Advocacy Alert: Masonic Home of Washington
The City of Des Moines released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for demolition of the Masonic Home on January 9, 2024. The period for public comment is open until March 8, 2024, at 4:30 p.m. Additionally, a virtual public hearing for comments on the Draft EIS will be held on January 31, 2024, at 6:00 pm. To obtain a copy of the report, register for the virtual public hearing, and to submit written comments, please visit the City of Des Moines website. This is our chance to make our voices heard and to try to save and adaptively reuse this important historic site!
In 2015, the Washington Trust featured the Masonic Home of Washington in Des Moines in our Most Endangered Places Program. Known as “the Landmark on the Sound,” the Masonic Home is a stunning historic site with great potential for adaptive reuse. 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).
Drafting the EIS started in late August 2022, and it was released to the public for comment on January 9, 2024. We believe that the Draft EIS focuses on the effects of demolition and does not thoroughly explore ways to adapt and reuse the existing buildings of the Masonic Home. This leaves the future of the more than 30-acre site unknown and unexamined. The Masonic Home deserves more!
The period for public comment is open until March 8, 2024, at 4:30 pm. Additionally, a virtual public hearing for comments on the Draft EIS will be held on January 31, 2024, at 6:00 pm. The public’s comments will be reviewed and responded to in the Final EIS. If you think this building should be preserved from demolition for future use to the community, you can use these opportunities to make your voice heard!
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is the building too far gone to save?
The building is in good condition for a structure nearing 100 years old. However, we can assume that all of the systems (heating, mechanical, electrical, etc.) would need to be replaced to enable a new use for the building. Additionally, the building would require some level of seismic stabilization. Depending on what the building is used for, some of the interior spaces may need reconfiguration. All of these elements are expensive to implement. But the building is in good condition overall and warrants rehabilitation.
- Where would money come from for the building’s restoration?
The goal with many preservation projects is to leverage future revenue from new construction to help support rehabilitation of the historic building. The property owner has not provided any economic analysis demonstrating the feasibility of incorporating the Masonic Home as part of a development project that includes new construction as well.
- How could the building be reused?
The zoning of the site currently is I-C (Institutional Campus), which allows for colleges, universities, educational facilities, and retirement facilities. This zone classification also provides flexibility to allow for appropriate reuse of surplus institutional buildings, which could be interpreted to mean that other uses may be allowed in the building. The city council does have authority to rezone areas for other uses as well.
- What would take its place if demolished?
The current demolition application does not provide any information on what would replace the building after it is demolished.
Call for Public Comments
The City has provided a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the public to comment on by March 8, 2024, that explores the following options:
- No Action – This option is to continue existing site conditions, retaining existing structures as vacant and unutilized. Notably, this option serves as the baseline for comparison of the other two options as required by SEPA.
- Demolition – This option is to demolish all existing structures and vacant buildings on site as proposed.
- Historic Preservation and Potential Future Adaptive Reuse – This option proposes the preservation and structural stabilization of all existing structures on the site—resulting in building conditions that will more easily facilitate future adaptive reuse. Notably, this option includes a cost-benefit analysis that incorporates available historic preservation programs and tax incentives.
Take Action Today!
(1) Virtual Public Meeting – Attend and comment at the virtual meeting on Wednesday, January 31 at 6:00 pm! Register here today to receive an email and calendar reminder. Speaking time will be limited to two minutes.
(2) Written Comments – Submit your written comment via physical mail or online comment form by Friday, March 8 at 4:30 pm. (See below for a letter template you can use in submitting your comments!)
Written comments may be submitted in one of three ways:
City of Des Moines
Attn: SEPA Official (LUA2019-0032)
21630 11th Avenue S., Suite D
Des Moines, WA 98198
- If you would like the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation to submit comments on your behalf, please email email@example.com with “Des Moines Masonic Home Comments” in the subject line and with the following information:
- First and last name
- Address, city, state, zip code
- Any personalized comment you would like to add to the Washington Trust’s template message.
The Washington Trust believes the Draft EIS is incomplete because it fails to consider the project in its entirety—there are no details of proposed development following demolition. Rather, the owner’s stated objective is demolition to prevent trespassing, vandalism, and graffiti within the structures. The failure of the Draft EIS to provide a holistic, comprehensive understanding for the future of the site requires the city to deny the application for a demolition permit.
We have identified several concerns with the Draft EIS:
1. The Draft EIS clearly shows that demolition would be a significant adverse impact on the environment and historic resources.
- The record clearly shows that the Masonic Home is an incredibly significant resource.
- Altogether, the site is eligible to be listed as its own historic district, with 10 contributing resources, three of which are also individually National Register eligible.
- Demolition is proposed for all structures, buildings, and landscape features on the site: the water tower, main building (eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places), pump house, front wall and gate, water tower pump house, garage, outdoor kitchen, outdoor restroom, and model home, in addition to the lawns and some of the forested area.
- The proposed demolition does not include any information about what will replace the Masonic Home on the site. Without this information, it is impossible to fully understand the environmental impacts demolition has.
2. Considering the history embodied in the Masonic Home as described in the Draft EIS, the mitigation measures proposed as part of the plan for demolition are inadequate and fail to address the loss of the resource in a meaningful way. The proposed mitigation does not appear to substantively relate to the building itself; furthermore, there is the question as to whether any action taken could sufficiently mitigate the loss of the resource. We cannot recall another instance where an entire National Register historic district has been proposed for demolition in one fell swoop. Given the singularly unique nature of the Masonic Home, demolition in this case cannot be mitigated.
3. The City of Des Moines has authority regarding SEPA under the Des Moines Municipal Code to “preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national and local heritage.” The Draft EIS does not identify “all practicable means” to preserve the Masonic Home, a resource that clearly represents an important historic and cultural aspect of our national and local heritage (DMMC 16.05.310(4)(a)(iv)).
- Appendix E of the Draft EIS provides cost estimates for the rehabilitation of the Masonic Home along with various financing scenarios, forecasting a significant financing shortfall. But this evaluation considers the Masonic Home as a standalone building. Given the reasonable assumption that the property owner does intend to develop the site at some point, the potential for future development to leverage rehabilitation of the historic structure must be considered. The Draft EIS fails to consider this and is thus inadequate.
4. The City of Des Moines has authority regarding SEPA under the Des Moines Municipal Code to “assure for all people of the state safe, healthful, productive, and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings.”
- The Draft EIS does not support findings that ensure the retention of aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings (DMMC 16.05.310(4)(a)(ii)). Clearly a vacant lot following demolition would result in significantly diminished surroundings from both an aesthetic and cultural standpoint. By failing to include future development scenarios for the site, it is impossible to determine how this stipulation in the city code can be met.
5. If the property owner isn’t meeting the fire safety requirements of the code (the International Fire Code (IFC) Section 311.1 requires the safeguarding and a minimum level of maintenance in compliance with IFC Sections 311.1.1 through 311.6), that should not be used as part of the argument for allowing demolition.
6. Demolition of the Masonic Home site contradicts the City of Des Moines Comprehensive Plan goals to preserve and enhance the quality of life and the diverse residential neighborhoods of the community, serving 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. Proposing its demolition with no public redevelopment plans is counterproductive to the City’s own goals.
7. 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 100-year-old, five-story, 130,000-square-foot building—the energy used to construct the building initially would result in an estimated 20,000 tons of building material being deposited into a landfill. The Draft EIS shows demolition could have potential adverse impacts to the community through noise, vibration, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, stormwater runoff quality, as well as to plants and animals. The combined impacts to the environment because of demolition could be very significant.
Comment Letter Template
For your convenience, we have provided the following comment letter template. Please feel free to copy and paste (and adapt) the language below as needed in making your public comments:
To the City of Des Moines, Washington:
I am writing to provide comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for Zenith Properties Building Demolition Application, File Number LUA2019-0032. The application seeks a permit for the demolition of 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 that has been determined eligible for listing in the Washington Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Rather than pursuing demolition, I fully support the “Historic Preservation and Potential Future Adaptive Reuse” alternative in the Draft EIS.
The total impact to the environment and cultural resources cannot be understood or analyzed with no information on the potential redevelopment of the site. The Draft EIS is incomplete and does not adequately meet the requirements of the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA).
The Masonic Home is not only a cultural and historic treasure that 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, its local and regional stakeholders, and community members. Historic Preservation and Potential Future Adaptive Reuse options must be thoroughly exhausted prior to any further consideration of demolition, especially when no redevelopment plans have been made public.
There is no clear way to mitigate the loss of such a significant resource, and so demolition and mitigation should not be pursued. The City of Des Moines should not issue a demolition permit and should pursue alternative three, Historic Preservation and Potential Future Adaptive Reuse, as the preferred alternative. This alternative should include an economic feasibility study for rehabilitation of the existing Masonic Home as part of a project which also considers new development on the site.
We have an opportunity to revitalize one of Washington’s great historic landmarks—let’s not miss the chance! Thank you for your support.
[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.]
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
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