A group of Tillicum residents who oppose moving the entrance of the National Guard headquarters conceded defeat after a court commissioner dismissed their latest appeal last month on a technicality.
“As far as we’re concerned, the issue is settled,” said Jim Taylor, a member of Tillicum Action Committee.
The group had challenged the City of Lakewood’s decision to grant the Washington Military Department a right-of-way permit to move the gate. The permit was needed to connect the gate to public streets.
The new gate is already under construction at the intersection of Portland Avenue and Boundary Street. Brig. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the newly appointed commander of the military department, said this week the gate should be completed by September.
The department said the current gate a quarter-mile south of the intersection of Berkeley Street and Union Avenue is unsafe. It’s too close to a busy intersection, rail line and Interstate 5 interchange, officials said.
But neighbors said moving the gate will encourage more cars to drive through their neighborhood and create a hazard. The city placed several conditions on the permit that it said would deter drivers from doing that.
The Tillicum neighborhood learned of the project two years ago and immediately became involved. The city initially withheld the permit over traffic concerns, and the project appeared to die in late summer of 2010 because millions of dollars in federal money went away.
The military department resurrected the funding last year, and the city decided to back the gate project following further traffic study. The city also was swayed by a commitment from the military department to pay for improvements to keep Camp Murray traffic from cutting through the neighborhood.
The neighbors remained staunchly opposed and directed frustration at the city for changing its mind.
After the city granted the permit in October, the group twice appealed to Lakewood’s hearing examiner, akin to a municipal judge on contested land-use matters. It then took its case to Pierce County Superior Court. There were no other challenges.
The city and military department had asked the court to dismiss the appeal because state law bars judicial review of right-of-way permits. The attorney for the Tillicum Action Committee advised that they were correct, and the group decided to give up the fight, said Pat O’Brien, a group member.
Court Commissioner Wendy Zicht approved the voluntary dismissal June 29.
“It’s like fighting a elephant,” O’Brien said. “They’re big. They have a lot of money. They have more attorneys than we do. It’s clear that they were going to ride it out as long as needed.”
O’Brien said the group’s focus would shift to ensuring the military department complies with conditions placed on the permit. They include constructing raised crosswalks on Portland and installing signs to designate Berkeley and other streets away from the neighborhood as the designated route for Camp Murray traffic.
Camp Murray is the headquarters of the Washington Army and Air National Guard forces and home to the state’s emergency operations center. Thousands of employees and visitors pass through its gate each day.
The military department’s consultant estimated an increase of 900 vehicles a day down a main stretch of Portland. The neighborhood group’s consultant projected more than twice that.
Daugherty, the new military commander, said his department is committed to being good neighbors and working with Tillicum to get past the controversy.