Who would advocate for open space and public access during the process to rewrite Tacoma’s shoreline master program?
There were plenty of people protecting economic interests – whether to do business as they have or to protect their views. But more than five years into the process and with completion just two weeks away, there continues to be no one representing the public interest.
Citizens for a Healthy Bay has been involved from the start. But rather than speak up on behalf of the bay, which has few lobbyists, CHB spent too much time echoing the positions of the Port of Tacoma and industry, which have plenty.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber hasn’t been shy about making its demands clear. A June 1 letter to the Planning Commission said the city should give a higher priority to industrial water-dependent uses, leave the Sperry Ocean Terminal and its moorage of Military Sealift Command ships alone, limit the demands for public access, end the restrictions on expansion of industrial uses on the east shore of the Foss Waterway, and move the Foss Peninsula shoreline from the pedestrian-oriented Thea Foss Waterway district to the Tideflats’ Port Industrial district.
After months of process and hearings, planning commissioners delivered on several of the Chamber’s demands. Gone, for example, would be the 1995 provision that current users on the east Foss shoreline north of the Murray Morgan Bridge could stay but not expand. Gone would be a staff suggestion that any new developments on the east shoreline include a public esplanade like on the west shoreline.
That would, in essence, alter a 2005 deal between the city and port industrial users that saw the city purchase the site that is now Urban Waters, preventing it from becoming the condos that Tideflats industry feared. The city also agreed to block all residential uses for the Foss Peninsula shoreline and agreed to create design standards and a road arrangement to insulate industrial users from complaints from future mixed-use development.
In return, the port community acquiesced to the restoration of the Morgan bridge and acknowledged the inevitable change for the east Foss shoreline from industrial to mixed use.
Chamber lobbyists didn’t win all, though. The planning commission agreed with Stadium Way homeowners that the Sperry dock section of the shoreline next to Chinese Reconciliation Park was more likely over time to look like recreational Ruston Way than like industrial Temco grain terminal. Under the recommendations, Sperry would be grandfathered but it couldn’t expand and new industrial uses would be prohibited.
It wasn’t everything that homeowners fighting against Sperry wanted. But it was something.
Now comes the City Council. Will the victories of port, industry and Chamber lobbyists be tempered as the council rushes to a Dec. 1 deadline? Probably not. Two days after a meeting among the Chamber, planning commission staff and two members of the City Council, one councilman proposed sweeping amendments to the planning commission plan.
David Boe is proposing a new Schuster Parkway zone that would make Sperry a conforming use and preserve that deep-water shoreline for some future industrial uses. He also would shift the Foss Peninsula shoreline north of the Morgan bridge from the Foss Waterway district to the Port Industrial District.
In return, Boe would reimpose an esplanade requirement for the east shoreline south of the bridge.
Boe reasons that when the city banned residential uses for the Foss Peninsula as part of the 2005 deal, it effectively ended any chances for actual mixed-use development. And Urban Waters would be an acceptable use in either zone because it is part research laboratory, he said.
These changes, however, would disrupt a 2-decade-old plan to consider the entire Foss shoreline part of downtown, part of the Foss Waterway vision. It is not just a local vision but part of regional growth management goals.
The state Department of Ecology must approve the city’s revisions. So we are left with just that agency to ensure that public interests are heard.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 email@example.com blog:thenewstribune.com/politics Twitter: @CallaghanPeter