For years, the city of Puyallup has helped Central Pierce Fire and Rescue with the maintenance and upkeep of the North Puyallup fire station — located at the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and 54th Street East in unincorporated Pierce County — even going so far as to take possession of it in February 2005 as part of a Real Property Conveyance agreement with the fire district.
Now, the Puyallup City Council is required by the statutory warranty deed on the property to approve annexation of the 16,000-square-foot parcel the building sits on no later than Dec. 31 of this year, otherwise Central Pierce has the option to repossess it.
Some council members at the July 7 meeting, including Mayor John Knutsen, balked at the idea when asked by city staff to take action on an ordinance that would annex the property.
“If we’re going to get into the practice of going out into the middle of the county and acquire buildings, there is a cost associated with it,” Knutsen said. “It’s better served by Central Pierce Fire. I see no reason to get an old building like that just to own it.”
Councilman Tom Swanson felt the same way, saying the city shouldn’t own property for the sake of owning property.
“If we don’t have an intended purpose for it, then what’s the benefit of us having it versus Central Pierce taking possession of it?” Swanson asked. “So, I would approve first reading, but I would like to have the conversation about the proper use of the building before approving second reading.”
Anticipating the future annexation of the property, and because the property was within the city’s urban growth area, the city of Puyallup performed pre-annexation comprehensive plan and zoning designations on the property as part of the 2007 annual Comprehensive Plan amendment process. Zoning designations approved by council on the property in 2007 were low density residential and urban density single family.
The annexation under consideration is a public municipal purpose annexation, said City Attorney Steve Kirkelie. This means all traditional requirements of an annexation are thrown out.
“All that is needed is a majority vote by council,” Kirkelie said.
The question that council members pondered concerning the property was what the limitations were on the property, should it be annexed. Kirkelie said the deed requires that the use of the property must benefit residents in the surrounding community.
When Rick Hansen was mayor of Puyallup, he, at one time, suggested the North Puyallup fire station be made into a permanent shelter for the homeless.
Councilman Steve Vermillion brought up the same point at the July 7 meeting.
“We did have a meeting (when Rick Hansen was mayor) with two county planners at city hall and they were adamantly clear that a homeless facility could not occur in that area,” explained City Manager Kevin Yamamoto to Vermillion and the council.
“That was county?” Vermillion asked.
“Yes,” Yamamoto said.
“But if we own the building … If it’s part of the city,” Vermillion said.
“We would have to seek a zoning change through the county,” Yamamoto explained.
Deputy Mayor John Hopkins said the fire station property was not an appropriate site for a homeless encampment.
“I just don’t see that working,” Hopkins said. “I do see it having multiple possibilities, and maybe staff can come back with a few of those.”
Councilwoman Julie Door expressed caution.
“I have a great amount of concern using this as a homeless shelter,” Door said. “It is in a residential area in the county. We need to be good neighbors. I have some heartburn with being a bad neighbor to the county. We need to find a solution that is in our city limits for this issue. I am willing to explore what we can and can’t do with the building.”
The fire station is currently being used to shelter fire trucks used in the Daffodil Festival and other festivities.
Vermillion said that it was within the city’s power to ensure a homeless encampment would be a success.
“If there is a homeless shelter constructed, are we going to be bad neighbors to our citizens or bad neighbors to Pierce County neighbors or is it going to be operated correctly and we’re good neighbors in both regards?” Vermillion said. “If I’m signing onto a Camp Quixote-type of concept, it’s under city control. So, we have the dictum to set the standards whether we’re going to be good neighbors or bad neighbors.”
Knutsen had the last word, telling his fellow councilman he hoped none of them would approve of putting a homeless shelter in the middle of Pierce County.
“The neighbors out there would suffer a tremendous discomfort,” Knutsen said.
First reading on the ordinance to annex the North Puyallup fire station property passed 6-1, with Knutsen opposing.
Andrew Fickes: 253-472-0341