Mining threat in University Place dissolves with zoning change

A mining operation isn’t coming to a University Place corner after all.

Despite having mining permits and posting a sign last year at the corner of Bridgeport Way and 67th Avenue declaring “Mining ... Coming 2014”, property owner Brian McGuire never began mining the site. Now he never will.

The University Place City Council approved a zoning change Tuesday on two pieces of property owned by McGuire. In exchange for the city giving McGuire what what he wanted — a high-density commercial zoning for his corner property — he agreed to release all mining rights to the land.

That’s good news for the city, according to the four City Council members who voted for the change Tuesday night.

Council members Javier Figueroa, Chris Nye and Steve Worthington said retail sales tax generated by the future development will be better for the 31,000 people of University Place than if the property was mined over the next 18 to 25 years.

They, along with Councilman Kent Keel, voted in favor of the change that switched the zoning from single-family residential to high-density commercial development. McGuire’s second parcel, located behind Fred Meyer near the Westgate community, was also rezoned from single-family to allow for low-density multifamily development.

Council members Caroline Belleci and Ken Grassi and Mayor Denise McCluskey voted against the change, siding with neighbors who opposed the rezone. They supported the city’s planning commission recommendation to rezone the corner parcel for mixed-use office space and the parcel behind Fred Meyer to allow for six single-family homes per acre. Previous zoning allowed for four homes per acre.

Neighbors whose homes front the Bridgeport Way property attended Tuesday’s meeting and were unhappy with the council vote.

“It feels very anti-homeowner and pro-big business,” said Wendy Xenos, who lives across the street from the Bridgeport Way property. “I’m very disappointed in our City Council. They let us down and they let the city down.”

Neighbors believe the high-density zoning is “incompatible” in close proximity to single-family residential neighborhoods. They testified Tuesday night citing concerns about increased traffic, noise and potential odors if a fast food restaurant opened on the corner. They have repeated these concerns since 2011 when the council was approached by the city’s administration about trying to find an alternative to mining on the parcels.

Despite living close to the heavily traveled Bridgeport Way thoroughfare and the busy Fred Meyer store, neighbor Morry Stafford said the homes on Chambers Creek Road West are far enough away from the busy shopping complex that the noise is partially deflected. Previously a small hillside buffered the homes from the road and Fred Meyer, but McGuire removed the hill, Stafford said.

“We aren’t happy with the noise that increased when the knoll came down, and we just don’t want more of it,” he said.

To calm some of the neighborhood fears McGuire agreed to file a permanent covenant for the corner parcel specifying that it would never be developed into a gas station or a business with a 24-hour use. Despite this being a condition of the council’s approval, some neighbors are skeptical.

“If he said no 24-hour use, we would not be surprised if he had a 23-hour use,” Stafford said.

McGuire has no development lined up for the site, he said following the council’s vote Tuesday.

“We’ll sit down with the city and see what they want to do and we’ll go from there,” he said.

He does plan to “clean up and slick up” the corner before next June when the U.S. Open comes to town, he said. Currently there are cement barriers around the gravel lot.

The council vote Tuesday ended a decades-old debate about what to do with the two parcels. The issue resurfaced in 2011 when City Attorney Steve Victor approached McGuire about finding an alternative to mining the land.

McGuire previously fought the city in court to preserve his right to mine the parcels, which are remnants of a gravel mine that operated there for a half-century. The state Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 2001.

McGuire agreed not to mine if the city gave him the high-density commercial zoning. The City Council sent the matter to its planning commission twice for a recommendation. Both times the commission proposed changing the zoning to mixed-use office, which the city uses as a “transition zone” to provide separation between residential neighborhoods and commercial development.

McGuire opposed the recommendation, saying office space would force him to pay more to develop the site than he could get in rent. He insisted the city give him the high-density commercial zone he wanted.