Puyallup daffodil grower's land sale dealt a setback

Tacoma News TribuneJuly 25, 2013 

VAN LIEROP

In this November 2011 file photo, Neil Van Lierop is pleased that his 70 acres of land will be inside the City of Puyallup.

PETER HALEY — THE NEWS TRIBUNE

In a split decision, the Puyallup Planning Commission has dampened an effort to rezone and develop former daffodil farmland near Shaw Road. 

Commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday night to deny a land-use application by Schnitzer West, a local real estate firm that wants to buy 13 acres of Neil Van Lierop’s property for industrial development. Schnitzer has secured a deal with Van Lierop, who closed his daffodil bulb farm in May, to purchase the land pending the city’s action.

Wednesday’s vote sends the issue to the City Council, which will make the final decision. Council members will review the information and could still vote to approve the change despite the commission’s recommendation.

“We remain confident that the City Council will see the benefits of development, which is why they annexed in the first place,” said Jeff Harmer, a Schnitzer spokesman.

The property was annexed into Puyallup in 2011, after three years of rezone discussions involving city officials and area landowners yielded a vision for the land that included residential and retail space.

John Palmer, a former Planning Commission member and current City Council member, has said much time and energy went into striking a balanced approach to developing Puyallup’s remaining agricultural land.

Puyallup City Council member Steve Vermillion said those who agreed with that mixed-use vision annexed into the city; others did not.

Some residents and officials see the Van Lierop land as a gateway to Puyallup.
Others disagree, saying it is more like a back door to the city that has had little to no development since the 2008 zoning discussions.

Harmer said the land was originally annexed with the intent to promote urban growth, but the area lacks infrastructure, such as gas lines. He said a zoning change would help bring in that infrastructure.

During public comment Wednesday, many residents expressed concern that Schnitzer was trying to change zoning in an area that was carefully planned five years ago.

Some said the city should avoid inviting a “sea of warehouses” into what is now scarce open space.

“This is one of the last decent pieces of property left for the people of this community,” resident Merv Swanson said.

Some commissioners echoed those concerns.

“It is clear tonight that the community has a deep emotional attachment to this area,” said commissioner Nancy Johnson, who voted to deny the land-use application.

Commissioner Aaron Couch, who opposed denying the application, said whether the zoning is changed or not, development is inevitable. The land is already zoned for manufacturing; the rezone would allow for broader industrial use.

“It will still be developed,” Couch said. “It won’t be open space.”

Although it is unknown at this time exactly what would be built on Van Lierop’s property, Harmer said the intent to develop the land for job creation and generating revenue has been made clear.

He said many people have expressed opinions on what would be best for the land, but the priority is what the retired farmer wishes to do.

“The land is Mr. Van Lierop’s,” Harmer said. “It is his application that we are supporting.”

Wednesday’s meeting was a continuation of a July 10 public hearing, which drew criticism from residents on the conduct of two commissioners.

Commission chairman Steve Hastings and vice chairman Chris McNutt, who are both candidates for Puyallup City Council, left the room during Wednesday’s vote after recusing themselves from deliberations. The two had been criticized for sitting in on a private meeting with the land-use applicant back in June.

Tom Utterback, Puyallup’s development services director, said the City Council is scheduled to review the Planning Commission’s recommendation at its meeting Sept. 3.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 kari.plog@thenewstribune.com @KariPlog

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