Orton Junction off table — farmland to stay

Sumner mixed-use development bogs down in controversies over land-use rules, siting of YMCA

Staff writerFebruary 4, 2014 

Efforts to build a controversial mixed-use development called Orton Junction in the Sumner area ended Monday.

Property owner Orton Farms dropped its challenge in the state Court of Appeals of a land-use ruling that had blocked the project. As a result, the City of Sumner said it dropped its appeal as well.

The proposed development was for 182 acres south of state Route 410, adjacent to Sumner’s urban growth area. Plans called for housing, retail, medical and educational facilities, plus a farmers market.

“We have no plans for that property going forward other than farming at this point,” Investco developer Michael Corliss, who owns just over half of the property, said Monday. “No mixed use is currently contemplated there.”

Orton Junction pitted developers and government officials on one side and local farmland preservation activists on the other side.

Corliss said the project no longer makes sense. He cited the need to find a “better solution” based on common ground between the interests of farming and whether any part of Orton Junction should be developed as part of Sumner.

The project was losing ground on two fronts.

It originally included the new Sumner YMCA. But last April, the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties switched to a site within the city limits, with the help of Sumner officials, because of ongoing legal entanglements over Orton Junction.

Prior to that, in July 2012, the state Growth Management Hearings Board ruled against comprehensive plan amendments for Orton Junction, putting the project in legal limbo.

The growth board faulted Pierce County’s decision to loosen protections on the nearly 200 acres of rural and agriculture land. It also found the county action was not fully supported by state code, nor did it fully comply with the county’s own planning requirements.

Orton Farms and the city of Sumner appealed, and it ended up in the state Court of Appeals.

The project would have reduced the Sumner’s Urban Growth Area by more than 100 acres, protecting land from growth on East Hill in exchange for allowing a smaller development footprint in the Orton Junction area.

But that swap never went into effect and now is unlikely to do so.

With the appeals withdrawn, the Pierce County Council is expected to repeal the comprehensive plan amendments for Orton Junction by April 1, county officials said.

Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow said Orton Junction would have provided jobs and senior housing, while saving 500 acres of farmland.

“I am very sad the thing is not going to go forward,” Enslow said. “It wouldn’t have been my choice to see it end (Monday).”

But farmland advocates led by the Seattle-based group Futurewise lobbied against Orton Junction, saying it would result in the further loss of farmland in Pierce County.

The County Council approved the comprehensive plan amendments after the conservation group Forterra helped negotiate what became known as the Seven Principles agreement. It would have significantly increased the amount of farmland gaining permanent protection elsewhere in the county.

Despite the end of current plans for Orton Junction, Forterra said in a statement Monday it looked forward to working with the county, farmers and others “to ensure a future for Pierce County’s agricultural economy.”

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@ thenewstribune.com @TNTstevemaynard

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