A simple threat looms over an intersection in University Place, emblazoned on a banner hanging at Bridgeport Way and 67th Avenue: “Mining … Coming 2014.”
The banner is new, but the city and neighbors have heard the warning before. And now, after more than a decade of disagreement with the property owner, the one thing everyone can agree on is that they’re ready to move on.
“We’ve got to put this to bed, as far as I’m concerned, sometime soon,” Councilman Javier Figueroa said Tuesday night at a City Council study session.
Local developer and property owner Brian McGuire is steadfast the city must give him the high-density commercial zoning he wants, or he’ll mine the land. But after all these years, neighbors think he might be bluffing — and some would like to call him on it.
“He has been threatening to mine for several years. If it was that financially feasible, or that financially attractive, why hasn’t he done it?” said former UP Mayor Debbie Klosowski, who lives across the street from McGuire’s Bridgeport Way property.
If he does mine, neighbors question whether he’ll be able to carry out the work.
“If it’s a gravel pit, it would have to comply with noise laws. We don’t know how he could possibly run excavators on that site and comply with the state, county and local noise ordinances,” said Morry Stafford, who lives 50 feet from one of McGuire’s two sites.
Active mining would be unusual in the suburban city of 31,000 people. The last time it was done in University Place was 10 years ago, when a 700-acre pit noted for its prized gravel was closed at what would later become Chambers Bay golf course.
The City Council postponed making a decision on the McGuire property rezone at the end of last year. It resurfaced in recent months after McGuire was granted permits to mine. He only applied for those permits this year after letting the land lay dormant for several years.
This week’s discussion was familiar to council members. In 2011, they requested that the planning commission take up a zoning change for Bridgeport and 67th that would allow McGuire to develop it commercially.
The change was proposed to keep McGuire from mining the land, which is bordered by five residential neighborhoods and a Fred Meyer store.
McGuire previously fought the city in court to preserve his right to mine the parcels, which are remnants of a gravel mine that operated there for a half-century. The state Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 2001.
Planning commissioners have presented the council with a zoning recommendation they feel would balance neighborhood concerns with McGuire’s desire to make the most of his property, which is split between two parcels.
The commission proposed keeping the residential zoning designation on the larger of the two parcels, located behind the Fred Meyer and next to the gated Westgate community.
The commission did propose a zoning change for his other parcel — the one at Bridgeport and 67th — allowing for a mixed-use office development. But that’s not the zoning McGuire wants.
He says that change would force him to pay more to develop the site than he could get in rent, according to his longtime attorney, Bill Lynn.
“There is not really a good market for office space generally,” Lynn said. “The commercial that you could do in that particular zone is very limited; it doesn’t pay rent. It’s better off for him to do the mining for the period of time that it would last.”
McGuire wants the city to rezone the land to neighborhood commercial, a designation most homeowners oppose because it could bring traffic after typical business hours.
Neighbors don’t want to see a fast-food restaurant, which is allowed under the neighborhood commercial zone, because it would bring a steady stream of cars or worse: a steady odor of fried food.
“If you have a McDonald’s or a Starbucks with cars lined up at 5 in the morning, we would hear them not only in our yard, but also in our houses,” Stafford said. “We would have grease-laden air and the slamming of Dumpsters.”
Neighbors claim they would prefer to see McGuire mine the two sites, even if it means heavy machinery for 18 to 25 years. That’s how long McGuire has estimated it would take.
Expressing a desire to see a resolution in the debate that has mired the city for more than a decade, Councilman Kent Keel said he’s not sure neighbors have truly thought about the implications of mining.
“He’s going to have lines of trucks up and down Bridgeport and 67th and it’s going to be stacked up,” Keel said. “As a council member, I’m not OK with that.”
Figueroa suggested the council follow the planning commission recommendation, saying it was the best option on the table.
“I think they have it right,” he said.
The City Council could make a decision by the end of this year, or the start of 2014, but a specific date has not been set, according to City Attorney Steve Victor.
Brynn Grimley: 253-596-8467