A debate between a historic preservation group and a local homeowners association ended inconclusively at the Sammamish Landmarks Commission meeting on July 27.
The debate centered around whether to give landmark status to Baker House, a farmhouse built in 1908 between Beaver Lake and Pine Lake, and purchased in 1914 by settlers Earl and Minnie Baker.
The commission members delayed making a decision until the Sept. 28 meeting so that they could visit the property themselves.
Given the ratio of new housing developments to hundred-year-old houses in Sammamish, the Sammamish Heritage Society would like to preserve the house for generations to come.
“It’s a rare surviving example of an early 20th century vernacular farmhouse,” said Eirlys Vanderhoff, president of the Sammamish Heritage Society. She explained that the society only knows of about a half dozen such houses in the entire city.
However, the problem lies where the house now sits. What was once the Baker property is now a 107-home housing development known as The Laurels, and the historic farmhouse now just up against the neighborhood’s only playground. The Laurels Homeowners Association owns the house.
While the heritage society intends to restore the house, it currently is “in need of significant repairs” according to a 2007 report by the city of Sammamish.
The city stated in the report that the house had problems such as warped walls, holes in its roof, a structurally unsound stairway, a peeling floor causing tripping hazards, cracked drywall and rotting posts in the foundation, among others.
Members of the HOA fear that, with the house in such proximity to a park where their children play, kids could get inside the structure and injure themselves. HOA members filled the Eagle Room of Issaquah City Hall at the Sammamish Landmarks Commission meeting.
“It’s a hazard for our kids,” said homeowner and father Noor Shaikh. “They spend most of their time [at] the park” He explained that there is a crawl space underneath the house that would be very easy for a child or even a wild animal to access.
“Parents don’t want to send their kids around it,” he said.
“The playground is the one common area of open space for kids,” said attorney Dan Zimberoff, representing the HOA. He explained that the houses in the neighborhood do not have large yards or gardens, and as a result, the children rely on the playground for their fun.
“It has created risks for children for several years,” he said, noting that baseballs have gone flying through the windows of the house while kids are playing.
Some of the HOA members expressed that they would be willing to financially support moving the house to a different location. The house has already survived being moved once, as it had previously been moved about 100 yards from its original location.
“I hope we can find some common ground where we can move this,” said homeowner Sreedhar Kukunooru, who added that he worries about his 10- and 14-year-old who play in the park by the house every day of their summer vacation.
Heritage society members stated that they would like to develop a relationship with the HOA, but that this has been extremely difficult.
“The HOA … changes as often as I change my socks,” SHS Vice President Mary Moore said. “It’s really hard to have a working relationship with the HOA.”
Moore continued that The Laurels “is a neighborhood … that doesn’t have a plan.”
Zimberoff countered that “the Sammamish Heritage Society got involved but never worked with the [homeowners] association” to raise funds or help with restoration of the house.
“The frustration is on both sides,” Vanderhoff told the HOA. “You own the house. We would like to preserve it … We would like to work with you to preserve this very early example of the history of the plateau for which there is nothing similar.”
Looking from the outside, Julie Koler, who is not a member of the Sammamish Heritage Society but has been acting as a historic consultant to the group for the past two years, said that she believes the problem goes back to a communication issue from years ago, and that the finger-pointing is now coming from both sides.
“That’s in the past,” she said, explaining, “I know of several instances where [the Sammamish Heritage Society] did reach out and didn’t get much of a response [from the HOA]. My sense is it’s a great big misunderstanding.”
According to Koler, it is more important to move forward on coming to a compromise over the house than to spend time arguing about the past.
“Let’s at least get people to the table to talk about the different options,” she said.
Zimberoff told the Reporter after the Landmarks Commission meeting that he did not feel the society had given enough reasons “pursuant to the Sammamish Municipal Code” why the house should be named a landmark.
The Sammamish Municipal Code states in 21.10.040 (3) (c) that a “building or structure removed from its original location,” can only be eligible for landmark status if it is “significant primarily for its architectural value” or “importantly associated with a historic person or event.”
“Neither Minnie nor Earl Baker qualify as a historic person, and it’s not tied to a historic event,” Zimberoff said.
This would then leave architectural value as the only possible criterion, but Zimberoff pointed out that “the architectural value had long been lost over years of neglect.”
“The criteria is very specific and that’s where I feel the commission strayed,” Zimberoff said.
Koler, who has a strong background in historic preservation, disagreed with him.
“I feel very strongly that it does meet the architectural criterion … There is significant original fabric there to be able to do a [complete] restoration,” Koler said.
She added that in her experience, she had “seen far worse buildings landmarked and restored.”
“The limits the HOA is putting on preserving the house [are] based on their narrow point of view about preservation,” Koler said.