Puyallup loses appeals against warehouse project but says added conditions could ease traffic impacts

An effort to construct seven warehouses in Puyallup will continue with added conditions after city appeals of the project were struck down by a hearing examiner this month.
An effort to construct seven warehouses in Puyallup will continue with added conditions after city appeals of the project were struck down by a hearing examiner this month. Courtesy

Efforts to build seven warehouses in Puyallup will continue with added conditions after a Pierce County hearing examiner struck down city appeals of the project this month.

The decisions by hearing examiner Stephen Casseaux, released Nov. 21 after a two-week public hearing in July, were a result of a years-long disagreement between the city and county about the Knutson Farms project.

The city contends the 2.6 million-square-foot project will have significant environmental impacts on the area and requires an environmental impact statement.

The county said its decisions concerning the developer’s plan protect the environment and no impact statement is needed.

Margaret Archer, an attorney representing Running Bear Development Partners LLC, said the developer is pleased with the decisions.

“On the whole, the Examiner generally concluded that the County’s review of the project has been appropriate, consistent with the law and has adequately protected the environment,” she wrote in an email to The Puyallup Herald. “The Examiner did modify some of the County’s environmental conditions as they relate to traffic and the developer is still in the process of evaluating those modifications.”

The city considers the added conditions a win, but contends they don’t address all environmental impacts and might appeal if “it is in the public interest to do so,” according to a city press release Wednesday.

“The result is that the County benefits from the project, but its impacts and burdens will fall heavily on the City of Puyallup,” City Manager Kevin Yamamoto said.

“The City is therefore pleased that the Pierce County Hearing Examiner decisions recognize that there are significant shortcomings in the County’s approvals. The City is now studying whether the changes ordered by the Pierce County Hearing Examiner are sufficient responses to the issues raised by the City and the public at large.”

The city appealed three county decisions concerning the development plan for Knutson Farms:

A permit the county sought for construction of a 42-inch stormwater pipe and outfall.

The preliminary short plat the county approved in May 2017.

A determination in April 2017 that the project will have little environmental effect.

While the hearing examiner ruled in favor of the county in all three appeals, he recognized traffic impacts of the project and imposed mitigation conditions. They require the developer to:

Conduct additional investigation of a portion of wetland.

Prohibit the use of Shaw Road south of Pioneer Way East as a truck route.

Wait to be issued occupancy permits until the Traffic Avenue/state Route 410 interchange project is completed.

The interchange project in Sumner is meant to ease traffic congestion in the area and is down the road from the Knutson project.

The city of Sumner announced this month the project was fully funded at $17.5 million and is expected to go out to bid this spring. It will take two years to complete.

Waiting for that project to be completed will help, but it doesn’t solve the larger traffic impact the project will have, said city attorney Joe Beck.

“The reality is, before Knutson can open for business, they have to have a permit from the city for access to city roads,” Beck said. “Until the city of Puyallup is satisfied the impacts for traffic have been fully addressed, we can’t issue permits for access to our streets.”

Waiting for the interchange to be built isn’t expected to delay the warehouse project much.

“While the developer is still evaluating this condition, we do not expect it to pose a significant impediment to the project’s progress, especially in light of Sumner’s commitment to prompt completion of the SR410 project,” said Archer, the developer attorney.

The city also challenged the county as the lead agency of the project, contending the city should have the authority to direct an environmental review. The challenge will be heard at the Washington Court of Appeals on Jan. 15.

“Its outcome could effectively void the Pierce County Hearing Examiner’s decisions,” the city stated in its release.