ILWACO — Let the renaissance begin!
That was the mood at the Ilwaco City Council meeting Monday night.
Members unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for Abigail Mack, an investor from Ohio, to renovate the long-vacant Doupé Building at the center of downtown.
The permit is needed because the building at 102 First Street is zoned for commercial use, which does not automatically allow residential units on the street level. Mack plans to renovate the building with five apartments downstairs and nine on the second level. Half the lower level of the former Aberdeen Packing Co. landmark will remain commercial.
‘Big win’ for Ilwaco
Doug Knutzen, of Long Beach Realty, represented Mack, whose business, Arbor Equities, is based in Columbus, Ohio. He said she needed the extra apartments to generate cash flow to help finance the overall renovation.
At an earlier meeting, he had said Mack was waiting for the permit as the final step before buying the building from Great Northwest Federal Credit Union. City paperwork indicates a purchase price of $195,000, but Knutzen gave the first public indication of the scope of the renovation Monday.
“I see this as a ‘big win’ for the city of Ilwaco,” said Knutzen, describing his admiration of the manner in which Mack had crawled through every space of the 1880 building checking its “bones.”
“I said, “Are you ready to put $1 million into that building?’ and she said ‘Yes, I am,’” he said.
Residents weigh in
In a repeat of the earlier discussion at the Ilwaco Planning Commission May 1, the project was enthusiastically welcomed by most residents.
Prior discussions highlighted fears for the potential loss of commercial space because of the ground-floor apartments. Concerns Monday were adequate parking and whether it would be a Section 8 project (federally assisted, low-income housing). Knutzen addressed both, saying parking met requirements and there was a plan for more if needed. He said Section 8 was never part of the project’s scope.
In her various Peninsula businesses, Tiffany Turner said she employed 100 people and housing was a huge issue for them. “I have known Abigail Mack for 10 years,” she said. “She’s a community-builder. I can’t imagine a better person moving here to our community. We have an abundance of empty commerical spaces.”
Madeline Moore of Chinook said the project would enhance the community — thanks to Mack’s enterprise. “She’s done dozens of projects like this and she’s here with her eyes wide open,” she said. “If we lose that building, we are losing a part of our local history. The economic impact on this community is going to be huge.”
Kelly Frech is the nearest neighbor to the planned apartments at the rear of the building where the pub used to be. “It’s not going to disrupt the community. This county needs this kind of housing — workforce housing,“ she said. “It’s going to be a catalyst.”
Jim Chrietzberg of Seaview operates Serious Pizza, which is diagonally across the street from the Doupé building at Ilwaco’s main intersection. He told the City Council that while the project might have negatives as well as positives, “What you do will galvanize this community. And you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.”
Jenna Nisbett said she was excited. “I think the residential will be a great solution to fixing that building,” she said. Thandi Rosenbaum added that any possible concerns about the loss of commercial were outweighed by the need for more housing.
Ann Saari, a longtime Ilwaco resident and former Pacific County commissioner, expressed caution, fearing the possibility of its use as short-term rentals, but she said she was excited to see the “cornerstone” of the town being saved.
She added that she hoped the city investigated the project properly. “After so many years of watching your town heading towards becoming a ghost town, it’s easy to jump on board, but it’s your job to ask questions,” she said.
For the record, after very little discussion the City Council voted unanimously to approve the conditional use permit. Jared Oakes excused himself from the discussion and vote because he had encouraged Mack to take a look at the building.
Knutzen left the meeting with his characteristic smile firmly in place. “I think this is a good solid plan,” he said, “and I stand behind it.”