Two bills have been introduced in the state Legislature that would allow the city of Tacoma to gain control of the entire Point Ruston development, a move that is vehemently opposed by Ruston town officials.
Allowing Tacoma to annex the portion of the boutique, waterfront village that now lies in Ruston also is opposed by the lobbying organization for cities in Washington.
Tired of what they call unnecessary delays on the Ruston side of the development, Tacoma city officials and developer Loren Cohen asked the Legislature to pass a law allowing Tacoma to annex the Ruston portion of the project.
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▪ Only the Point Ruston part of the town would be annexed into Tacoma if the property owner and Tacoma City Council agree. Current law says Ruston must also agree.
▪ Unlike any other annexation across the state, Ruston would get to keep some of the property-tax money generated there to keep the town solvent, as determined by an arbitrator.
▪ Cohen also would have to pay all property taxes currently owed to Ruston, which amounts to around $717,000. Ruston says Point Ruston also hasn’t paid bills for inspection and permit fees, which amount to nearly $500,000 and which Cohen said he disputes.
▪ If annexed, development on the Ruston side would have to follow the current master development plan.
Residents from Ruston intend to be at hearings Thursday about the bills, one before the House committee on local government, the other before the Senate committee on local government. Both hearings are at 1:30 p.m.
Town Mayor Bruce Hopkins told The News Tribune passage of the bills would set a bad precedent.
“You have set precedent for hostile annexation from one municipality to another,” Hopkins said. “Every small city in the state should be extremely worried.”
The tussle has caught the attention of the Association of Washington Cities, a group that lobbies on behalf of the state’s more than 280 cities and towns.
“We talked to the city of Tacoma. We talked to the developer and the city of Ruston. We said, ‘Can’t you guys figure this out? Don’t bring this to Olympia,’” said Dave Williams, government relations director for AWC.
Though the bills are narrowly focused on Point Ruston, Williams said AWC opposes it.
“It establishes precedent that we’ve never had before, where the Legislature says it’s OK for one city to annex a portion of another city,” he said. “We think that’s bad public policy.”
For years, Cohen has said Ruston’s permitting regime is too oppressive and takes too long to navigate. Exasperated town leaders push back and say the hard-charging developer should just follow the rules.
An attempt to annex all of Ruston into Tacoma three years ago halted after Ruston promised to work with Tacoma on a joint permitting accord. Ruston’s council never finalized it, so Cohen and the Tacoma council are pressing forward this year with an amended approach.
Tacoma and Cohen argue that delays on the Ruston are more than an inconvenience.
Point Ruston borrowed $31 million from the city of Tacoma to install utilities, streets and sidewalks. Over time the property owners there, from Point Ruston to individual condo owners, will pay that amount back.
Tacoma’s letter to legislators says Point Ruston won’t have enough to pay the city back if the entire site is not developed. The developer is current on its payments to Tacoma and owes $21.2 million, according to the city treasurer’s office.
Tacoma’s letter encouraged legislators to pass a law to allow the city to annex the Ruston portion of the 97-acre Point Ruston development into Tacoma. The letter called Ruston a “baffling opponent” to the development.
The Ruston City Council responded with a letter of it’s own, calling Tacoma’s move to annex an attempt to “cannibalize” the revenue-generating parts of Ruston.
“I’ve really tried to be very even-keeled with this, but now the life of our city is at risk,” Hopkins said. “The city is being misportrayed.”