In 2015, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation featured the Masonic Home of Washington in Des Moines in our Most Endangered Places Program. The property sold in 2019, and the seller filed an application for a demolition permit with the City of Des Moines as part of the sale. The current owner, Zenith Properties LLC, resubmitted the demolition permit application in September 2020. On May 3, 2022, the City of Des Moines issued a Determination of Significance (DS), meaning “this proposal is likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment, and accordingly, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required” under the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA).

Subsequently, the project is now entering a scoping phase, including a public comment period for 30 days (June 2, 2022). The purpose of scoping is to determine the range, or “scope,” of issues and alternatives to study, as recommended in part by stakeholder agencies, tribes, communities, organizations, and members of the public.


CALL FOR PUBLIC COMMENTS

The City 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.


COMMENT LETTER TEMPLATE

For your convenience, we have provided the following comment letter template:

I am writing to provide a scoping comment for Zenith Properties Building Demolition Application, File Number LUA2019-0032, for the demolition permit to remove all structures of the former Masonic Home/Landmark on the Sound located at 23660 Marine View Drive S. I urge the Des Moines City Council to do everything in its power to support and facilitate the rehabilitation of the Masonic Home, a resource listed on the City’s local historic register and eligible for the State Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places. I fully support the “Historic Preservation and Potential Future Adaptive Reuse” Alternative in the City’s SEPA notice. Moreover, I believe the following elements should be included as part of the scoping process:

  • Identification of specific uses for the existing historic Masonic Home. It is not possible to provide an adequate economic analysis of preserving the historic structures without the identification of a potential use – nor is it possible to understand the full impact on our environment without assessing proposed new uses for the site.
  • Analysis of how the project aligns with the goals of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
  • Analysis of the climate impact resulting from demolition (and potential new construction). In what way does proposed demolition meet (or run counter to) sustainability goals for the state and region.

The Masonic Home, also aptly known as the Landmark on Sound, is not only a cultural and historic treasure that visually connects Washingtonians and visitors alike to the legacies of our past but is also an undeniable opportunity to actualize the goals set by the City of Des Moines and its local and regional stakeholders and community members. Historic Preservation and Potential Future Adaptive Reuse alternatives must be thoroughly exhausted prior to any further consideration of demolition, especially when no redevelopment plans have been made public.

We have an opportunity to revitalize one of Washington’s great historic landmarks – let’s not miss the chance! Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,
[YOUR NAME]

[As you make the case in your letter, please feel free to reference any of the points/concerns outlined above and personalize your letter any way you see fit.]


TAKE ACTION TODAY!

At this time, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation urges you to take action by:

(1) Virtual Public Scoping Meeting – Attending and commenting at the virtual meeting (Zoom) on Tuesday, May 17 from 6pm to 8:30 PM PST. Register today to receive an email and calendar reminder: bit.ly/zenithmtg

and

(2) Written Comments – Submit a written comment via physical mail or online comment form by Thursday, June 2, 2022 at 4:30 PM PST

Written comments may be submitted:

Online Form: https://comment-tracker.esassoc.com/des_moines/index.html#/24/welcome
Mail Addressing:
City of Des Moines
Attn: SEPA Official (LUA2019-0032)
21630 11th Avenue S., Suite D
Des Moines, WA 98198

(Optional) If you would like for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation to submit comments on your behalf, please email huy@nullpreservewa.org the following information:

First & Last Name
Organization
Email
Address, City, State, Zip Code
Any personalized comment to add to the template message


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Please bookmark these pages for references and updates to the ongoing campaign until the threat of demolition is completely off the table!


City of Des Moines – Permit File LUA2019-0032


City of Des Moines – Current Projects – Zenith Properties Building Demolition Application