Published on June 29th, 2015 | by Barbara Parsons12
Development and betrayal: the complicated urbanization of Proctor
Lovers of the Proctor District are frustrated, but it isn’t because they don’t understand the importance of growth in urban neighborhoods. Popular press has suggested that the “well-heeled” residents of Proctor are stuck in the past, unwilling to embrace a new vision for Tacoma that includes change. If that were so, however, they would have objected years ago, before developers broke ground on the 65 foot dragon squatting squarely on the corner of Proctor and 28th.
The Proctor District in Tacoma’s North End offers things not widely available elsewhere in town: walkable historic charm, independent book and toy stores, resale shops, shoe-repair, even a place to buy a good slice of pie. Mostly, it is a warm, welcoming neighborhood that visitors and residents alike can enjoy.
The district developed as a family neighborhood in the early 20th century when it was served by the Tacoma streetcar system. Before construction of the Proctor Bridge at 32nd Street, the shops served only a small neighborhood. In the 1920s the bridge was built and the area became popular as a quiet working-class neighborhood. The homes in Proctor are modest (though north of the bridge many are more elaborate). Then as now, folks moved to the neighborhood to have good schools for their children, quiet streets for playing, and convenient shopping. The homes in the area, two and three bedroom bungalows and small craftsmen homes, were built for young families, not the area’s rich and famous, who lived on Yakima Avenue at that time.
Since the current residents are happy to grow within normal limits, they didn’t object when the city quietly changed the zoning and building height limits. They didn’t object when impending development signs appeared in the strip-mall directly next door to Mason Middle School. Sure, there was a little chatter about the proposed project, but the mall was ugly, its best businesses were gone following the investor buyout, and other businesses were comparatively transient. It had to go sometime, and Bill Evans was behind this project, so neighbors didn’t have to watch too closely. Bill wouldn’t stand behind something out of keeping with Proctor character.
Here we have the crux of the discord; those who love the district are frustrated not because they are spoiled and rich, but for a far better reason: they have been betrayed.
In order for outside reporters and casual observers to understand the level of this betrayal, they must cast their minds back over twenty-five years to when the Proctor District was even sleepier than it is now. There was no Starbucks. No Metropolitan Market. However, there was a core of citizens who loved the neighborhood, one of whom purchased a storefront and opened a gift store. He was personable. He oozed folksy charm. He got involved, helping to raise the curtain at the Blue Mouse; he was at the root of the farmers’ market.
When he cornered a customer, he might talk about his vision for Proctor. Wouldn’t it be swell to get rid of the ugly 1960s strips and build charming little shops with a few apartments on top, all in keeping with the character of the neighborhood? One by one, he introduced neighbors to his dream. They in turn voted him onto the city council. As the Tacoma Weekly reported earlier this month,
“Evans even publicly pondered resigning from his second term on the City Council over any conflict of interest between the City Council’s tax abatement policy and his plans for developing apartments in Proctor 10 years ago that would seek tax abatement under the policy as a way to make them financially viable. Those plans died out and Evans remained on the council until he left in 2008, when he was not allowed to run for re-election because of the city’s two-term limit.”
There were whispers that Bill was buying retail space up and down the street, but no one thought much of it.
It was because they thought they shared a dream that no one questioned the development that Bill slipped past them. Bill was in charge. He’d make sure everything was on the up and up. He sure did.
Up, went his brick building blocks, and up…and up. By the time the neighborhood saw what had hit them – 151 overpriced apartments – it was too late. Now, Proctor residents may not be rich, but they are smart. They knew it was too late to do anything about that dragon crouching on the corner. They sucked in their breaths, stopped dropping in at Bill’s overpriced businesses, and vowed to be more careful the next time.
But before the faux bricks were superglued to the building, they discovered that “next time” was upon them. Already, plans were in place to blow out another strip of shops– this time not so ugly; this time, healthy, self-sustaining— a second giant structure would bookend the neighborhood. Charming bungalow houses, a dry cleaner, and the current home of Proctor Frozen Yogurt and Sonja’s. would all need to be razed.
Residents of the area have much to gain from development and little to lose. When cars filled with over 300 new residents flood the streets, they will not trouble those with sturdy shoes living within walking distance of the shops. Nor will the increased cost of real estate be a burden to residents, who serve to gain equity.
Those who will lose are the many folks who love Proctor, but don’t live here.
The City of Tacoma must place a moratorium on building in the district until we can all assess the results of this first experiment. Considering the scale of these developments and the possible ramifications for traffic, children’s safety, visitor parking and the delicate natural environment, not to do so would be irresponsible.
The opinions stated in this article are those of the author, and do not pretend to represent the feelings or reactions of all residents of the Proctor area.
Featured image from the architectural renderings on the BCRA site.
Thanks to The News Tribune’s Kathleen Cooper for her reporting on this issue.