Several hundred people packed a Tacoma meeting room Wednesday, and for more than four hours told the city Planning Commission in no uncertain terms that its ideas for building more types of housing were bad.
Person after person lined up to demand a change to the law that allows six-story buildings in neighborhood business districts. In about equal number, people protested the idea of allowing single-family homes to be turned into duplexes and triplexes, particularly in historic neighborhoods.
The speakers against proposals that would allow more “in-fill development” cited Proctor Station, a six-story retail and apartment complex, as the prime example of what must be avoided.
“I don’t want to see what’s happened to the Proctor District,” said Steve Kamieniecki, a North End resident who opposes other changes, “with a six-story monstrosity that has destroyed the character of that part of town.”
The ear-splitting applause and cheering that followed set the tone for the evening.
The Planning Commission, a group of volunteers appointed by the City Council, has been working on several new proposals that are part of a larger slate of annual amendments to the comprehensive plan, the document that acts as the city’s blueprint for development. The hearing Wednesday was the public’s opportunity to formally comment on those ideas.
It was the most well-attended Planning Commission meeting in decades, city staff said. Outside of City Council Chambers, where the meeting occurred, two overflow rooms were set up. Almost 100 written comments were in hand before the meeting began.
Residents of Tacoma’s Proctor neighborhood have been organizing for months to pressure the city to reduce the maximum height allowed for new construction in their business district. The impetus was the prospect of a second apartment and retail building across from Metropolitan Market, to be built by the same developers as Proctor Station a few blocks away.
A neighborhood group, 4Proctor, has led the charge for a reduction in height limits. It delivered a petition with more than 1,500 signatures to the commission calling for the change.
Wednesday, speakers raised concerns about increasing traffic and the danger it poses to pedestrians, especially children attending Washington Elementary and Mason Middle schools.
“We moved here to raise our children,” said Callie Stoker-Graham, who was close to tears as she described all the children who walk to school. “Please help us maintain the safety and walk-ability of our neighborhood.”
Speakers also rejected the idea that more density in housing won’t create traffic problems because it gets people to abandon their cars.
“Quite frankly, and I hate to be rude, but that’s pie in the sky,” said Alice McComb, a Proctor resident since the 1990s. “Mass transit was curtailed years ago.”
Another set of recommendations Wednesday dealt with adding to the number of allowed types of housing in single-family neighborhoods. Among the most contentious recommendations:
▪ Making it easier to build, or convert existing homes into, duplexes and triplexes in traditionally single-family neighborhoods.
▪ Allowing duplexes on corner lots in residential zones that only allow one single-family home per lot.
▪ Allowing what is called a “detached accessory dwelling unit,” commonly called a mother-in-law apartment, in all single-family zones. Such mother-in-law apartments are already allowed in Tacoma as long as they are attached to the home and they pass a special review process.
Historic Tacoma raised an alarm earlier this month over the prospect of homes in conservation districts being converted into duplexes or triplexes. On Wednesday, dozens of homeowners as well as members of the North Slope Historic District gave voice to their objections. It delivered a petition with 600 signatures.
Change for the sake of change isn’t required, said Deborah Cade, co-chairperson of the North Slope district.
“That’s what historic preservation is for: it’s to counter those pressures,” she said.
A deep vein of skepticism about the need for more housing density ran through the crowd. One woman called mixed-use buildings “stack ’em and pack ’em housing.”
If Tacoma needs more housing, a man said, annex some land south of town.
“Why do we have to plan for growth?” another man asked. “If an area is built out, people can live elsewhere.”
Updates to the comprehensive plan are required by the state’s Growth Management Act. The Planning Commission will take written comments until Sept. 11, though they will begin reviewing them Sept. 2 and discussing possible changes at a meeting then and on Sept. 16.
Information from News Tribune archives was included in this report.