest neighborhood, a traditionally ­working-class community with front-porch swings and old-world charm.

Dozens of people new to Everett are “rediscovering” the neighborhood east of downtown and sprucing up its century-old colonial-revival, Craftsman and American foursquare homes.

“You just can’t find these neighborhoods anymore,” said Glenn Hunter, who bought and fixed up a 1906 Dutch Colonial house on Virginia Avenue after moving from Seattle to Everett in 2000.

As Everett prepares to absorb more people and development in the coming decades — especially close to downtown — some Riverside residents want greater protections to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood.

Hunter and his neighbors Steve Fox and Sara Church have spent two years spearheading an effort to have the city create what’s known as a historic overlay district.

Such a district would add a layer of building and renovation regulations for about 450 homes, most of them built in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Fox created a database detailing the year each home in the district was built, the condition, the architecture, type of siding and windows, and, in some cases, the original owner.

The trio spent months walking through the neighborhood with clipboards and reading old city directories. Because the original building records of many of the homes were destroyed in a fire, the group estimated construction dates using utility records.

A key goal of the proposed historic district is to discourage developers from demolishing historic homes and replacing them with buildings that are out of character and scale with the existing neighborhood.

The proposed district encompasses Virginia and Baker avenues between California and 19th streets. Houses along that stretch between Walnut Street and Baker Avenue are also included.

Some opponents say the preservation plan conflicts with private property rights. They fear development and renovation guidelines required in the district will add expense and hamper future projects.

Roby Ellingson, whose mother’s home is in the historic zone, said the preservation plan boils down to government intrusion on property rights.

“It’s just another thing eating away at our liberties,” Ellingson said, after the historical commission unanimously voted this week in favor of the plan.

Planning commissioners are scheduled to vote on the historic district at a public meeting on Oct. 21. The Everett City Council, which has the final say, is expected to take up the issue later this year.

Placement in a historic district does not affect a property’s underlying zoning or prevent a property owner from building a new house or addition. It would, however, add conservation requirements for new additions, major renovations and new construction.

If approved, it would be the third historic overlay district in Everett. The city has already approved the Rucker-Grand and Grand-Norton historic districts.

The drive in Riverside started after a church sought to demolish a block of older rentals, including one of the city’s oldest houses, on Baker Avenue for an expansion project. Neighbors fought the proposal and the church eventually backed away from its plans.

Strolling through the proposed historic district earlier this week, Hunter and Fox pointed out structures and accents that they say stick out from the surrounding neighborhood.

A new split-level flanked by older homes, a rectangular addition jutting from the roof of a Craftsman-style home and chain-link fence. Then there are the handful of neglected mansions carved into apartments.

Not all whose homes fall under the proposed historic zone are happy about the proposal.

“These people — not knowing, nor caring, of my plans, ideas, personal circumstances, financial considerations, my home — decided what was right and what was wrong,” resident Tina Guzinski wrote to the planning department earlier this month. “That is supreme arrogance. I would encourage those few people to move to a home in a neighborhood association, where residents choose to be ruled by others, if that is their preference.”

This month, Guzinski won a Monte Cristo Award, an Everett city award for people who take exceptional care of their homes and businesses, for work that she’s done to her bungalow on Victor Place.

Her front-yard fence, garden and windows would be at odds with the proposed guidelines — although not prohibited. Extra building and renovation regulations only kick in when a city building permit is required.

The construction of a new house or the demolition of most houses built prior to 1931 would trigger the additional step of going before the historical commission, which would make a recommendation to the planning director.

John Meeker, who owns a house within the proposed district, shared his concerns with the Everett Historical Commission earlier this week.

“Nobody knocked on my door to ask,” he said. “I just got a notice in the mail.”

Meeker said his feelings are mixed because he likes some of the added protections of a historic district. Still, he doesn’t want to submit to nitpicky restrictions.

Among other things, proposed historic overlay rules discourage front fences and horizontally proportioned windows.

Paul Bryant, who owns a house on Baker Avenue within the proposed historic district, said he moved to the neigh­borhood because of its character, although he isn’t convinced people will embrace the plan.

“Historically, from the day that the Riverside was built, it’s been a blue-collar neighborhood,” Bryant said. “And frankly, this is a white-collar concept.”

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or

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