County executive vetoes Frederickson big-box retail proposal — again

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said Friday that she “had no choice but to veto” a proposal for big-box retail in Frederickson.

The plan was approved by the County Council earlier this month.

The maneuver is the second of its kind in six weeks and again turns the spotlight on Councilman Derek Young, the Gig Harbor Democrat who was the veto-proof swing vote following McCarthy’s last effort to block the proposal.

The ordinance, approved in a 5-2 vote on Aug. 11, would allow retail developments as large as 170,000 square feet, up from an existing limit of 60,000 square feet.

Each large-scale project would be subject to a development agreement and multiple layers of scrutiny before obtaining county approval, a modification from an earlier proposal.

That change was made in direct response to McCarthy’s previous veto in July. She rejected the county’s entire comprehensive plan, in part, due to the proposal to allow big-box retail in Frederickson.

In a letter to the council Friday, McCarthy cited continued concerns about clogging the freight corridor and jeopardizing high-wage industrial jobs in the unincorporated community east of Spanaway.

She wrote that the modified land-use proposal still “opens the door for expansion of commercial businesses along Canyon Road, a key transportation corridor.”

The executive has said that increased retail uses will pave the way for uncontrolled growth similar to that along Meridian Avenue East in the South Hill area.

“I support neighbors’ desire to create a sense of place, but this amendment does not do that,” McCarthy said in the letter. “I believe that we can find a compromise that does not set in motion a demise of the industrial center and good-paying jobs.”

County leaders have invested $80 million into the Canyon Road corridor, envisioning a freight-friendly link to the Port of Tacoma. Maintaining the area’s industrial identity is part of that vision.

At the same time, a rapidly growing residential population in Frederickson has expressed a desire for more shopping options beyond Canyon Crossing, a retail development that includes a Safeway and other tenants.

The project developer, Chris Pallis, has plans for a town center project across the way. He’s argued that his project requires a big-box “anchor” store in order to be successful.

Despite the executive’s attempt to block the land-use changes, Young indicated Friday that he’s unlikely to change course.

That suggests the council will have the five votes needed to overturn McCarthy’s veto.

Young, who opposed the original Frederickson proposal for large-scale retail, was the decisive vote in the second go-around Aug. 11.

Young supported the modified proposal despite some misgivings. He said state laws require the county to adopt a comprehensive plan, and dragging out the Frederickson debate could threaten eligibility for grant funding that the county needs.

“I cannot allow politics to obstruct the best interest of the taxpayers,” Young said in a statement Friday. “We are going to lose real dollars and that is unacceptable.”

He reiterated the complexity of his stance.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a difficult position — set a terrible precedent at the behest of a single developer’s wishes, or face a veto,” Young wrote. “If there were no consequences, I would join Executive McCarthy in her stand to protect our industrial lands, but unfortunately that’s not the world we live in.”

McCarthy implied that those concerns are moot. She said the County Council can remove the proposal from the larger comprehensive plan debate and take time to study it separately.

“It’s not politics for me,” McCarthy said. “This is about setting the stage of future jobs for Pierce County.”

Council Chairman Dan Roach said he’s disappointed the county executive won’t accept the panel’s decision.

He noted that the council already compromised by making “serious modifications” to the original proposal.

“To have her veto again, I’m left scratching my head,” Roach said. “I think we’ll work for an override and move on.”

He called the comprehensive plan a good one overall, and said it’s unfortunate it’s “hung up on one minor thing.”

McCarthy disagreed, stressing that expanding retail in the area creates problems that nobody in the county wants.

“I don’t think it’s minor,” she said. “I don’t think we need to be creating minimum-wage jobs by putting in places like Walmart.”