Kent has its landmark district

A historic Kent neighborhood has become a registered landmark, the first of its kind in South King County.

A historic Kent neighborhood has become a registered landmark, the first of its kind in South King County.

The King County Landmarks Commission unanimously approved the Mill Creek Neighborhood Association’s nomination for official landmark designation at a Nov. 20 public hearing at the Kent Senior Activity Center.

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

According to the commission, Kent is the first city in the county outside Seattle to earn the historic designation in about 10 years.

After several years of action, advocacy, historic house research, tours and more, the neighborhood council was rewarded for its efforts.

“It is terrific,” said Sharon Bersaas, the Mill Creek council vice president and homeowner in the district. “It’s the greatest birthday present I have ever had. … It’s very exciting. … It makes for a bigger historic footprint.”

Fifty of the 60 homes in the historic Mill Creek neighborhood agreed to contribute to the district from an area that was originally platted in 1890, Bersaas said.

Those noncontributing homes have either been remodeled to the point where they no longer have original features or have moved into the district from different neighborhoods, she said.

The historic district’s general boundaries 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.

The district is a well-preserved concentration of houses that reflect the development of Kent during the first half of the 20th century. Homes in the 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.

Bersaas added that the historic district boundary is malleable over time and can be amended to include others who would like to be included in the historic district.

The move to designate and preserve the district as a historic landmark is important to the city’s heritage, project leaders said.

“It’s an acknowledgement, more than anything, on the part of city and the community that their history is worth preserving,” said Julie Koler, preservation officer for the King County Historic Preservation Program.

Koler said the 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, loans and tax-abatement programs to renovate and preserve their properties. Owners also can pursue materials and gain assistance from architects and those who deal with historic preservation.

What’s left for the neighborhood group is the formalities of paying the nomination application fee and establishing specific design guidelines.

City officials welcome the district and hope other historic neighborhoods will follow suit.

“We really do have a great city and a great core of historic downtown that’s still intact,” said Toni Azzola, the city’s Neighborhood Program coordinator, who has worked closely with the groups on the project.

“I’m so excited. … (Kent) has a very big footprint than most cities,” she said. “I’m hoping that maybe surrounding neighborhoods would look at this as, ‘gee, they could do it, maybe we can do it, too.'”

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