Divisive land-use debate ends after Puyallup City Council approves rezone

Staff writerNovember 12, 2013 

A divisive land-use debate in Puyallup ended Tuesday night with testimony from the affected property owner, a highly vocal crowd and a split vote by the City Council.

The 4-2 decision approving a rezone proposal paves the way for real-estate firm Schnitzer West to buy former daffodil farmland near Shaw Road for industrial development.

Mayor Rick Hansen and council members John Knutsen, Steve Vermillion and Tom Swanson voted in favor of the change while council members John Palmer and John Hopkins cast dissenting votes.

“This isn’t an easy decision. This isn’t a fun decision,” Hansen said.

Retired farmer Neil Van Lierop, who closed his decades-old operation in May, had previously secured a contingent deal to sell 13 acres to Schnitzer pending a decision on a proposed rezone of the land.

The council approved the change despite a Planning Commission recommendation to reject the proposal, vocal opposition from a standing-room-only crowd and an anti-rezone petition.

The decision unifies two parcels with slightly different industrial zoning, making it easier for the developer to build there. It also allows for warehouses, which previously weren’t allowed.

Van Lierop’s wife, Lore, spoke on his behalf urging the council to approve the rezone so the couple can sell the land and secure their retirement, noting her husband is nearing 76 years old.

“This land is ours. We have the right to do what we want with our land,” she said. “My husband worked all his life in this valley. It is time for him to quit. If anyone wants to come farm our land, they are welcome to do it.”

Despite Van Lierop’s emotional testimony, many Puyallup residents spoke in opposition to the land-use change.

Resident Tom Taylor hauled in a plastic bin filled with 600-plus petitions opposing the rezone, holding it up in front of council members.

“I ask that you consider who you’re representing and what they’re saying,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Nancy Johnson, a Planning Commission member, said that once one warehouse goes in, others will soon follow.

“I urge you to promote growth that adds to the community, not detracts,” she said, drawing more applause from the crowd. “Why don’t you offer creative alternatives rather than the mantra of property-owner rights?”

The new zoning chips away at a mixed-use approach that Planning Commission members and landowners agreed on four years ago.

Residents have said approval of the rezone would undermine the original mixed-use vision and invite a “sea of warehouses” into an area that is seen as a “gateway” to the city.

Palmer echoed that point Tuesday night.

“Why perpetuate warehouses that this city does not want to see?” he asked.

Swanson emphasized before the vote that the council’s job is to act as judges of the application criteria. He said he didn’t go to the meeting with his mind made up.

Jeff Harmer, a Schnitzer representative, said his company would be open to working with residents to address their concerns.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682
Follow Kari on Twitter: @KariPlog

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