With the new year comes a new Puyallup City Council, but many of the issues the city aims to tackle are carrying over from last year.
Puyallup Mayor John Palmer was selected by the council to serve as mayor for the next two years on Jan. 9.
Palmer, 55, has lived in Puyallup with his wife for 20 years and has a daughter who attends Puyallup High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in science from Washington State University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington.
A senior policy advisor for the Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle, Palmer started his work with city government in 2008 as a member of the planning commission.
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In 2012, he was elected to city council and re-elected in 2016. For the past two years, he served as deputy mayor.
The city of Puyallup has a city manager form of government, meaning that the mayor is selected among city council members who are focused on setting policy and creating a direction for the city. The city manager is then responsible for carrying out those goals.
“The role of mayor is to lead the city council in meetings and represent the city for ceremonial purposes,” Palmer said.
This week, Palmer highlighted six projects he expects the city to make progress on this year.
“The first two fall into the category of protecting the qualities of Puyallup,” Palmer said. The last four fall into “enhancing” Puyallup.
Knutson Industrial Warehouses
Development near Shaw Road and East Pioneer just outside the city limits was what initially drew Palmer’s interest to the city’s planning commission.
Now, a decade later, the plan to build seven industrial warehouses in that location is still continuing. Pierce County and the city of Puyallup disagreed over who had jurisdiction over the project, but a Thurston County judge ruled in favor of Pierce County in September.
The city of Puyallup still plans to try to reduce the scale of the warehouse project, Palmer said, adding that the road system cannot support the size of the project.
“It’s not like we’re saying we’re against development out there by any means, but it’s the scale,” Palmer said. “We’ll continue to reach out to (Pierce County) to see if we can work something out.”
In August, the city and the Washington State Department of Transportation joined forces to clean up an encampment near Levee Road in Puyallup.
This month, Puyallup Police Interim Chief Scott Engle made a presentation to the council on another encampment located along the Foothills Trail near Pioneer Way E. and state Route 162. The council discussed how to approach cleaning up the area and how to prevent more encampments from forming.
In most of these cases, many living in the encampments have nowhere to go, and Palmer said the city wants to develop a better system to help them.
“Getting specific plans on how to do that is something we’re going to be working on for sure, and solutions aren’t easy,” Palmer said. “We’re trying to get those people into treatment facilities but it’s hard to do that.”
Public Safety Building
The city is hoping to have a preliminary design for the new public safety building by the end of this year, Palmer said.
In 2016, the city approved a $2-million purchase of a 3-acre piece of property on South Hill that will serve as the new location for the Puyallup Police Department. A Central Pierce Fire and Rescue station will be built next door.
The city is still deciding whether or not that design will include a jail.
Van Lierop Park
The city agreed to move forward on the $2.5-million Phase I construction of Van Lierop Park, which includes stabilization of the 18-acre site and creation of the daffodil view corridor and the connection of the Riverwalk and Foothills trails.
With a $500,000 grant already in place, the city will start construction sometime this year and have allocated other funds in the 2018 budget to go toward the park.
“We spent last year doing the planning on that and this year in our budget we have funds to actually start moving forward and building it, so that’s neat because the community can actually see that start to come to life,” Palmer said.
The city will actively apply for state grants to pay for the rest of the park.
Turf Fields at the Recreation Center
The city allocated $2 million for the installation of all-field turf at the Puyallup Recreation Center, which currently has three baseball fields.
Members of the community have come forward to the council, saying that they’re only able to play certain times of the year due to weather.
“A lot of these clubs, they bring in other teams to play games on the weekends, and they’re coming in to stay at our hotels, visit our restaurants, so it’s really an economic driver as well as just meeting the desperate need in our community,” Palmer said.
“I would love to see one field built this year. I think it’s possible, but we’re going to have to move quick on it,” Palmer added.
Mixed-use development downtown is another point of focus for Palmer to bring in more Puyallup residents.
“If you look around, what’s happening in the Puget Sound is along our transportation hubs, whether it’s the Light Rail or Sounder, we’re really starting to see that kind of mixed use popping up around those transit centers, which is really great right because you have the opportunity for people to live and then have access to the region through mass transit options,” Palmer said.
At the same time, the hope is to continue Puyallup’s “family-town” feel.
“We’re not gonna turn into Bellevue, but we have the capacity to have more people living downtown,” Palmer said. “Fundamentally, we’re a family town. We’ve been that for a long time. We’ll always be that but there are a lot of people who would like that living option.”