Long sick of the noise and odor that linger in their neighborhoods, a group of Northeast Tacoma residents wants to downgrade zoning on part of the Tideflats to create a buffer between their houses and the heavy industrial uses east of the Hylebos Waterway.
“It’s to the point that some of my neighbors won’t even go outside,” said Ann Locsin, who along with members of the Northeast Tacoma Neighborhood Council, filed the proposal for amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan that guides land use. “I mean, it’s bad. … We’re just very concerned for the health, safety, livability and all those things, and we’re very scared of what’s the next thing, what’s the next largest methanol plant, what’s going to go there next?”
Locsin’s hope is to adopt transitional zoning, which dictates less intense uses, east of the Hylebos Waterway along Marine View Drive between Taylor Way and 11th Street. The rezone is intended to give neighborhoods breathing room from some of the heavy industry in the port’s core area.
Those industrial uses that already exist in the targeted area would be grandfathered in, Locsin said. But she’s hoping some of the round-the-clock operations would limit their hours of operation as a result.
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Locsin and others said City Councilman Robert Thoms advised them months ago that a comprehensive plan amendment could be a good avenue for addressing their concerns.
“Starting with the proposed methanol plant, it really created a sense of urgency on the part of Northeast Tacoma, specifically because we are so close to these new developments and we already feel a tremendous impact from some of the heavy industrial projects that are down there,” Locsin said.
But Thoms and Mayor Marilyn Strickland announced a few weeks ago that the city and Port of Tacoma will begin negotiations on a subarea plan for the Tideflats, a yearslong, roughly $1 million planning process meant to serve as a detailed road map for future land-use decisions.
Thoms said now that the ball is rolling on a subarea plan, which he said is a more cohesive and all-encompassing land-use tool, it should be the focus.
“The subarea plan process allows you to talk about all these things in totality and put them into play over an entire” area, Thoms said last week. “Rather than do onesies-twosies, why not have it all in a larger discussion in a process that people are confident in how it works?”
The port, for its part, agrees with Thoms.
“We’re interested in looking at a more comprehensive review of the Tideflats and not just singling out the east side of the Hylebos Waterway,” said Jason Jordan, director of environmental and planning services for the port.
“We’re really interested in partnering with the city to develop a plan to move forward and look at a subarea plan that would not only capture that area, but would capture more of the hillside where more of the open space and buffers could be located, as well as looking at the other side in terms of … along the Puyallup River and ultimately the Foss Waterway.”
But Locsin and City Councilman Ryan Mello worry a subarea plan process would take too long.
Amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan can take a year or more to go through city staff, the planning commission and eventually make its way up to the City Council, Locsin acknowledged. But she said that’s preferable to waiting for what Mello has estimated could take three to five years for the completion of a subarea plan.
Mello said recently the city shouldn’t wait to start reviewing some of the heaviest industrial uses — such as smelters and oil export facilities — on the Tideflats, which he said no longer fit at an urbanized port.
Thoms said a subarea plan for the Tideflats has been on the community’s wish list for years, and is the “gold standard” for figuring out the area’s future.
“What you get through the subarea plan process is a much more substantial, deeper dive and I’m not concerned about there being a delay,” he said. “I’m certainly not participating in a process that I think is going to be the slow boat for getting this done.”