Puyallup wins a round in fight over former Van Lierop bulb farm

The city of Puyallup has won the latest round in a long-running legal battle with a Seattle developer who wants to build a huge warehouse on a part of the former Van Lierop bulb farm in the city’s northeast corner.

The Washington State Court of Appeals ruled last week in favor of the city, reversing a Pierce County Superior Court decision that had declared the city’s restrictions an illegal “site specific” land use decision.

But the appeals court victory could be a hollow one, Puyallup Assistant City Manager Steve Kirkelie said. The developer, Schnitzer West, applied for a permit to build a 477,000-square-foot warehouse on the property before the city imposed the new rules. The timing of that application means Schnitzer has “grandfathered rights” to create the building without being subject to the subsequent restrictions.

Among those restrictions is a 125,000-square-foot limit on building sizes. The city’s Shaw Road-East Pioneer Overlay modified the existing land use rules to also require more landscaping and pedestrian-friendly features, such as an extensive sidewalk network.

The fate of the former Van Lierop flower bulb farm, northeast of the intersection of Shaw Road and Pioneer Way East, has been the subject of controversy for years. The bulb farm shut down a decade ago, and the farm’s gift shop closed three years ago.

The council considered the property a “gateway” to Puyallup and sought to make it a pleasant and welcoming entrance to the city. To that end, the city bought 24 acres of the former farm from the Van Lierop family. It plans to convert a portion of that land into a public park. A nonprofit group, Step By Step, has bought 6 of the 24 acres. It plans to build a hub for its staff that provide services to at-risk pregnant mothers. Puyallup car dealer Jerry Korum donated $500,000 to the organization in honor of his wife, Germaine.

Schnitzer bought the remaining portion of the property for industrial development use. An adjoining parcel, once owned by another Puyallup farming family, the Knutsons, also has been the focus of conflicts between the city and the developer. That land lies outside the city. The city is working to thwart plans to construct a multibuilding industrial complex on the land in part because of the traffic it will produce.

Seattle attorney Courtney Flora, among several lawyers representing Schnitzer, said she and Schnitzer have yet to discuss how they will proceed in light of the appeals court decision. She referred questions to a Schnitzer executive who did not return phone calls this week.

Kirkelie said that while Schnitzer has the right to proceed with its building plans it has submitted, it or a new owner would be subject to the city’s new rules if the plans were altered. Schnitzer said previously that it had hurriedly submitted those plans when it appeared that the council might impose new restrictions, and those plans may not fit market requirements now.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663