An effort to restore and preserve Sequim’s past is getting tangled up in a cell service company’s efforts to modify some modern equipment.
For months, owners Ryan Schaafsma and Jason Hoffman have been working to rehabilitate the iconic granary/grain tower and attached structures in the city of Sequim.
Those efforts have hit a proverbial bump, Schaafsma said last week, after reading in the Peninsula Daily News’ public notices on March 25 that Cellco Partnership — a contractor for Verizon, a long-term tenant on the grain elevator tower — is seeking to make changes to their cell equipment.
The notice reads, in part, “Cellco Partnership and its controlled affiliates doing business as Verizon Wireless is proposing to add and replace antennas to an existing building located at 531 W Washington St. … the building with antennas will have an overall structure height of 97-feet.”
The notice indicates that “public comments regarding potential effects from this site on historic properties may be submitted within 30-days from the date of this publication.”
Verizon’s equipment — long rectangular shapes featured on all four sides of the tower — are cellular antennas that provide Verizon coverage for much of Sequim, Schaafsma wrote in an April 3 Facebook post.
“While coverage is certainly important and the existing antenna have been in place for many years, our principal desire is to preserve the historical integrity of the building and eliminate and/or limit modifications that detract from the building’s current and future use and enjoyment,” he wrote.
Those proposed changes, Schaafsma said in a follow-up interview, are in opposition to what he and Hoffman are seeking to do in restoring the tower to its historic look.
“Our primary goal is to return it to its original configuration,” Schaafsma said.
Representatives with Verizon’s subcontractor were unable to be reached as of press time.
The proposed modifications came as a surprise, Schaafsma said, because he and Hoffman “received no direct notice regarding this change and were afforded no opportunity to discuss the changes or possible alternatives.”
Another Verizon sub-contractor has informed the granary owners that they are scheduled to start some of this work on April 25,” Schaafsma said.
According to Schaafsma, a clause in the contract with Verizon states the property owners have to agree to any major changes beyond a swap of equipment.
“They’re doing something very clearly beyond a swap of equipment,” Schaafsma said. “They think they can make a lot of the modifications without our consent.”
Initial conversations with Verizon, he said, indicated the company was seeking to seal off part of inside the elevator and move the equipment inside, then add a cooling system for the equipment.
“We’re like ‘What?’ That would have been a major modification,” Schaafsma said.
Now it seems the cell service company is abandoning that idea and instead are looking to move more equipment to the outside of the tower, he said.
“That would look terrible; that’s also not a viable solution [and] without any conversation on the impact it’ll have,” Schaafsma said.
The granary/grain tower, he wrote in the April 3 Facebook post, is “one of very few and perhaps even the only elevator that has retained so much of its original equipment and is uniquely located in a space where it is readily accessible to the public.”
Conversations with Verizon representatives, however, are few and far between, Schaafsma said.
“They’re barely willing to talk with us,” he said.
Bryan Gunnerson of the Sequim-based Gunnerson Consulting, works with the granary owners and entities including the City of Sequim, among his clients across the nation.
“We negotiated [with Verizon] long and hard to all the cosmetics [at the grain elevator]; we spent a lot of time to get that design,” he said.
“It’s going backwards from what we negotiated,” Gunnerson said, adding, “Wireless carriers don’t care what [the towers] look like.”
He said the contract between the owners and Verizon dictate the proposed work cannot be completed without a building permit from the City of Sequim.
Second tower apppliction
A second Verizon application may make the work in the grain elevator moot, however. Gunnerson said another contractor with Verizon has an application in to establish equipment on a cell tower at Third Avenue and Reservoir Road.
“That site would effectively replace [the grain tower equipment],” Gunnerson said.
He said he’s reached out to both Verizon contractors and that they were unaware of the separate applications.
In a 2022 interview, Schaafsma and Hoffman said they don’t have firm plans on what business they’ll feature in the granary/grain tower but that they are focusing on keeping it publicly accessible. Schaafsma said they’d love to offer tours up to the top of the tower and an observatory of some sort, if permits allow.
Since August 2022, Hoffman and Schaafsma have posted photos and updates of their restoration efforts at facebook.com/thesequimgranary.
Schaafsma said he and Hoffman have applied with the state to have the granary/grain tower designated an historic building and expect it to have federal protections if it is placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a division of the U.S. National Park Service.
Schaafsma said those concerned about the impact of the equipment change can contact the Cellco Partnership representative listed in the legal notice (Sahiro Tsukioka, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 682-651-0034, or 1054 Texan Tr, Ste 300, Grapevine, TX 76051) or voice their support with the City of Sequim at email@example.com.
Contact Schaafsma and Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.