At the risk of sounding insensitive, it’s time for the Proctor District to grow up.
Literally. Like, up, toward the sky. Just look at Proctor Station, the mixed-us development project underway across from Mason Middle School. That’s the ticket — in the Proctor District, and in business districts throughout the city.
As The News Tribune’s Kathleen Cooper reported last week, the development team behind the soon-to-be six-story, 151-unit Proctor Station — real estate broker Erling Kuester, former City Councilman Bill Evans and Gig Harbor-based construction firm The Rush Companies — is currently working on a new, similar development at the intersection of North 25th and Proctor streets, across from Metropolitan Market.
While this new project is described as being in the very early stages of planning, with no name and no concept drawings, that hasn’t stopped plenty of passionate Proctor District residents from fuming.
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It will be a parking disaster, they holler.
Proctor’s the next Ballard, they bellow from the porches of their lovely century-old Craftsman homes.
Change is hard, and there’s no doubt that increasing density with new, much taller buildings will change the Mayberry feel of Proctor. The buildings are imposing. The cranes can be disconcerting. An infill of new residents is frightening. People have lived in this neighborhood for a long time and built lives there. Many of them like it the way it is.
I get it. It’s understandable, and even predictable. As Yonn Dierwechter, a University of Washington Tacoma associate professor of urban studies, puts it, “The only thing people hate worse than sprawl is density. It’s like a Yogi Berra quote, ‘Nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded.’ ”
To be honest, the way hard-core density proponents often preach their gospel, like the answer is obvious and anyone who dares to question it is just too stupid to see the light, really bugs me. We need constructive conversations and a common vision for the future, not condescension and scoffs.
But it’s also true that Proctor Station, and developments like it, have been the end goal for Tacoma’s 17 mixed-use centers for a long time. Any suggestion that this is something that’s been shepherded through, via backroom deals, without public input, by a former council member and only at the benefit of development tycoons, is ignoring history and a whole lot of planning.
Former Tacoma City Councilman Mike Lonergan proved prophetic back in 2009, shortly before the council moved to increase height limits in commercial centers in hopes of increasing density, spurring business and turning the corner on decades of sprawl. As TNT reporter Melissa Santos reported at the time:
“Lonergan said he’s concerned that increasing the number of five- to eight-story buildings will take citizens by surprise and clash with existing neighborhoods.”
So here we are, in 2015, taken by surprise and ready to clash.
Let’s step back for a moment and take a deep breath.
Yes, it’s annoying and elitist when the urban development crowd talks down to anyone who harbors reservations about erecting gigantic mixed-use buildings in their neighborhood. But it’s also annoying and dripping with NIMBY irony when a well-heeled place like the Proctor District cries foul over development projects, an increased urban population and new economic opportunities that the business districts south of Sixth Avenue would trade at least seven medical marijuana storefronts and a Quiznos for.
Tacoma is a real city. And what’s happening in Proctor is the result of years of consideration, inspired by the admittedly painful realization that the way we’ve grown in the past, and the way we’ve lived, isn’t a sustainable path forward — environmentally or economically.
Dierwechter, the professor, admits there’s a nostalgia factor here, and pain over a perceived loss. But, as he sees it, Tacoma needs to make room for at least 50,000 more people to even start being the city it can be.
“This is normal. Change generates friction, and friction generates heat. There’s nothing abnormal about what (critics in Proctor) are saying,” Dierwechter says. “I think we’re at the beginning of this kind of politics. I think we haven’t really experienced it in Tacoma because we’ve been treading water (in terms of growth) for a long time.
“If we’re lucky we’ll have more of this kind of conflict in the future. Nobody should feel badly. We shouldn’t turn each other into cartoon characters,” he continues. “Does (Tacoma) really want to be a city, or does it want to be a collection of neighborhoods that don’t change and are the same as they were 50 years ago?”
It’s time for the Proctor District to grow up.
Hopefully Tacoma’s other business districts won’t be far behind.