Some communities would do handstands to recruit a new industrial development that would potentially employ hundreds of workers.
This East Pierce County community is ramping up its effort to torpedo plans for an industrial warehouse development that would create some 3 million square feet of space in 11 new buildings bordering the city’s eastern city limits.
The city has hired an outside law firm, employed traffic and land use consultants and recruited the Muckleshoot Tribe as an ally in its fight against a planned warehouse development on a historic farm property. Most recently, the Puyallup City Council passed a resolution asking Pierce County, which controls land use planning on the 187-acre tract, to take the unprecedented step of making Puyallup an equal partner in leading an environmental assessment of the development plan.
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Some 1,600 Puyallup-area residents have signed an online petition requesting the county to restrict development on the former Knutson Farms property. The Knutson family had farmed the land for some 80 years.
Leading the charge against the industrial development plan is Puyallup Deputy Mayor John Palmer. Palmer says that if the industrial park is built according to its present plan, it will flood the already-crowded nearby roads with truck and auto traffic, intrude on land that the city wants to use to alleviate flooding on the Puyallup River and violate the spirit of the urban growth planning process that the city and county performed a decade ago.
The Puyallup City Council voted unanimously two weeks ago to ask the county to allow it more say in how the land will be developed.
Puyallup Mayor John Hopkins said the city carefully crafted that resolution to avoid legal minefields that could draw the city into lawsuits over the land. The city hasn’t formally suggested that the land proposal be denied or modified, but it has asked for a voice in the decision.
Pierce County’s Planning and Land Services Department says the land is already zoned for industrial development. But the planning process is still in the early stages, so the plan has a long way to move before a final determination can be made.
The city has let its reservations about the development be known for months, but this summer it redoubled its efforts to derail or modify the project proposed by a St. Louis-based company, the Michelson Organization. Michelson is no stranger to the Northwest. It developed the Sumner Corporate Park on the north side of that city, recruiting such tenants as Amazon, Lululemon Athletica and the Kellogg Co. as tenants.
The problem for Puyallup is that it has little if any real authority to regulate how the land is developed. The Knutson Farms property is outside Puyallup’s city limits, although it abuts the city’s eastern-most border. The land borders East Main Street and the BNSF Railway, Shaw Road, the Puyallup River and Pioneer Way.
The land is within Puyallup’s urban growth boundaries. Under state law, the county and the city typically coordinate their planning efforts in the urban growth boundary area. In the case of the Knutson Farms property, however, Puyallup proposed low-intensity development of the land while the county zoned the land for industrial development.
Consultants hired by the city contend the developer’s traffic study is flawed because it failed to consider key intersections during the morning rush hour, didn’t report how overcrowded the roads would be during peak traffic hours and how existing light duty roads may deteriorate under heavy traffic, among other faults.
The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe suggested in its letter to Pierce County that developing land now planned to become a natural flood plain would adversely affect salmon habitat and limit the ability to move the present levee system to allow more natural flooding of the river during high water conditions.
Peter Eglick, an attorney hired by the city of Puyallup, said in a letter to the county that the present application for land use approval was designed not to represent a real plan for the property but as an initial “trial balloon” to test the limits of the county’s zoning of the site. Michelson’s proposal is inconsistent “with a broad range of regulatory requirements,” he said.
Neither the developer nor its hired engineer returned calls this week seeking comment on the city’s efforts to block the development.
The county itself remains somewhat unsure how the review process will proceed.
Marcia Lucero, the county’s planning and land use manager for the Knutson Farms project, said Puyallup’s request to become the co-leader in the environmental assessment of the project is unusual.
“We’ve never done that that way before,” she said. “We’re still considering how to move forward.”
John Gillie: 253-597-8663