Federal Way’s plan for the West Hylebos Basin is taking another step forward.
In December of 2015, the city purchased the Larson-Justice property, a two-acre parcel located in the West Hylebos, for $100,000. After evaluating the historical value of the property at the request of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, the King County Land Use and Transportation Committee approved the city’s bid to move forward with demolishing and removing the structures onsite in September of 2016.
Almost one year later, the Larson-Justice property will go before the City Council at its meeting Sept. 5 for the final time. The final step is a vote to award the job to the selected contractor, who will then demolish the six structures on the two-acre property.
The demolition of the structures at 36818 Eighth Ave. S. will allow the city to use the property for its proposed nature trail system already identified in the city’s surface water capital improvements list.
“The City Council has a vision for us,” Federal Way Public Works Director Marwan Salloum said. “In addition to restoring that property back to its natural habitat, the goal is to build an educational trail along the Hylebos.”
Thus far, the city has purchased 10 properties within the West Hylebos; the Larson-Justice property is the latest. When the city purchases a property for conservation purposes, the policy is always to demolish any pre-existing structures on the property.
Because the West Hylebos Creek currently runs through the Larson-Justice property, Surface Water Manager Theresa Thurlow said it is the department’s goal to return the area to a natural habitat.
The city started restoring the West Hylebos area as early as 1994.
“The restoration of the area is important,” Thurlow said. “It will help to restore the water quality for our citizens.”
In June of 2016, the City Council asked Thurlow’s team to look into the historical value of the structures on the property.
What they found were structures, built in Federal Way around 1890, that were struggling to stay upright.
The council was reminded SWM funds could not be used to restore the property in any way.
“If it was to be preserved as a historic site, the SWM utility fee could not be used for that,” Thurlow said.
With the help of Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, it was determined, in September 2016, the best outcome for the property was complete demolition.
The demolition of the Larson-Justice property is part of a bigger picture, though. As a means to a solution, Thurlow’s team presented the council with the option of creating a nature trail as an “architectural and cultural resource.”
Salloum said the goal, once the trail is completed, is to provide signage along the trail at each conservation point, which would detail the history of the Larson-Justice property and the other properties that once occupied the West Hylebos Basin.
“The citizens of Federal Way will be able to walk on the trail, and they can enjoy the natural scenery the city offers,” Salloum said.
While it is possible for the two-bedroom William J. Meers home on the property to be preserved, that was not considered as an option because of the challenges it presents to the city. There would need to be at least one, full-time person on the property at all times, Salloum said.
Salloum and city staff have dealt with routine vandalism and theft of items within the home over the years. He said the house is also likely infested with mold and asbestos.
The property is also in an isolated location. To be preserved, the owner would have to physically move the home to a different location because it currently does not have access to sewage, which is a county violation.
Active power lines in the area also make it almost impossible for a potential owner to move the home to a new location for preservation.
“It’s way off the beaten path,” Thurlow said. “It’s not easily accessible to downtown. Even if someone wanted to preserve it, it’s almost in an impossible location.”
While the Meers Homestead is going away, its historic significance within the city of Federal Way is not.
There are plans for rest areas along the trail that will span the West Hylebos Basin. One of those rest areas will be at the Larson-Justice parcel. It will tell the story of William J. Meers and the Federal Way home he occupied in 1890.
The history of the home will remain, while the future of the West Hylebos region takes another step forward.
“We buy these properties to restore them to a natural setting,” Salloum said. “Larson-Justice has a frontage next to a stream. The vision is to re-vegetate it back to its original state.”