Planning Commission puts Limedock project on hold
March 29, 2023
History and mystery abound in equal measure at the Limedock Building on North First Street.
The La Conner Planning Commission, upon recommendation of Town planner Michael Davolio, opted last Tuesday to take no immediate action on a proposed conversion of second floor office space into two new residential units at the aged – if not officially historic – waterfront structure.
The plan includes external work: the addition of two gabled dormers on the roof and a ground level coffee shop as a gateway to the building’s commercial ventures.
But questions arose during a robust discussion concerning how many of the existing residential spaces have been formally permitted, the wisdom of sacrificing business offices for residential use in a commercial zone, potential project impacts on its current businesses and whether additional waterfront living quarters should be allowed with the Town lacking a fire boat.
“There are,” said Commissioner Marna Hanneman, “too many unanswered questions.”
She wondered if the building, which bears an historical plaque that staff and the Washington State architectural historian have determined was placed in error, can handle more bathrooms and kitchens.
Commission Chair Carol Hedlin also noted concerns from the public.
Davolio’s staff report had said there are “several questions still remaining with regard to this proposal.” Tuesday he suggested the matter be continued 30 days and said, “the applicant needs to revise the application.”
Project architect Peter Anderson said the building’s owners believe the Limedock’s present office space is underutilized and that addition of a ground floor coffee shop would provide “a small footprint that provides a presence out front that lets the public know there’s retail inside.”
He intends to engage civil and marine engineers on the project and plans new fire sprinklers throughout the building.
La Conner builder Gary Nelson – a lifelong local resident and former planning commissioner – said offices he and his wife, Heike, a civil engineer, maintain at the Limedock would be displaced.
Nelson said a third space on the second floor has been occupied as a residence and also used as a short-term rental. Davolio’s staff report noted one residential unit, designed as a “caretaker apartment,” permitted by the Town, dating to 1985.
“It dumbfounds me to eliminate business space in a commercial zone,” said Nelson, adding that “the building is definitely historic.”
Because the Limedock is not officially designated historic nor located in the Town’s Historic Preservation District, remodeling and renovation there is not required to undergo an Historic Design Review, Davolio said.
“Have you been up in that building on a windy day?” Nelson asked. “It moves four inches. And we don’t need more people living over the water when there’s no fire boat to get them out.”
Davolio said he would use the month-long pause to re-engage dialogue with interested parties.