A routine zoning change and redevelopment request submitted by the Puyallup School District to the city of Puyallup on a parcel of land adjacent to Sparks Stadium at 501 7th St. S.W. has one family with historic Puyallup roots concerned about potential impacts to the neighborhood and the preservation of a 100-plus year-old white walnut tree planted on the property by their great-grandfather in the early 1900s.
In an email sent to the Puyallup School District and to the city on July 7, Wendy Leavitt and her brother, John, wrote that the school district’s development of the 1/2-acre grass field and an adjoining parcel to the south into a multi-purpose practice field for use by school district sports teams would “intrude directly into a low-density, residential neighborhood — one of the oldest in Puyallup.”
Wendy and John Leavitt are landlords of the Leavitt family home at 605 7th St. S.W., across from the district property.
The siblings continued, writing: “It will certainly have a significant negative impact on the quality of life for neighborhood residents in the form of increased foot and vehicle traffic, street parking, noise, light pollution at night, littering and trespassing on private property — impacting the market values of all homes adjacent to and across the street from it.”
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Brian Devereux, director of facilities planning for the school district, said he believes most of the family’s concerns were answered at the July 8 Puyallup Planning Commission public hearing addressing the rezone and redevelopment.
The current zoning of the 1/2 acres is urban density single family, or RS-06. The school district has requested the zoning change to public facilities. The parcel of property to the south, purchased by the school district in 1985, is already zoned public facilities. It is on this property that the 100-plus year-old white walnut tree is located.
Together, these properties will be leveled and turned into a multi-purpose practice sports field where up to four teams at one time can practice.
“This is a real simple project,” Devereux explained. “It’s taking what we have now and leveling it out so it can be a playable service. It’s going to be a practice area, not a full field. No equipment will be there permanently.”
The district doesn’t anticipate any increase in traffic, whether pedestrian or vehicular. It will be serving existing teams. There won’t be any access from the street, he said.
“The users of the field will be using the on-site parking at Sparks Stadium and walking through the Sparks Stadium to access,” Devereux said. “There won’t be any field lighting on the practice field. Practice will be during daylight hours.”
A fence will also be erected to run along the three boundaries of the property.
“That fence will restrict any access (from the street),” Devereux said. “The opening will be from the east from the alley (vacated to the school district in November 2014) between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue.”
Of most significant concern for Wendy and her brother is the preservation of the white walnut tree on the southeast corner of the property. Their great-grandfather, John Pennell Leavitt, planted the tree in the early 1900s.
According to Leavitt family history, it was the American botanist Luther Burbank who gifted the tree to their great-grandfather. But it’s also possible, Wendy said, that their great-grandfather brought the tree with him when he and his family moved to Puyallup from Hamburg, New York, in 1906. John Pennell Leavitt was an early mayor of Puyallup, a co-founder of the Puyallup Fair, and a friend to pioneer Ezra Meeker.
The white walnut tree, which stands at a 107 feet tall and boasts a trunk 184 inches in circumference and a canopy greater than 50 feet across, was at one time on Puyallup’s informal heritage tree list, according to Kendall Wals, an assistant planner for the city.
“Recently that tree list was formalized by the city council and it was voluntary for those homeowners to keep (trees) on the list, and the school district opted to not have the tree on the list,” Wals explained.
Devereux said the school district has received Wendy Leavitt’s comments concerning the tree.
“We want to be good neighbors and want to co-exist with the surrounding properties, so, at least for the time being, we will maintain the tree,” Devereux said. “During construction, we will look to protect the tree, seeing that no heavy construction goes over the tree.”
The school district does have the option in the future to remove the tree if it’s determined by the district that the tree conflicts with district operations or if it becomes a safety concern, he said.
Leavitt and her brother are happy with the school district’s concession to protect the tree in the short-term. But they’re hopeful the district will see no reason to remove it in the future.
“This is an opportunity for the Puyallup School District to be a bridge between the past and the future,” she said.
As for the mitigation efforts, Leavitt said more can be done by the school district beyond erecting a perimeter fence, such as additional landscaping and “edge-softening” design elements to dampen noise, dust and other potential disruptions.
Andrew Fickes: 253-472-0341