Proposed historic district continues to take shape

A storied Kent area may soon become the first historic neighborhood district in South King County.

The Kent Historical Museum and Mill Creek Neighborhood Council are working with city and county officials to complete the steps necessary to designate a lower East Hill area of historic homes as a registered King County Landmark district.

"From what I'm hearing, it sounds really good," said Toni Azzola, the city's Neighborhood Program coordinator, who has been working closely with interested groups on the project. "There's a huge majority in favor of becoming a historic district."

The City Council supports the idea, agreeing to move the nomination of the Mill Creek Historic District forward to the King County Historic Preservation and Landmarks Commission for consideration.

If approved by all parties, including the Mill Creek Neighborhood Association (MCNA), the proposed district would become a registered landmark, the first of its kind in South King County.

The application process involves notification to homeowners and residents, followed by a review and pubic hearing, possibly by late October, officials said.

The general boundaries for the proposed historic district are Clark Avenue North to the west, Hazel Avenue North to the east, Smith Street to the south, and a portion of Cedar Street to the north.

Homes in the proposed historic district were built between 1903 and 1959, their character and architectural styles reflecting a period of Kent's rich past. Some homes are up to 100 years old, according to Nancy Simpson, president of the Greater Kent Historical Society.

The proposed historic area is unique and has produced four mayors, project leaders pointed out.

Majority favor the district

Fifty of the 55 homes in the proposed historic district are participating in the project from an area that was originally platted in 1890, according to Sharon Bersaas, vice president of the MCNA.

"It's overwhelming. I know a lot of people want it and worked really hard for it to become a historic district, so we can protect our neighborhood and improve our neighborhood, which is one of the major goals," Bersaas said of the project that began five years ago.

"It would be the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. We can't see a downside to all of this."

Bersaas, a homeowner in the neighborhood, added that the historic district boundary is malleable over time and can be amended to include others who would like to join the proposed historic district.

A move to designate and preserve the proposed district as a historic landmark is important to the city's heritage, Simpson and project leaders said.

"We're losing our identity as the city. We've become an industry area," Simpson said. "By focusing on the historic area, especially this neighborhood with the houses and the street names for early pioneers, it lets the community know that we were an early pioneer community."

Julie Kohler, preservation officer for the King County Historic Preservation Program, said the proposed district represents of part of Kent's history and paints a community's social and economic picture throughout the first six decades of the 20th century.

Such landmark designation has its benefits, project leaders said. Homeowners can access grants or loans to renovate and preserve their properties, they said. Owners also can pursue materials and gain assistance from architects through King County and those who deal with historic preservation.

"It stabilizes the neighborhood," Bersaas said of the designation.

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