A project to build an apartment complex on the former Pacific Lanes Bowling site in Tacoma has caused some nearby residents to reach their boiling points.
Demolition started this summer on the 33,000-square-foot bowling alley building at 7015 S. D St. to make way for Grand Pacific Apartments, which include 134 market-rate and affordable housing units.
Some residents living near the project are calling it the “Not-So-Grand Pacific,” claiming both the developers and the city of Tacoma have brushed off their concerns about traffic, lack of dust suppression and air quality.
They say dust from part of a building that contained asbestos has covered their homes, cars and streets.
“I’m so frustrated,” said resident Tracy Turner, who bought her home near the site a year and a half ago. “When you realize you’re falling on deaf ears … I don’t know what to do.”
The city of Tacoma issued a nuisance inspection report in June and a temporary stop-work violation for noise in July. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency issued a notice of violation to the developer for failing to submit a notification for demolition. There have been no violations issued related to dust.
Developers say they’re doing everything they can to comply with city regulations and have tried to accommodate resident requests. Already, completion of the project has been delayed.
“This isn’t like we’re trying to wreck Tacoma — we’re trying to enhance Tacoma,” said Ken Rody, owner of development company Grand Pacific LLC. “There’s a big (housing) need.”
Resident Dave Peterson said he and others have been threatened with a harassment lawsuit by the developers for being vocal about their concerns.
“Now they’re trying to come after the residents,” Peterson said.
Roy Kissler, project manager for Grand Pacific Apartments, said people have trespassed on the property and hung signs on fences around the project falsely claiming the site is unhealthy, which he sees as harassment.
“I haven’t said that I would sue them, but I did say they want to go on a civil suit route ... we will do that,” Kissler told The News Tribune.
Residents say they don’t know of any signs being placed on the project’s fencing.
“We have a right to speak up when we feel our health is threatened,” said Paul Chromey, a 30-year resident and Safe Streets member. “This can never happen to any other neighborhood.”
A rocky start
In March, customers found out Pacific Lanes Bowling would close its doors after 60 years to make way for a new development.
That development, Grand Pacific Apartments, was approved for a 12-year tax break in April. The project on 3.4 acres consists of 106 market-rate units and 28 affordable-rate units, with rents ranging from $1,046 to $1,450 per month, and enough parking for 154 cars.
Not everyone was happy about the changes. Shortly after the announcement, one man threatened to kill the entire City Council if the bowling alley was demolished. He was arrested by detectives in April.
Neighbors say they were never against the project.
“None of us have ever said that we wanted to stop it. We were just trying to be proactive .… If you’re going to have 134 units, let’s include (the neighbors) into it,” Peterson said.
About a year ago, neighbors and developers started meeting about the project, sharing development plans.
Peterson said he noticed “things going a little sideways” earlier this year.
“We weren’t getting the responses from the developers. It was like they all of a sudden just kind of stopped,” Peterson said.
The city issued an environmental review in June, declaring the project does “not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment,” but offered mitigating conditions including limited access to residential streets from heavy vehicles, painting curbs red and installation of three speed bumps.
During a 15-day public comment period, residents asked for a sidewalk to be installed by developers, which was added to the requirements by the city. The review also required the developer to provide asbestos abatement, which was found in the building.
Asbestos abatement was completed, and a permit was filed with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency prior to demolition in July.
Demolition began July 22.
On July 27, a notice of violation/stop work was issued by the city for the construction noise that occurred prior to 9 a.m., which is against code.
On July 29, a PSCAA inspector visited the site after being notified by a resident and witnessed demolition work occurring “without first submitting a notification to the Agency,” according to documents obtained by The News Tribune. The notice is being investigated, said PSCAA inspection manager Kim Wells.
In an emailed response to various neighbors and city staff on July 28, City Council member Chris Beale said he was “shocked at the level of violations that have already happened and the impacts to the neighborhood.”
“I’ve also asked if the construction site can be shut down — I believe that shutting them down is the only way to get their attention at this point,” Beale wrote.
On Aug. 2, the city declared it would not be issuing a blanket stop-work order, according to an email from Corey Newton, Site and Building Division head for the city’s planning and development services (PDS).
“PDS Inspection staff, who are authorized to issue stop-work orders, have not found that issuing a stop-work order on a project-wide basis is appropriate because to date, with one exception, PDS Inspection staff have relied on voluntary corrections, and they have had no issues rise to the level of a stop-work order,” Newton stated.
Still, city officials say they want to work together to mitigate concerns between the two parties.
“This has been a really rocky start to a construction project,” Beale told The News Tribune on Friday.
He said the city is looking toward potential solutions.
“One of the ideas that could come out of this process is maybe we should have a neighborhood pre-construction meeting,” Beale said.
He added that fines levied against developers for violations also could be changed. Currently, the first notice of violation starts as a warning, with $250 per day after that until the violation is corrected.
Kissler, who’s been a developer in Tacoma for decades, said they’ll continue to follow city regulations. He said further resident complaints will continue to drag out the construction time line.
“I’ve got multiple projects in Tacoma,” he said. “I don’t have any problems with the neighbors.”
With demolition completed, the project will embark on constructing the new apartment complex. Completion is expected in early 2021.
Residents say they’ve lost trust in the developer and worry future violations will follow.
Residents shared their concerns with city staff at a South End Neighborhood Council meeting on Aug. 19.
“There’s a definite gap in communication, I’d say, between the city of Tacoma and these other agencies that are monitoring,” resident Andrea Haug told city staff at the meeting. “It’s not good for you. It’s not good for us.”
Already, the city is “at a level where we’re increasing enforcement at this site,” Newton said at the meeting.
“We actually have been having an inspector go to the site at 6:30 a.m. almost every day since (demolition) started, just to really enforce that we’re serious about the noise issue — there’s rules in place for a reason,” he said.
Changes to city code related to enforcement and fines for violations could be coming in the future.
“In just hearing some of the concerns, I do have some ideas — potential changes to our code on site inspection process and fines, issues like making sure that we’re connecting neighborhoods to developers before project starts, performance measures on dust and asbestos abatement,” Beale told residents.
At-Large City Council member Lillian Hunter said a meeting is scheduled between the city and the developer on Tuesday.
“It’s been a rough start, and I’m hopeful with setting clear expectations … we can move on a smoother path to completion of this process, but we also have to keep in mind that construction is disruptive,” Hunter told The News Tribune on Friday. “We want to be open-minded, fair and address the concerns of the residents.”