A proposal to create an 11-building, 3 million-square-foot warehouse park adjoining Puyallup’s eastern boundaries has the City Council up in arms.
After a recent briefing on the proposed development, Puyallup council members complained it would overwhelm already crowded roads with truck and car traffic, cause flood control issues near the Puyallup River and forever alter the historic farming legacy of the Puyallup Valley.
“To sum up my feelings about this in a single word: appalling,” Puyallup Mayor John Hopkins said.
The development, proposed by a St. Louis-based company, would be the largest single commercial development in Puyallup-area history. It would replace a historic farm where flowers and vegetables have grown for eight decades.
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The Knutson Farms Industrial Park is being planned by the Michelson Organization. Michelson developed the Sumner Corporate Park on the north side of that city. Among its tenants are Amazon, Lululemon Athletica and the Kellogg Co.
Puyallup Councilman John Palmer said the warehouse proposal is contrary to years of planning the city did to map out the future use of the area.
“I have to bite my tongue,” Palmer said at the May 10 City Council meeting. “It’s distressing to see this after a decade and a half of planning.”
“Everybody has been so polite,” Councilwoman Robin Farris said after several other council members had spoken. “I’ll put it bluntly: I just hate this.”
“I don’t think that anybody but developers like warehouses,” Councilwoman Heather Shadko said. “It will destroy this part of Puyallup.”
There may be little the city can do to alter the fate of that land.
The development tract lies within the city’s urban growth boundaries, but outside its city limits.
Puyallup Planning and Development Services Director Tom Utterback told the council that in most circumstances cities and counties have coordinated their planning for land within the urban growth boundary, which is intended to help guide urban development and prevent sprawl.
That coordination didn’t happen in case of the Knutson Farms tract, city officials say. The city’s plan calls for the proposed industrial park area to remain as a low-development urban buffer area. The county’s zoning allows industrial development.
The land in question is bordered on the northwest by East Main Street and the BNSF Railway. The boundary follows Shaw Road on the west and the Puyallup River on the east. On the south, Pioneer Way forms much of the boundary.
For some 80 years, the Knutson family has farmed the land. Some of it now is used to raise rhubarb.
The land adjoins the historic Van Lierop farm property, which raised flowers and bulbs for decades. The city now owns much of the original Van Lierop property, which it is developing as a park and a social service agency site.
The city attempted to annex the two farms in 2012. The Van Lierops agreed to be annexed. The Knutsons opted out, city officials say.
A Michelson executive declined to comment immediately on its proposal when contacted last week. According to documents submitted to Pierce County, the developer plans to build out the tract in three to five years. A smaller second phase of the development adjacent to the Van Lierop property might be offered for sale for public use.
Puyallup City Manager Kevin Yamamoto said preliminary discussions have mentioned asking prices of between $8 and $14 per square foot for that second phase property. The city paid $3 a square foot for the Van Lierop property.
The city has already written two letters to Pierce County raising issues about the planned industrial park. Among those issues are traffic congestion and construction on the Puyallup River flood plain.
The development would add a projected 6,700 daily vehicle trips to East Main, Shaw Road and Pioneer Way, a traffic study by the developer predicted. Those roads lead to an interchange with Highway 410 and to downtown Puyallup.
“That interchange is already rated as an ‘F’ by the state,” Palmer said. ‘This would make it an ‘F minus.’”
Utterback said the developer’s traffic study noted that improvements would have to be made to the 410 interchange, but proposed nothing specific.
“I think we’re beyond a Band-Aid approach,” he said. “It will probably require a complete reconstruction.”
Councilman Tom Swanson said whatever alternative use the council or others propose for the land has to recognize that the Knutson family deserves to make a profit on its investment.
“After eight decades of farming this land, this farmer and pillar of the community deserves not to have his land stolen,” he said.
Pierce County Communications Director Libby Catalinich said the public will have an opportunity to submit comments on the proposal once the developer finalizes its application.
“That’s the chance for them to ask for mitigation,” she said.
The developer has acknowledged that it will likely have to create new sites for Puyallup River flood waters to flow when it fills portions of the existing flood plain to build warehouses.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663