Protect historic buildings, Monroe urged

MONROE — History lovers want the city to set rules to protect historic buildings from development, a move that they hope will bring in tourists and preserve Monroe’s identity and character.

The time is ripe for creating a historic district along downtown’s Main Street, said Beth Stucker, president of the Monroe Historical Society. The city is studying how to revitalize the downtown, which has century-old buildings.

“It’s been a wish; it’s been a hope,” Stucker said of preserving historic buildings.

The historical society of about 150 members has yet to narrow down a list of buildings that it wants preserved, but the city has several residential and school buildings that make Monroe unique, Stucker said. The city now has no mechanism to designate those buildings historic and keep them safe from bulldozers.

A city can create an ordinance and a commission to register historic buildings with the state and the National Park Service. About 50 cities and counties in Washington — including Everett and Snohomish County — have done so, which makes them eligible for grants to promote historic preservation, said Megan Duvall, local government coordinator at the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

The city of Snohomish has a historic district, although it’s not registered with the state.

“You’ve got to have a vehicle to protect historic places,” Duvall said.

Duvall recently gave the Monroe City Council a presentation about historic preservation and the benefits that it could bring for towns. Historic buildings maintain a sense of place and could boost local tourism, she said.

City Councilman David Kennedy said he is interested in preserving old buildings in Monroe. But the city needs to be careful.

“You have to balance it with individuals’ property rights,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, a lawyer, uses a century-old brick building in downtown as his office.

Decades ago, the downtown along Main Street used to be the commercial center of the Skykomish Valley. But new businesses have popped up along U.S. 2 over the years, drawing attention and customers from downtown. A new shopping center, anchored by Lowe’s, is being built just north of U.S. 2.

The city is set to spend $151,610 in 2007 and 2008 studying how to revitalize downtown, city planner Kate Galloway said.

If the city doesn’t act now, historic buildings could disappear from the downtown, Stucker said. She discussed pre­serving those buildings with city officials, which prompted Duvall to give the presentation to the City Council.

“It was absolutely a perfect timing,” Stucker said.

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