The Tacoma City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to signal it is ready to talk about annexing 43 acres of the Point Ruston development currently in the city of Ruston.
The Ruston City Council now decides whether those annexation talks ever start. If the Ruston council votes no or declines to take up the issue, the annexation petition filed by property owner Mike Cohen does not move forward.
Ruston elected officials had urged Tacoma to reject the developer’s petition for annexation.
The Point Ruston developers say they are fed up because the city of Ruston will not issue permits for the portion of the $1.2 billion development that lies within its city limits.
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“There are more than a dozen permits or approvals that Point Ruston needs to move this project forward,” Loren Cohen, Point Ruston’s legal representative, said Tuesday. He said that without the threat of annexation, “I firmly believe the town will regress to its previous position of inaction and hostility toward this project.”
Ruston City Council member Lyle Hardin refuted such claims, telling the Tacoma council Tuesday that the tiny city has worked with Point Ruston before to permit the homes in the nearby Stack Hill development.
“There were no irresolvable issues. We were able to work them out,” Hardin said of the Stack Hill work. “… We know we can work with Point Ruston because we have in the past and will do it in the future.”
Most recently, Ruston and the developer’s attorneys are sparring about conditions for two permits the city says it wants to issue: one for a parking garage and another for Yacht Club Road.
“The city of Ruston has approved the permit for issuance and (the permit is) essentially ready to go if they agree to the conditions and pay the fee,” city of Ruston building official Michael Barth said Tuesday afternoon.
Developers have asserted both to the city of Ruston and the Environmental Protection Agency that they don’t need to apply for construction permits because a federal law allows them to build on Superfund sites like Point Ruston without one.
The EPA has said it is “very concerned” about Point Ruston’s approach.
Tacoma Councilman Ryan Mello said Tuesday that the annexation vote was the beginning of the process that he hopes will help streamline the development process on the former Asarco smelter site.
“I cannot begin to imagine all of the hoops and hurdles that this developer, because of the Superfund site and all of the extra complications for this particular site, is being faced with to develop,” Mello said.
Councilwoman Lauren Walker and Councilman David Boe voted against moving forward on the petition to annex the portion of the development not already in Tacoma.
Walker said she hopes the Legislature will not intervene in the dispute by changing annexation law to allow Tacoma to annex Point Ruston over the city of Ruston’s objection.
A bill proposed by Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, would require cities being asked permission for the annexation to say no to the petitioner twice. Ruston officials fear the bill will be amended to remove their veto power.
Walker told Ruston Councilman Hardin, “We are still here for you. … We want to be your partners, and I’m hoping this doesn’t go forward with state legislation and that we will have some resolution so that Point Ruston can go forward for the betterment of all.”
Councilman Joe Lonergan echoed part of Walker’s sentiment, though he voted yes: “My hope is the Legislature would just stay out of it.”
The Ruston City Council’s next meeting is Tuesday.