Almost five years after taking over the largest master-planned community in Western Washington, Newland Communities has transformed it from a surreal landscape devoid of anything but paved streets into a series of new neighborhoods for 450 families and counting.
Tehaleh, pronounced TAY-HA-LAY, on the Bonney Lake plateau, was born in 1991 as Cascadia. Cascadia was a victim of the Great Recession, lost to foreclosure in 2009. California-based Newland bought it two years later and renamed it using a Chinook jargon term.
“We’re ecstatic,” Scott Jones, a Newland vice president and general manager of Tehaleh, said last month. With those 450 families, there are “1,200 people now who are walking the trails, going to the (community center), going to school. This is different from building lots on the first part of project. It’s a real community now.”
As Tehaleh grows, its next door neighbor Bonney Lake is keeping a wary eye on the traffic.
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“My experience with (Newland) has been very positive,” said mayor Neil Johnson, emphasizing that Tehaleh will benefit his city and the area.
“The biggest concern I have is that it’s supposed to be an employment-based community,” he said, which means a good share of the people living in Tehaleh also are supposed to work there, keeping them off the roads. “That’s not happening right now.”
Johnson’s concern has grown with a request Newland made last year: It wants Pierce County to allow it to increase the number of homes in the community from 5,900 to 9,200. The work on modifying the development’s original plan is ongoing and will be up for public discussion beginning next summer.
Having that many completed houses is a long way off. As of this month, Newland has sold 900 lots and built 600 homes at Tehaleh.
The home construction “doesn’t all happen at once. So improvements of infrastructure can happen in phases as well,” Jones said.
5,900 number of homes currently allowed for a finished Tehaleh
9,200 number of homes Tehaleh developer wants to ultimately build
The reason Newland wants to build more homes is to accommodate a higher-than-expected demand from people over age 55. Jones said 40 percent of overall sales so far have been to that age group. That includes the age-restricted community built by Trilogy, which doesn’t allow anyone under 55 to buy there.
“We expect that demand to continue and for it to be 22 to 23 percent of the project, long-term,” Jones said. Newland’s traffic studies show people in those communities use their cars a lot less than the average homeowner, meaning Tehaleh could build more age-restricted housing without a large increase in overall car trips out of the development.
The public will get its first look at Newland’s analysis in June, Jones said. The six to nine months after that will be the public process before a hearing examiner decides whether to allow the additional homes.
Another fact about the new residents of Tehaleh underlines Bonney Lake’s concerns about traffic: Almost half of all the buyers so far — 43 percent — have moved there from South King County. Now, the only way in and out of Tehaleh is by 198th Avenue East, a north-south corridor that doesn’t yet fully connect to the next major arterial, South Prairie Road.
At what point do you say, we have to get other things under control before doing 500 more homes?
Neil Johnson, mayor of Bonney Lake
Rob Jenkins, a senior planner with Pierce County, said one of the decisions that will come out of Newland’s request for more homes is whether any amount of work on Tehaleh’s second phase can happen before that second route is in place. The master plan for Tehaleh generally doesn’t allow for a second wave of home construction without a second road out of the development.
It’s possible that some development might be allowed, Jenkins said, “but not a significant amount.”
Bonney Lake’s Mayor Johnson said he wants assurance that home construction won’t outpace infrastructure.
“It’s almost like we’re putting cart before the horse,” he said. “At what point do you say we have to get other things under control before doing 500 more homes?”
Jones said Newland has had interest from small-scale manufacturers that would consider opening at Tehaleh’s 419-acre employment center, including companies that make things like coffee and high-tech camera accessories. But the site doesn’t yet have roads, water or sewer connections. Jones said that will happen by the end of next year. Then it likely would be two years more before a business could open.
(People are) walking the trails … (and) going to school. This is different from building lots on the first part of project. It’s a real community now.
Scott Jones, vice president of Newland Communities and general manager of Tehaleh
Newland is paying attention to traffic, Jones said. Newland has spent $4 million so far on mitigation and has committed to spend $19 million more through 2018. That’s on top of the $3 million spent by Patrick Kuo, the development’s creator.
But the biggest outlay may be yet to come. Before the recession, Pierce County approved a new route for Rhodes Lake Road. This is the second route off the plateau that would bring people west to Highway 162 from Tehaleh. The current Rhodes Lake Road is an old two-lane road that winds through the woods and cannot be widened in any practical manner.
In 2008, the cost of the Rhodes Lake Road corridor project was estimated to be between $69 million and $91 million. Newland has spent the first $1.5 million to bring the project to an early design phase, with the goal of having the road completed by 2020.
“That is an aggressive goal,” Jones said, in what may be a major understatement considering the laundry list of permits and approvals the Rhodes Lake Road corridor requires — in addition to the cost.
County engineers are involved to ensure the design meets county road standards, but Newland is footing the entire bill so far. And if it wants to finish the road quickly, it likely will bear a large share of those costs too, said county transportation improvement manager Letticia Neal.
“I would definitely assume the developer would be taking the majority of the expense, because this is not the county’s priority project,” Neal said. That priority now is extending Canyon Road. The county’s six-year transportation plan, approved last month, has no funding allocated for the Rhodes Lake Road corridor.
Newland’s schedule is aggressive, Neal agreed, “but developer-driven projects can be more aggressive.”
Partial list of permits and approvals for Rhodes Lake Road corridor project
▪ Shorelines approval.
▪ Critical Areas approval for geologic hazards, floodplains and floodways, wetlands, as well as fish and wildlife.
▪ State Environmental Policy Act compliance through Pierce County and Department of Ecology.
▪ A SEPA supplemental environmental impact statement is being prepared that will analyze earth, water resources, plants and animals, wetlands, air quality/greenhouse gases, noise, environmental health, land use/plans and policies, aesthetics, historic and cultural resources, transportation, public services and utilities.
▪ Hydraulic Project Approval from Department of Fish and Wildlife.
▪ Clean Water Act Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that includes compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic and Preservation Act, Endangered Species Act and Tribal Treaty rights.
▪ Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification from Washington State Department of Ecology.
Source: Pierce County