The City of Puyallup is scuttling a project once billed as a way to boost economic development downtown and preserve farms, forests and other environmentally sensitive lands.
The City Council last week halted work on “Cultivating Puyallup,” a roughly 1½-year-old planning project.
The vote reverses action previously taken by the seven-member council. In November 2010, members unanimously agreed to accept a pair of grants to pay for the work.
But the council has four new members this year, and some of them balked at the possibility of a transfer of development rights (TDR) program – a concept that was being studied as part of the initiative. Some of the council’s veteran members also had a change of heart about the project.
Deputy Mayor John Knutsen, who took office in 2008, said the city already has the ability to protect farmland through zoning. And, he said, his constituents made it clear they worried about the effect of a TDR program on downtown.
“I’ve heard and seen enough to know I’m not going to support it,” he said.
Four other council members – Rick Hansen, Tom Swanson, Steve Vermillion and John Hopkins – voted with Knutsen to end the planning project, while council members John Palmer and Kent Boyle wanted to continue. Boyle has been on the council since January 2010; Palmer joined this year.
Palmer said TDR was “something worth investigating” in Puyallup, and allowing the planning project to wrap up wouldn’t have required the city to ultimately implement a program.
“Canceling (it) just takes all that work that was done and puts it on the shelf,” he said. “There’s no harm in proceeding.”
TDR is a concept that shifts development away from farms and other natural areas. In general, developers pay for the right to build on those properties, but don’t actually put up apartments, condos or similar projects there. Instead, they get bonuses – such as greater building heights – in so-called “receiving areas” that are deemed better for urban growth.
In Puyallup, officials were focusing on downtown as a receiving area.
Hopkins said he worried that would pose a further threat to the historic downtown. And the lands preserved wouldn’t necessarily fall within the city, he said, adding that he also had concerns about how the program would be administered.
Palmer said he feels the city could have provided bonuses through a TDR program that were in keeping with the scale of the city, and perhaps protected some farmland and resource areas, “which is hard to do.”
The Cultivating Puyallup project didn’t focus solely on TDR. It also involved a comprehensive environmental review of future development downtown, intended to expedite the permit process for individual development projects.
The council in general seemed more supportive of that piece, but didn’t have the option of stopping only the TDR work.
A Seattle-based consulting firm was helping with the project, which was set to wrap up by next March. Grants totaling $219,000 paid for most of the work. The city also paid $25,000 in matching money and contributed staff time, city officials said.
The city doesn’t have to pay back the grant money that’s already been spent, the officials said.