Two vacant parcels just south of Tacoma’s Murray Morgan Bridge on the Thea Foss Waterway may need variances from existing development requirements to make them financially feasible for redevelopment.
That’s the preliminary takeaway from an initial study of the two sites, called Sites 8 and 9 by the Thea Foss Waterway Development Authority. Real estate consulting firm Heartland LLC prepared the report released this month on how best to market the two municipally owned sites on the near-downtown Tacoma waterway.
The two sites, which abut each other along the west side of the Foss near the bridge, are narrower than the sites to the south that have been redeveloped for apartment and condominium buildings, a glass museum, a seafood store and a hotel site.
The sites are narrower than the developed sites farther south because Dock Street and the BNSF Railway lines are crowded by the bluff above on which major downtown buildings are built along A Street.
If the standard 50-foot shoreline buffer strip and front and side yard setbacks are enforced for development on those sites, the total buildable area on the two sites would be 18,500 square feet. If the shoreline buffer strip were reduced to 25 feet, which the Tacoma City Council can do under existing law, the buildable area would increase to 29,550 square feet. If the front and side setbacks were reduced, the total developable area would rise to 47,349 square feet, the study said.
Su Dowie, the authority’s executive director, said the authority’s board wants Heartland to broaden the development scenarios it presented in its recent report to include other development possibilities. The Seattle real estate consulting firm studied four possibilities ranging from a mixed-use commercial or residential mid-rise with an adjacent multilevel parking structure to a series of low-rise, waterfront live-work flats. The mid-rise commercial and apartment units didn’t appear to pencil out financially while the lower-profile units were in the black under the study scenarios.
The tradeoff for the authority is that the low-rise structures would offer fewer residential units along the waterway, thus reducing the density sought to support business on the waterway and downtown.
The parking structures were envisioned as multistory above-ground structures in the denser developments because of the difficulty and expense of creating underground parking structures so near the water.
Dowie said she’d like to see whether the economics might change if sites north of the bridge are included as part of an offering to developers. One of those sites immediately north of the bridge was the site of the former Municipal Dock, where steamers, passenger and freight boats plying Puget Sound called on Tacoma.
That dock building was razed because it had deteriorated to a dangerous condition.
The authority executive said further study may show how best the authority can seek changes to the zoning codes to make the land more attractive to builders, or it may conclude that the best strategy is to wait until demand and market conditions improve.