The city of Tacoma is expanding the area to notify neighbors when large industrial projects are proposed, interim City Manager Elizabeth Pauli said Tuesday evening.
Notification on those kinds of projects within the port maritime industrial and heavy industrial zoning districts — which include smelters, hazardous chemical manufacturing, shipping terminals and also conditional uses such as surface mining — will increase to neighbors within 2,500 feet of the boundaries of the Core Maritime Industrial Area, which covers the port of Tacoma area and is roughly bordered by state Route 509, and those within 2,500 feet of the boundaries of the South Tacoma Manufacturing/Industrial Overlay District, which starts near the mall and snakes southward roughly along South Tacoma Way.
Notification for a project in any other zoning district, outside either of those areas, will be 2,500 feet from the boundaries of the project site, according to city planning director Peter Huffman.
Previously, notifications had gone to those within 400 to 1,000 feet of the project site.
The new notification criteria go into effect Friday (March 3).
The move is a response to resident outcry in the wake of plans to build the world’s largest methanol plant — since withdrawn — and plans to build a liquefied natural gas facility on Tacoma’s Tideflats. Many Northeast Tacoma residents said they weren’t notified about those projects, and have since called for the port and the city to expand notification requirements to catch more homes and businesses.
“When you look at 400 feet, that’s so minute of a space,” said Councilman Robert Thoms, whose district encompasses Northeast Tacoma and the Tideflats. “It behooves the person seeking permits or doing a project that people know as soon as possible so that way they don’t feel blindsided. … What the city has to do better and is going to be doing better is notifying people of the things that are going on.”
Huffman directed staff members to implement the criteria as a director’s rule. Besides stretching the notification area to 2,500 feet, information will go to “all neighboring jurisdictions, all applicable agencies, all neighborhood councils and business districts, and all qualified community groups,” according to Pauli. “The rule also calls for an early public meeting on qualifying projects to provide agencies and the community information about the project.”
Because of the large size of properties and the lower residential densities in the areas where those projects tend to be sited, the former notification radius “often does not ensure broad notification outreach even to nearby residential areas,” Pauli said in her city manager’s report.
Pauli said the expanded notice would affect 10 to 15 projects per year.
The rule will stay in place for 18 months while the Planning Commission and City Council work on making permanent changes to the city code.