Whether new development is a community asset or an eyesore could be in the eye of the beholder.
Nevertheless, the Puget Sound Regional Council says the region should prepare for 1 million more residents in the next 25 years, in addition to the Sound’s current population of approximately 4 million people.
How to prepare for that growth is a big issue facing communities.
In Tacoma’s City Council District 1, the city’s approach of designating areas as mixed-use centers to encourage dense development has come under fire recently. Proctor Station, a commercial and residential project near Mason Middle School, has prompted objections from some Proctor District residents who say it doesn’t fit the neighborhood and that they were surprised by its size and six-story height.
The News Tribune asked candidates for the District 1 council seat about that project and how the city should be planning for the future.
The district is now represented by councilman Anders Ibsen, who is seeking re-election against business owner Tara Doyle-Enneking and high school teacher John Hines.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 4 primary election will compete in the November general election to represent District 1, which includes the West and North ends.
Question: How do you think Tacoma should plan for future growth?
Doyle-Enneking: “I believe this whole growth and development topic is key to my platform. That would mean more density and more public transit options. At the same time, we need to make sure development is consistent with the character of the neighborhood.”
It’s easy to point the finger at the “big, bad developers” who built Proctor Station, she said, but they were following the rules the city created.
“Growing vertically is going to have to be one of the options,” she said, since Tacoma is surrounded on three sides by water.
Hines: “Development within the mixed-use centers is a good way to handle a lot of that growth. .... Mixed-use centers are about building a neighborhood, and Proctor has a good one right now.”
Hines said preparing for more residents means looking at “urban infill strategies” where properties are under-developed.
“We have a lot of car-oriented development,” where there’s shopping centers surrounded by large parking lots, Hines noted.
Developing in ways that encourages a combination of housing and retail in a spacious development, like University Village in Seattle, could be an answer for Tacoma, he said.
Ibsen: “Planning is essential,” Ibsen said, as is “using a planning process to create certainty and create a long-term vision for the neighborhood.”
Ibsen said the city has set the table for future development in several areas by creating subarea plans for the north and south downtown, and Hilltop, and is crafting the plan for the Tacoma Mall area. Having a subarea plan in place removes some expensive steps for developers, such as environmental studies on the land, he said, and could lead to quicker time lines for future development.
“For Tacoma it comes down to livable infill, getting a livable density in our downtown core and mixed-use centers,” said Ibsen, who is a real estate appraiser. “How we do that is by a couple of different approaches. One is general neighborhood appeal and accessibility. That’s something that ultimately determines value.”
Q: What role do mixed-use developments such as Proctor Station play?
Doyle-Enneking: “I believe if done the right way it certainly can work. I think Proctor Station missed the mark a bit because it did significantly alter the look and feel of the neighborhood.”
She said an involved council member can be part of the conversation as developers propose their plans.
“It is alarming at initial glance,” she said of Proctor Station. “I think it did miss the mark for the neighborhood. ... That extra 20 feet (in height) matters to that community.”
The city should balance “heritage with growth.” Certain areas can accommodate that growth easier than others, she said. Westgate, with its abandoned Albertsons grocery store and ample parking, is one such area.
Hines: “I think they are of critical importance to get people to increase density in certain areas of the city. By focusing more on mixed-use centers, we can protect more of our single-family neighborhoods.”
He said he supports consistency in mixed-use center development so residents and developers know what rules to expect, and “consistency means transparency.”
He said the 65-foot height limit at Proctor Station is “big, but it’s the same for all the districts.”
“There’s a lot of people who are adamant about keeping the 45-foot (height limit) and not going to the 65-foot level (the height of Proctor Station). If I’m elected, I will advocate for what the neighbors want.”
Ibsen: “What I think is often forgotten in these conversations is one of the purposes of mixed-use centers is to preserve single-family neighborhoods. Look at the Tacoma Mall area. There were 100-year-old homes. Because we didn’t plan for development, a lot of these got turned into barracks-style duplexes. There is no sense of community, and crime is rampant.”
With smart development, the city can direct development away from single-family areas, he said, while planning for infill developments to accommodate a higher population density.
“You can remain competitive and retain that quality of life,” Ibsen said. “Parking and to some extent, traffic, those are things we can and should do a better job of planning.”