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Residents demand that historic home be saved

Coupeville preservationist Ken Pickard speaks during a scoping meeting held Tuesday night.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Coupeville preservationist Ken Pickard speaks during a scoping meeting held Tuesday night.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

The Libbey House has been a fixture on North Main Street in Coupeville for 139 years. If vocal residents have their way, the historic building will stay in its current location for many years to come.

Approximately 30 people participated in a 90-minute public meeting Tuesday night to voice their concerns about the possible demolition of the old house built by Joseph Libbey.

"I am totally opposed to the demolition of this historic home," Suzanne Shea, who is also a member of the Libbey family, said during Tuesday's "scoping" meeting.

Local builder Ted Clifton applied for a demolition permit for the Libbey House. Because of the adverse impacts the demolition a historic structure would have on the town, officials are requiring an environmental impact statement.

Shea said the town should require several feasibility studies about renovating the home, moving the home, or donating it to an entity to transform it into a museum. However, she wanted to make sure the home stays in its current location.

Shea blamed the house's condition squarely on Clifton.

"If the house is in poor condition, it's due to Clifton's ownership," Shea said during the meeting.

Coupeville resident Lyla Snover, who is also a Libbey family member, highlighted the history of the house and all of the prominent town leaders that have been associated with the structure. She broke down in tears when she mentioned her father, who was a longtime county auditor.

Snover also pointed out the home is older than most of the buildings on Front Street.

Crockett Farm owner Paula Spina also advocated that the Libbey House remain in its current location.

She said the destruction of the old home could open the door for the demolition of other historic buildings in town.

"If this demolition is allowed, it sets a precedent," Spina said. She pointed out that the Judge Still house is currently up for sale, and that home could also end up destroyed.

Coupeville resident Ken Pickard questioned Town Planner Larry Kwarsick if the town has the authority to prevent the demolition permit from eventually being issued. Kwarsick said the town has the authority through the State Environmental Policy Act.

Mark Preiss, manager of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve which includes Coupeville in its boundaries, said the town should also consider the energy required in demolishing the home, moving the debris into a landfill and constructing a new building.

"The impact on the carbon footprint with demolition is significant and needs to be addressed," Preiss told the crowd.

Clifton attended the meeting and spoke about the Libbey House's condition. He brought with him a rotted piece of wood that was part of the building's siding.

"This is 140 years of neglect — shameful neglect," Clifton said while holding up the piece of siding for the crowd to see. He said he purchased the building with the full intention of restoring the building.

Plans started to change when he learned the joists under the building were rotted. He said that the building needs a new foundation and there is a possibility it would have to be moved several feet to make room for a possible road that would eventually connect Broadway and Main Street.

"I didn't know this until about two weeks ago," Clifton said about the building's condition.

After the meeting, Clifton said he is also going to apply for a building permit. That will allow him to take a closer look at the building to determine its precise condition. He is also meeting with groups to see if there is any interest in restoring it.

Kwarsick said people have until the end of business Friday, April 17, to submit comments about the scope of the environmental impact statement. Those comments can be sent to Larry Kwarsick, Town Planner, P.O. Box 725, 4 NE Seventh St., Coupeville, WA 98239. Comments can also be emailed to Townplan@whidbey.net.

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