Building Strong Cities, Protecting Rural Lands

Building Strong Cities, Protecting Rural Lands


Mt. Rainier and the Port of Tacoma taken from Northeast Tacoma

Weighty public safety and health issues have dominated much of our discussions in recent months, so it was nice to get back to my roots with a week that seemed to have a land use theme.

Red Tape Reduction Proposal

This week was the first opportunity for the Community Development Committee to get a look at the development regulation ordinance proposed by the Executive.

While some of the proposals are aimed at clarifying or removing conflicts in the code, others are more substantive. There was significant opposition from folks in attendance on proposals to reduce setback requirements.

I’ll have at least a few amendment proposals before this is all said and done. You can see the presentation that was given in committee starting on page 41 of the committee packet. The idea for this first meeting was to present to committee and continue the hearing into next year so there’s plenty of time to make changes. Let me know what thoughts or questions you might have.

Vote on Tacoma’s Tideflats Subarea Plan

This week the Council approved a resolution declaring the County’s desire to participate in the City of Tacoma’s Tideflat’s subarea plan and authorizing the Executive to negotiate an interlocal agreement to that effect. Councilmember Talbert and I dissented.

While I agree that this an important process, subarea planning is the responsibility of the City as the sole land use authority within its jurisdiction. County authority stops at the incorporated limits of each community and that’s for good reason.

The City wisely included both the Port and the Tribe in the effort as major property owners in the tideflats area. In some ways both have similar interests as the Tribe has long held aspirations to build a container terminal on the Blair Waterway. In addition, the Land Claim Settlement guarantees the Tribe the right to consultation on regulations for these lands

While many rightly noted that the Port is a countywide asset, we elect the Port Commission to represent those interests. It’s also worth remembering that the benefits might be felt countywide, the impact is mostly localized. Tacomans are the ones who must deal with pollution, air quality, traffic, and pay for services to support port activities.

I’m also concerned that we’ve worked hard to build relationships and trust with our constituent cities and I worry this may be a step backward. Each of our land use decisions affect each other in some way. Will we invite the cities into the County’s land use discussions? Because I can guarantee that would go very differently.

The Village at Harbor Hill

A number of years ago when I was on the Gig Harbor City Council, Olympic Property Group (majority landowners in Harbor Hill) came to us with a proposal.

Much of the zoning you now see south of Borgen Boulevard was for office space. They believed, accurately it turned out, that this pretty dramatically overshot the market while there was still significant unmet demand for more retail services.

After negotiations, we made the change with a carve out for what became known as the “Village.” Unlike the rest of Harbor Hill which could accommodate larger buildings, in this area we added a square footage cap of 35,000 feet, enough for a smaller grocery store, but a far cry from what’s allowed in other business zones.

I now live in this neighborhood and to me, this has been the missing link. Some urban design experts refer to “third places” where people can congregate outside of work or home. Think of your favorite local coffee shop, restaurant, tavern, or park. That was the general idea behind the Village. A place within walking distance of hundreds of homes where people can get services, have fun, and relax.

We’re getting our first look at the site design and I’d say it comes close to what we had in mind.