Long-term housing at Chambers Bay approved as part of resort complex plan

The proposed master plan for the Chambers Bay Golf Course envisions a resort hotel and “golf villas.”
The proposed master plan for the Chambers Bay Golf Course envisions a resort hotel and “golf villas.”

The debate over long-term rentals at the Chambers Bay golf course complex is over — for now.

Pierce County Council members voted Tuesday to update the master plan for the complex in University Place, preserving a contentious phrase — “extended stay lodging” — that fueled a heated debate over the site’s future. The decision opens the door to long-term housing near the golf course.

Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, whose district includes University Place, argued that the language in the master plan broke a promise to county taxpayers that the park and the golf course would not be used for housing.

“This the public’s park,” she said. “It wasn’t built to be a place for people to live. People do not want people living on that park.”

She offered an amendment to remove the “extended stay” wording. It failed on a 2-4 vote. Council members subsequently approved the master plan on a 5-1 vote. Ladenburg was the sole nay.

The crux of the issue is a planned resort hotel at the golf course, accompanied by up to 190 golf villas tucked into a hillside overlooking the park’s Central Meadow. The hillside is not designated for any other park or public use.

The rental idea is not new; the proposed villas and the prospect of leasing have been included in the planning process for more than a year. The University Place City Council approved a plan in June that included the “extended stay” language.

Aimed at golf-minded tourists, the two-story villas — perceived as high-end vacation rentals — could be leased for a month or more, according to the master plan proposal.

It’s the “or more” part that bothers Ladenburg. In her view, long-term rentals open the door to people living at the park, rather than stopping in for a week or two.

Her husband, former County Executive John Ladenburg, contends that long-term rentals could hurt efforts to attract more major golf tournaments to the site, which hosted the U.S. Open in 2015.

Proponents, including County Executive Bruce Dammeier, say the villas would make it easier for developers of the hotel to obtain the necessary financing to build the resort, and the county would benefit in the long run.

Developers Dan and Tom Absher, of Puyallup-based Absher Construction, and Dan Putnam, leaders of the project, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in support of the long-term rentals.

Putnam lives near the park and walks the trails regularly. He called the site his “sanctuary,” and said his personal connection to the site includes a commitment to preserve its beauty and public accessibility.

A chain of speakers, many of them University Place residents, spoke at Tuesday’s public hearing.

Most urged the council to support Ladenburg’s amendment and remove the “extended stay” language. Others, including University Place pro tem Mayor Kent Keel, recommended a no vote, citing the park’s long-term financial health.

Council Chairman Doug Richardson, echoing the views of Dammeier and his leadership team, framed the master plan as a generalized document rather than a detailed punch list.

“We are not approving a site design for Chambers Bay,” he said, adding that specific details regarding the villas and long-term rentals could be hashed out later when the county negotiates a ground lease for the resort proposal.

Those talks are a long way off; procedural hurdles such as financing and design have to be cleared before construction could begin.