A new city that could grow nearly as large as Puyallup will take its first tentative step toward incorporation this month.
Newland Communities, developer of the region’s largest planned community, Tehaleh, has asked Pierce County to create a “Potential Incorporation Area” on some 5,300 forested acres south of Bonney Lake.
The designation would clear the way for the community to move toward becoming a city. The development now lies in unincorporated Pierce County.
When fully built, the 4,700-acre development could be home to some 25,000 residents. The 5,300-acre Potential Incorporation Area includes several other nearby tracts that are not part of Tehaleh.
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Some 2,500 residents live there now with homes selling at a rapid pace, according to the developer.
If the community ultimately incorporates, it will be up to the new city’s officials to decide what to call it. The obvious choice would be to stick with Tehaleh, a Native American term meaning “The Land Above,” or perhaps to revert to the original name of the development, Cascadia.
The community, according to a report from the Planning Department, meets most of the requirements for becoming a potential incorporation area. Requirements include utility and transportation infrastructure and capital improvements.
The request was designed to preserve the option for the development to eventually form its own city, said Scott Jones, vice president of Newland Communities.
If the Planning Commission recommends the request and the County Council approves it, the Tehaleh community would be on even ground with nearby Bonney Lake to govern the development.
Bonney Lake two years ago asked the county to include Tehaleh and in its potential annexation area, but the county rejected the request.
Mayor Neil Johnson said annexing Tehaleh into Bonney Lake — population 20,000 — could make sense, considering its proximity to the community and the transportation routes that lead from Tehaleh to the region’s main arterial, state Route 410 in Bonney Lake.
But Johnson said that when the city asked to include Tehaleh into its annexation area, citizens there spoke out against the idea.
“Four or five years ago, I was all for annexing the area around the city,” Johnson said. But since then, he said, he has rethought the idea and is more cautious about wholesale additions to the core city.
“It costs a lot to provide services to those areas,” Johnson said. “We get the property taxes, but they would have to be enough to cover our costs.”
Orting Mayor Joachim Pestinger said his nearby city has no objection to Tehaleh’s potential incorporation request.
If the incorporation moves closer to reality, Pestinger said, Orting would want to ensure that enough roads are built to handle new traffic the new city would generate.
Newland is working on plans for a second Tehaleh access road to complement the sole existing access along 198th Street East. That second road would bring traffic from the development on the Bonney Lake plateau to the valley below, where it would connect with state Route 162.
Pestinger said he wants a new bypass road that would allow commuter traffic to bypass downtown Orting.
Incorporation or annexation is likely years away, Jones said. The area still is in its first development phase with some 2,500 residents. State law requires an area seeking incorporation have at least 3,000 residents.
The county’s staff report on Tehaleh’s request to become an incorporation area says the area meets many of the standards for becoming a city because of a far-reaching development deal reached with Newland.
The deal specifies the amount of parkland to be preserved, the infrastructure to be installed and the transportation links to be built.
When a developer and residents of a community want to move forward beyond the Potential Incorporation Area designation, it’s customary for them to commission a consultant’s report on the viability of incorporating, said Dan Cardwell, the county’s long-range planning supervisor.
Such reports address, among other things, whether the city would have enough tax base to support the many municipal services a city would be required to provide.
While Tehaleh’s residential neighborhoods are growing rapidly, the development hasn’t reached the stage where it has become the employment center the county’s plan envisions.
That plan projects that parts of the development will be the site of stores and offices and other commercial businesses that will provide jobs for residents and pay taxes to the government.
The development’s population is not now large enough to attract multiple retailers, and the road network connecting it to Bonney Lake isn’t extensive enough to support large business development.
In addition to homes, Tehaleh is the site on an elementary school, a coffee shop and a residents club for Trilogy, its senior citizen neighborhood.
Ultimately, the decision to become a city would be made in a vote of residents after the plan cleared the scrutiny of the Boundary Review Board and the County Council.
Regional planning mandates require that Pierce County cluster its development either in urban growth area surrounding existing cities or inside new cities.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663
A hearing on the Tehaleh proposal before the Planning Commission is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Pierce County Annex, 2401 S. 35th St., Tacoma.