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New cities in Pierce County? Community Plans lay the groundwork for incorporation

Communities in Pierce County looking to incorporate will soon find it easier to do so.

At least, that’s what county officials are planning for as they update the Community Plans of four areas: South Hill, Frederickson, Parkland/Spanaway/Midland and Mid-County.

The plans, which haven’t been updated since the early 2000s, address the character and vision of each community and provide direction to accommodate growth in the areas of zoning, development and design.

In the latest proposed updates, two of those communities — Frederickson and South Hill — are designated Potential Incorporation Areas (PIAs).

“They have to be economically feasible to (incorporate),” said Jessica Gwilt, planner for Pierce County. “Part of (the plan) is establishing the ability for them to if they so chose. It puts it into the communities’ hands. They get to determine their fate.”

PIA is a relatively new designation, Gwilt said. Tehaleh was the first to be designated a PIA in 2017.

The state’s Growth Management Act requires Pierce County to plan for and encourage the incorporation of cities.

As communities grow, incorporation gets more and more likely.

“The idea behind identifying those (Potential Incorporation) areas is we see this as the direction we’re heading,” said Councilman Derek Young, who’s on the Pierce County community development committee. “One of the things that we’re focused on is making annexations and incorporations make financial sense.”

The community plans lay the groundwork for that, Young said.

The plans concentrate growth along major arterials such as Meridian Avenue South, Canyon Road East and Pacific Avenue, amending zoning codes to allow developers to grow up rather than out.

In the Spanaway, Parkland and Midland area, population has climbed from 48,000 in 1990 to 73,000 in 2015. The number of households grew from 17,000 to 26,000 in the same time period.

A group of Spanaway residents proposed a plan to incorporate earlier this year and are currently in a six-month signature gathering phase to put their proposal on the ballot.

Are South Hill and Frederickson next?

No official proposals have been made, said County Councilman Dave Morell, whose district includes South Hill.

He thinks incorporation would be right for South Hill “at some point” in the future.

“South Hill is kind of challenging because it’s such a bedroom community, and it just doesn’t have a sense of center,” Morell said.

In South Hill, population doubled in 25 years, from 26,944 in 1990 to 53,224 in 2015. Households have increased from roughly 9,000 in 1990 to 18,000 in 2015.

Frederickson’s population has tripled from 7,348 in 1990 to 25,065 in 2015. Households, too, from 2,400 in 1990 to 8,200 in 2015.

Areas with commercial development take in more tax revenue, added Morell, which makes incorporation more likely because they can pay to provide or contract for services like sewer, police and fire departments.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the residents.

Incorporation isn’t a new idea. It was considered by Frederickson, South Hill and Spanaway communities in 2002. But the proposals never gained enough support.

An incorporation proposal includes a formal notice, proposed map and legal description of the city, and cashier’s check for $100 made payable to the county.

Then the proposal must gather signatures from 10 percent of the population to put a measure on the ballot, which must pass by a majority.

“You’ve got to have a plan,” said Morell. “It’s got to be financially viable, and you’ve got to get enough citizens to say yes.”

As communities develop identities, local control becomes more desirable, Young said.

“We need to serve (urban areas) like they’re cities, and once that happens, they begin to think of themselves as cities,” Young said.

Local groups including the Pierce County Master Builders Association (MBA) and the Tacoma-Pierce County Association of Realtors have been involved with planning the Community Plan, which has been ongoing since 2016.

Jessie Gamble, government affairs manager for the Pierce County MBA, said the organization supports the County’s effort and thinks the Centers and Corridors zoning will bring more development to the area.

“It’s incredibly innovative,” Gamble said.

Pierce County is hosting an open house on the updates to the Community Plans on April 13. An open house is also available online.

Pierce County aims to put the new plans into effect by 2020.

Pierce County Community Plans Open House

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 13

Where: Pierce County Skills Center, 16117 Canyon Road E.

More information: co.pierce.wa.us/4693/Community-Plan-Updates

Questions? Contact 253-798-2799 or CommunityPlans@piercecountywa.gov

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