Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy has vetoed the county’s comprehensive plan, which was approved unanimously by the County Council two weeks ago, citing her opposition to two controversial land-use changes.
In a letter to council members Tuesday, McCarthy urged them to revisit the long-range plan and remove two amendments dealing with land designations in Frederickson and the Midland area.
“I’m not opposed to the body of work,” she told The News Tribune Wednesday. “I am opposed to sections that have significant ramifications.”
McCarthy says one of the changes would lead to another failed legal battle over expanding the county’s urban growth area while the other would harm the county’s industrial core. Both issues were narrowly approved in a series of split votes ahead of the council’s final, unanimous decision on the comprehensive plan as a whole.
County Council Chairman Dan Roach said he was surprised the executive denied the plan based on two small sections. He said McCarthy’s decision isn’t an appropriate use of her veto power.
“The council as a whole saw that the general package was solid,” Roach said Wednesday. “With something that large, you generally don’t get everything you want.”
The state requires counties to adopt comprehensive plan updates by June 30, which was the date the council took its vote. The earliest it could return to the council agenda is July 21.
The first issue prompting McCarthy’s veto deals with the so-called John Merriman amendment, named for the property owner in the affected area off of Brookdale Road East near Midland.
In a 4-3 vote, the council expanded the urban growth area by reclassifying 5.2 acres of rural separator land to an urban designation.
McCarthy said the change is identical to a comprehensive plan amendment adopted by the County Council in 2009 that was eventually overturned by the state Growth Management Hearings Board. That ruling said the urban growth area is “already substantially oversized,” according to McCarthy’s veto letter.
The urban growth area should be expanded only when there is a “demonstrated need,” McCarthy wrote, stressing that the current boundary is adequate to accommodate future growth.
“County taxpayers have already paid to adjudicate this issue,” she said in the letter. “There is no point in spending more resources on an issue that has been decided.”
The other amendment challenged by McCarthy relates to a zoning change in a primarily industrial area of Frederickson.
That Frederickson amendment, also approved in a 4-3 council vote on June 30, paved the way for big-box retail development in the mostly industrial area east of Spanaway.
The change increased the maximum square footage of retail and commercial buildings to 175,000 square feet, up from 60,000 square feet.
“The public has already invested tens of millions of dollars in Frederickson and its freight corridor,” McCarthy said in her letter. “This investment has enabled the successful development of an industrial center attracting important manufacturers to choose Pierce County.”
She said allowing large-scale retail threatens those investments, harming the ability to attract grants to complete the corridor and creating traffic that would hinder the movement of freight trucks.
Before the final vote on the amendment, many Frederickson residents spoke in favor of the change.
They pointed to the Canyon Crossing Shopping Center development, which includes a Safeway grocery store at 176th Street East and Canyon Road East, as a successful example of providing needed services to an area with a rapidly growing population. The number of residents in the community has spiked 225 percent in the last decade.
The developer responsible for Canyon Crossing, Chris Pallis of Pallis Properties, wants to move ahead on a long-awaited Frederickson Town Center project. Pallis has said a big-box retailer is needed to anchor the development.
But McCarthy said allowing big-box stores in Frederickson would set a “dangerous precedent.”
“I don’t want another Meridian,” she said. “It’s sprawl in the worse sense of the word. We’ve created a tremendous amount of congestion there that we are still trying to mitigate today. Do we want to do that same thing on Canyon Road?”
The veto is McCarthy’s sixth since taking office in 2009. The last time she used it was in 2013, in an attempt to block the council’s ban on recreational marijuana. Council members overturned that in a 5-2 vote, the supermajority needed to invalidate a veto.
McCarthy said it’s unfortunate that she didn’t have line-item veto power and had to send the entire plan back to the council.