Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bremerton Historic Preservation District Proposal

My contribution to a presentation to Mayor Lent
for the project: 
"Remaking Place: Bremerton Revitalization"
Winter 2012

Remaking Place: Bremerton Revitalization Project

This proposal’s aim is to improve the quality of life for residents within the downtown neighborhood by promoting a Historical Bremerton District. This project encourages the preservation of the distinct architectural history of Bremerton’s residential core, encourages civic pride and maintains the availability of decent and affordable single-family residences by extending property tax exemption to owners of these homes in exchange for making basic safety and cosmetic improvements to their properties.
Currently Bremerton has a property tax exemption program available to individuals and corporations for improving or developing new or existing multi-unit residences within the area (Code Publishing: Bremerton Municipal Code 3.78).  By expanding BMC 3.78, the heart of Bremerton’s residential core, dominated by early 20th century homes would also be rejuvenated, adding greatly to the unification of the downtown businesses and the surrounding residents. Benefits for the community would include: beautification of the downtown residential core, encouraged destination tourism like that of Port Townsend, opportunities for landowners to increase the value of their properties, and meaningful improvements for the safety and well-being of the core’s residents. 

Currently, the median household income in the district is a third less than the rest of residential Bremerton at just under $27,000 per year, with nearly 37% of the residents within the area living below the poverty level. The area supports a population density level two and a half times that of the rest of Bremerton. The vast majority of residences are rentals, with a majority of blocks in the area showing 80%-100% renter occupied homes (City-Data). Safety concerns such as inadequate entry doors, lack of exterior lighting, and broken or non-existent window and door locks make a secure and restful home an unaffordable luxury for many residents.  Many of these homes are dilapidated: inadequate heating or cooling caused by under insulated walls, attics and windows promote unsanitary and unhealthful living conditions while draining tenant’s already limited resources with high utility bills. Failing roofs patched with tarps, clogged or nonexistent gutters, and missing exterior paint deteriorate value and squelch civic pride.
And yet, these homes are still occupied. Renters still want to participate in the hope of having a home of their own, a yard for their children or pets, a small garden, a piece of the American Dream. Tenants of all income levels deserve these basic necessities: safe, healthy community housing, and the choice between living in a modest single family home or an apartment. Property owners who have modest holdings of single-family units should be afforded the same tax benefits that are already offered to large apartment complex owners under the existing code.  With the city of Bremerton actively promoting this amended tax incentive plan, more middle-income landlords would be encouraged to improve their rental units to a base standard set by the city.
Covered Improvements:
Within this proposal eligible improvements would include: insuring minimum standards of security such as deadbolts, exterior grade doors in entrances, peepholes, working outdoor security lights, and locking windows.  Installing energy efficient windows, upgrading furnaces, water heaters, and installation of grounded electrical outlets would increase energy savings and safety. Upgraded exterior paint and repairs to roofs and gutters would increase the civic pride of the neighborhood and encourage community involvement. In exchange for the tax exemption, owners would be prohibited from raising rental rates of the properties during their participation in the program. This would encourage more landlords to bring the current housing within the proposed Historical District up to the minimum standard.  This must be encouraged if Bremerton wants to implement a successful urban rejuvenation plan.
As part of the program, participating landlords would display an,   “I’m restoring Historic Bremerton”   sign prominently in the yard while improvements are being made. This would bolster community involvement, get neighbors talking, and create a buzz. Additionally, many residents would gladly assist their landlords in tasks such as painting and pruning, knowing that they would enjoy these improvements without having their rents increase. Such partnerships within the program would boost renters’ motivation to maintain their yards and neighborhoods. Utilizing the untapped resources of citizen involvement and civic pride would be a great side benefit to help promote the Historic District Restoration Plan.
Current Examples:
Other communities have proven the positive social and economic impact a restoration project can have on a neighborhood. Pasadena’s Bungalow Heaven project is one example. This project, in preserving the distinct architecture of the neighborhood not only brought the community together, improved living conditions for residents and increased property values, but it also created a bond among the residents that was instrumental in creating a safer, neighborly community. Bob Kneisel, an early proponent of Pasadena’s project writes about organizing the Bungalow Heaven historic district program: “This victory gave us a new sense of power and of community. We started to see our neighborhood not just as rows of houses, but as our own turf, a place we all liked, we all shared in, and were now working to preserve.” The project also revealed to residents the necessity for proactive community involvement to solve local issues.  Kneisel continues: “In canvassing the neighborhood and talking about the need to preserve it by becoming a Landmark District, we discovered that a host of other issues concerned our neighbors. Some were alarmed at rising crime. Others didn’t like all the traffic. The park was a mess. Abandoned vehicles (and houses) were problems.” While creating the historic district, Bungalow Heaven also began a successful Neighborhood Watch which lowered the incidence of crime and nuisance properties, and increased community pro-activism. As an added bonus, Bungalow Heaven was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2008, and has been featured by national and international media. This community recognized the unique character of its historic housing, and found a way to use that to improve conditions while gaining international recognition.
 By fostering a similar program, Bremerton could also benefit as a community through increased tourism. Just as the City’s new Fountain Parks showcase our nautical heritage and the vital role the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard has played in shaping Bremerton’s history, the historic neighborhoods that housed so many War-Era shipbuilders can be showcased as part of our regional heritage. By extending this theme into the proposed Historic District, Bremerton can connect Evergreen Park to the Fountain Parks with a Historic District pedestrian corridor. This would bring increased foot traffic and potential commerce to Pacific Avenue businesses, and extend Bremerton’s Revitalization along major corridors.
Renovation is cost effective. In a related story, Habitat for Humanity recently completed a renovation of an older home in Bremerton. The Kitsap Sun reported that the project, completed in early February 2012, took half the time and half the money of their usual new construction projects (Phan). Habitat could prove to be a valuable partnership for the Historic Preservation Project. Other community resources could be utilized to support this plan, such as local shelter and community action groups, youth organizations, and vocational training programs or student service groups from Olympic College and area high schools. These could be inexpensive labor alternatives for home owners who would like to take part in the Preservation Program, but lack initial capital for improvements.
The Historic District Space:
A community district is defined by its characteristics: architectural styles, resident involvement, and civic pride; but it is not just the buildings that shape a place. A neighborhood’s open spaces play a vital role as well.  Vacant lots with overgrown brush, construction waste and litter encourage crime; they become havens for rodents and leave residents feeling unsafe in their own neighborhood.  For these reasons, property owners of vacant land would also be eligible for the incentive program by cleaning up and offering their lot as a Historic District Community Vegetable Garden, available for use by residents within the zone. By cleaning up construction debris, refuse and invasive plants, tilling the lot, seeding a cover crop of low-cost, hardy annual sunflowers and prominently displaying a, This lot available for adoption as a Historic Bremerton Community Garden  sign, the owner would also be eligible for the benefit afforded currently in BMC Chapter 3.78. Once a garden was adopted, it would be replanted and maintained by neighborhood gardeners who pledged to maintain the personal use garden to a minimum standard.
As Bremerton works toward enhancing its downtown core, improving its park to park corridors and bringing commerce and enthusiastic residents to its center, its historic residential district adds an opportunity to strengthen its residential core. By encouraging the city’s property owners to invest in the community, Bremerton would invest in the residents who could become the downtown’s greatest allies and supporters. Residents who have something to take pride in are active participants with a stake in seeing Downtown Bremerton’s Sub Area Plan succeed. A community who takes pride in itself and its surroundings is a healthy prosperous community, and a commerce friendly environment in downtown’s business district will become successful if the residential areas surrounding the core are also welcoming, positive functioning neighborhoods.



A comparison of data from the proposed historic district and the rest of Bremerton
Bremerton’s Historic Downtown Neighborhood defined as
Chester Avenue to Washington Avenue, Burwell Street to 11th Street (City-Data: 2009)

  percentage of households living under the poverty level:
from 32% (shown in buff)  to 44% (shown in yellow)

   percentage of owner occupied vs. renter occupied homes:
from 8% renter occupied (shown in purple) to 100% renter occupied (shown in yellow)

Area: 0.492 square miles
Population: 2,039

Population density:
Downtown:     4,148 people per square mile
Bremerton:   1,644 people per square mile

Median income per household:
Downtown:    $26,791
Bremerton:    $40,228

Percentage of residents below poverty level:
Downtown:    36.9%
Bremerton:      19.4%


A candidate for the Historic District Preservation Project :

This home and vacant lot are located on Pacific Avenue, south of 12th street along the proposed Pacific Avenue Park to Park Corridor.

This is one of several potential Historic District Restoration project house and lot sites on this block. (Photo- Anna Fern)


Possible improvements include:  insulated windows, exterior grade entry door, deadbolt, front steps, awning, handrail, security light,
gutters, replacement roofing, exterior paint, foundation plantings. To the right is a future Historic Bremerton Community Garden;
as it waits for adoption, low-maintenance, cheery sunflowers greet passers-by.
City of Bremerton Historic Bremerton Preservation Project signs inform the community and spur involvement. (Illustration- Anna Fern)

 Proposed Downtown Historic District Preservation zones
  map adapted from the City of Bremerton Downtown Regional Center Sub Area Plan  
Northern orientation; no given scale. 2007

1) Highland Neighborhood - orange field on right- larger homes, boarding houses   early 20th century. Would be an attractive showcase neighborhood of large, historic homes.
Pacific Avenue Park to Park Corridor -pink field- bounded by Cogean and Pleasant Avenues. Proposed focus of Historic District Project. Mixed residential and business- several smaller homes. Higher percentage of owner-occupied properties fronting Pacific Avenue.
3) Proposed Phase 1 Focus Area - yellow field-of Historic District Project. Single family units, Bounded by Park and Cogean Avenues. Prime area for incentive program. Area dominated by small Craftsman and War Era bungalow rental homes built between 1900 and 1930.
4) Sustainability Neighborhood -orange field on left- Bounded by Warren and Park Avenues. High rental resident concentration area. Proposed focus of Historical District Project. Several small homes, older apartments. High concentration of vacant lots, potential community gardens.
5) 6th and Burwell Streets Corridors - blue field-major thoroughfares with high potential tourist impact- connects SR3, HWY 303, HWY 304, and Washington State Ferry.



Code Publishing: Bremerton Municipal Code 3.78, Multi-Family Property Tax Exem
ption information.

Bungalow Heaven - Pasadena, California <

City-Data - Statistics and graphs for resident income, ownership and occupancy within the 98337 zip code.

Downtown Regional Center Sub Area Plan zoning map
Downtown Sub Area Plan Overview, City of Bremerton.

Kneisel, Bob. Bungalow Heaven Origins: The Way it Was.

Phan, Amy published by the Kitsap Sun, February 11, 2012.
“Habitat for Humanity celebrates first home renovation”


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