Open space on daffodil land? Puyallup councilman wants it; others reject it

Staff writerNovember 11, 2013 

Retired farmer Neil Van Lierop has had a lot of dealings with the City of Puyallup in the last few years, starting when he annexed into the city two years ago. Now he awaits final action on a rezone that would allow him to sell to an industrial developer.

PETER HALEY

An idea to create new parks space in Puyallup has been thrown into the middle of a land-use debate as the City Council prepares to take a final vote Tuesday on a proposed rezone of former farmland near Shaw Road.

Puyallup City Council member John Palmer is asking the city to consider buying property on or near retired daffodil farmer Neil Van Lierop’s land to be used for a park and sports fields.

Other Puyallup officials fear Palmer’s plan would leave the city vulnerable to a lawsuit.

Van Lierop has secured a contingent deal pending final city action. Real-estate firm Schnitzer West plans to buy 13 acres for industrial development.

The council voted 4-3 on Sept. 3 to approve the controversial rezone in a first reading, setting the stage for the Schnitzer sale to move forward.

Now Palmer has outlined a $4 million plan with several potential funding sources to purchase roughly 20 to 25 acres near Van Lierop’s old farm, which Van Lierop closed in May.

“Many of you voiced support for sports fields (particularly soccer) and a park in this area. I completely agree,” Palmer wrote to city residents in an email obtained by The News Tribune. “There is a huge need for sports fields in our community and this area is the perfect setting.”

Palmer pointed out that Van Lierop agreed four years ago to the current zoning, which allows for light industry but not warehouses, and that the farmer voluntarily annexed into Puyallup in 2011.

While Palmer acknowledged “my fellow council members have not been supportive” of the park-and-sports-fields idea, he wrote in his email: “I will continue to advocate for this.”

City Manager Bill McDonald said acquiring space for parks is not out of the question. However, he said the city has no interest in pursuing this politically sensitive property in light of the active land-use application.

“There is no traction at all on that specific idea,” he said Monday.

McDonald said the city would likely be sued by acting on an application and then showing interest in buying the affected land.

“We would be treading into pretty deep legal water,” he said. “We would not go there. Period.”

Palmer told The News Tribune his open-space plan doesn’t necessarily pinpoint the land that Schnitzer hopes to develop, but it doesn’t rule it out either.

“It could be that land, it could be other land as well,” he said.

Palmer said an ideal situation would be to buy property from Van Lierop and dedicate a park in his honor while also stopping warehouse development.

“We can always be denied,” he said. “But there’s absolutely no harm in trying.”

He acknowledged that Schnitzer West must be included in careful negotiations should a city-led effort move forward.

The rezone, if approved on final reading Tuesday night, would unify two land parcels with slightly different industrial zoning, making it easier for the developer to build there.

At several public meetings, Puyallup residents have opposed the change, with some people saying it would cause a “sea of warehouses.” Many have said development would lead to traffic problems and an eyesore at a “gateway” to the city.

Supporters of the rezone say development of the land is inevitable. Councilman John Knutsen said the city’s top priority should be upholding the rights of the property owner rather than appeasing a “rallied small group” that doesn’t want to drive by and look at warehouses.

“I don’t like when the fields disappear,” Knutsen said Monday. “But the whole town is built on those fields. So you either stop the growth or figure out where it can go.”

Knutsen said Palmer’s parks effort not only compromises the fairness of the rezone application process, it also invites legal action against the city and ultimately devalues Van Lierop’s property.

“I (am) concerned about the liability (Palmer) has exposed us to,” Knutsen said.

Palmer disagrees with those concerns.

He said the Schnitzer-backed land-use change is a separate issue from his parks plan. He said the city could consider buying the farm property whether the rezone is approved or not.

“I don’t think there’s any crime in talking about that potential,” Palmer said.

IF YOU GO
What: Final discussion and vote on the proposed rezone of former daffodil farmland near Shaw Road in Puyallup.
When: Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Where: City Council Chambers at Puyallup City Hall, 333 South Meridian

 


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

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