Four years ago, when Pierce County and the cities of Lakewood and University Place agreed on priorities for rejuvenating a former gravel pit, a $20 million golf course wasn't one of them.
County and city officials signed an agreement spelling out how they would implement a 1997 master plan to transform the county-owned, 930-acre Chambers Creek Properties.
The agreement emphasized four projects to be completed in the first 10-year phase of the master plan:
- Walking trails along Grandview Drive West and 64th Street West
- Improvements to Chambers Creek Canyon trails
- Public access to the shoreline of the waterfront property
- A boat launch in Chambers Bay.
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Now, three of those four projects are incomplete, and County Executive John Ladenburg has put the golf course on the front burner with a grander - and more expensive - design than before. The 1997 master plan envisioned a municipal-style 18-hole golf course. Ladenburg's proposed high-end golf course was initially estimated to cost between $12.7 million and $16.9 million. Now it could cost as much as $20 million.
Joe Scorcio, the county project manager for Chambers Creek Properties, said the county continues to pursue the initial four projects emphasized in the June 2000 Joint Procedural Agreement, even as it advances the golf course.
"Everything on the properties is active, " Scorcio said. "It's just the degree of how much visibility there is."
Ed Anderson, a University Place resident and retired school teacher and administrator, is still waiting for the boat launch.
Anderson, who cherishes taking his 19-foot Bayliner out onto the water, figures he's attended just about every public meeting about Chambers Creek Properties since the early 1990s.
"I keep telling Joe (Scorcio) 'My boat and I are getting too old for this, ' " saidAnderson, 78. "He keeps saying, 'Well, it's in the plans.' "
Anderson, who also golfs, said he wished Pierce County would just build a regular golf course and use it to soak up sewage sludge.
"I understand the idea of building a golf course and using sludge, " he said. "That's a good idea. This destination golf course, I just don't know if that's going to sell."
Ladenburg proposes a Scottish links-style 18-hole golf course with trimmings, including rental lodging. It would open in 2007.
The idea is to build a professional-caliber golf course that can generate high enough revenues to boost other projects in the 50-year master plan. The other projects include walking trails, sports fields, a boat launch, arboretum and botanical garden.
"What we're saying is that the original master plan would have had you playing a municipal golf course, " Ladenburg said. "It wouldn't have been a regional or national attraction.
"What we're given is an opportunity to not only speed up the plan, but that if the golf course more than breaks even, it can help finance the rest of the plan."
The golf course also is aimed at creating jobs and helping dispose of treated water and biosolids so the county can expand its regional wastewater treatment plant.
But it was the other four projects that reflected "the greatest public interest" during the master site planning process, according to the June 2000 agreement.
The pact between Pierce County, Lakewood and University Place outlines how they'll put the Chambers Creek plan into effect. The agreement allows either the county or the cities to walk away from it. And county and city officials may appoint arbitrators to resolve disputes if they can't resolve them on their own.
University Place city officials support Ladenburg's revised plan for the golf course, although they've indicated they don't want to pay to help make it happen.
Lakewood officials are wary of the project. The City Council has agreed only to let the county study adding lodging to the list of golf course-related projects to the master plan. And the council added a caveat that prohibits the county from raising sewer rates to fund the project or requiring the city to pay for improvements.
Candice Bock, assistant city manager for Lakewood, said she interpreted the 2000 agreement to mean the cities and county would emphasize work on the trails, shoreline access and boat launch projects - not the golf course.
However, she said, the golf course project "is entirely outside of our jurisdiction, " and the city doesn't plan to get in the way.
"There hasn't been any discussion at the council of a violation of the agreement, " Bock said.
County officials said the agreement is flexible and allows the county to pursue the golf course now.
According to the agreement: "The County may proceed with the implementation of any project identified in the Master Site Plan, based on staff time, available financing, available resources, and other factors. However, emphasis will be placed on the priority projects."
Scorcio, the county project manager, said: "Nothing has to change in the agreement to do the golf course, because the golf course is a permitted project under the existing (master) plan."
Scorcio said the county is still working on the four priority projects. He noted that some walking trails are done, including along 64th Street West. Improvements to the Chambers Creek Canyon trails are "somewhat done but not completed, " he said.
Meanwhile, shoreline access is still on paper, and the boat launch is on hold for environmental review.
Scorcio pointed out that the county has completed other projects to transform the former gravel site, including sports fields and an administrative building housing the county's water, solid waste and environmental services staff.
"We haven't moved each of the projects along as far as we could and we haven't stopped, " he said.