Puyallup City Council approves stricter development rules in east part of city

Action comes despite council absences, threat of litigation

Staff writerMay 28, 2014 

After months of debate, the Puyallup City Council approved new development standards for former farmland on the eastern edge of the city Wednesday night, despite the absence of the mayor and council members and threats of litigation. 

The 4-0 vote at the special meeting will extend rules for building size, open space, landscaping and other development standards to more parcels of land near East Pioneer Avenue and Shaw Road.

Council members John Palmer, Heather Shadko, John Hopkins and Julie Door favored the stricter rules.

Mayor John Knutsen and council members Steve Vermillion and Tom Swanson — who opposed the proposal on first reading last week, and in the weeks of debate that preceded it — didn’t attend. All had made commitments before the meeting was scheduled. 

The city clerk read letters from all three officials, who requested the vote be delayed until next Tuesday’s regular meeting and expressed frustration over the rushed action.

Wednesday’s decision went against a planning commission recommendation not to adopt the new rules. 

The property lies inside a manufacturing zone that includes the former Van Lierop Bulb Farm. It is pegged for warehouse development by Schnitzer West and has been at the center of a long debate over private property rights versus community open space.

The changes come just before a four-month development moratorium was set to expire on a 70-acre swath of land. 

Hopkins said the special meeting was meant to settle the matter within the timeline agreed upon when the moratorium was passed Jan. 28. 

During citizen comment Wednesday, an attorney for Neil Van Lierop — the property owner who has a deal with developer Schnitzer West to build a warehouse on the affected land — urged the City Council to reconsider its course of action.

“Mr. Van Lierop isn’t looking for a lawsuit,” attorney Hollis Barnett said. “Schnitzer isn’t looking for a lawsuit. But I see two lawsuits developing.” 

Both Barnett and John McCullough, who represents Schnitzer West, submitted letters to council members prior to the vote.

“The Proposed ML Overlay is a discriminatory, site-specific rezone that is the latest in a pattern of actions by certain members of the City Council to interfere with the Schnitzer/Van Lierop Purchase Agreement,” McCullough’s letter states. “The purpose of this letter is to put the City Council on notice that if it adopts the Proposed ML Overlay, it will do so in knowing violation of the law.”

The letter also states the effort is a “retaliatory action adopted in direct response to Schnitzer’s development proposal” and an attempt to “undo” a recent rezone on the property that paved the way for the current site plan.

City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto said Wednesday’s vote, as with any council action, could lead to a lawsuit against the city. But he said Schnitzer already has a completed application for its project, which would likely be unaffected by the new rules.

Councilman Palmer said the council's concern has always been ensuring quality development, not interfering with Van Lierop's ability to sell his land.

“The overlay zone here tonight is not to say we don’t want Schnitzer to develop this land," he said. "I think what we’re trying to do is do what’s right for the citizens of Puyallup.”

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

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