Matt Driscoll: John Hines’ evolving view on Proctor development should be no surprise

The six-story Proctor Station mixed-use development has become the wedge issue in the race for Tacoma City Council’s District 1 seat between Anders Ibsen and John Hines.
The six-story Proctor Station mixed-use development has become the wedge issue in the race for Tacoma City Council’s District 1 seat between Anders Ibsen and John Hines. BCRA

There’s a nearly finished, six-story, mixed-use building hanging over this year’s City Council race in District 1.

Proctor Station casts a long political shadow.

With one week to go until votes are tallied, it should come as no surprise that it’s come to this.

In a race where the candidates have admittedly similar views on many things, some sort of wedge issue was always going to be needed for opportunistic challenger John Hines to differentiate himself from hard-campaigning incumbent Anders Ibsen.

Hines’ main selling point — that the affable high school teacher and football coach is easier to work with — only goes so far, after all.

Proctor Station, and the development drama it has sparked in the North End neighborhood, might be the wedge.

“I think that’s one of the clearer ones,” Hines said last week when asked if his evolving view on development in Tacoma’s mixed-use centers, and specifically Proctor, is an area where he and Ibsen differ significantly.

As Hines explained, when he entered the District 1 contest with the endorsement of seven of Ibsen’s council colleagues in his back pocket, he initially “took the planning textbook view that development should be uniform across districts.”

Or, to put it another way, he was generally OK with the city code that allows for buildings like Proctor Station in mixed-use centers and unsupportive of a moratorium on six-story buildings in the neighborhood.

Since then, however, Hines said he’s “learned enough … to realize each neighborhood is different, and each mixed use district has its own needs and strengths.”

The challenger has gone from “textbook” — and vague on the subject of future development in Proctor — to firmly against six-story buildings and “more supportive of a moratorium to put a hold” on buildings of that height in the neighborhood “to ensure we hear — and understand — everyone's point of view.”

It’s fair to classify this as a significant shift for Hines. He says it’s been his time talking to District 1 constituents that has informed his new view.

Since what’s at stake here is a job representing those constituents, the willingness to listen and “be responsive,” as he put it, could be viewed as a positive.

And, as someone who’s weighed in on the subject, I can say with certainty that future development is one subject that many Proctor residents are passionate about. I’m sure Hines has heard all about it.

Still, there’s no denying the politics at play here. Now the two candidates suddenly have an issue where there’s a clear difference of opinion, given that Ibsen has maintained an anti-moratorium stance in Proctor.

“While it’s important to mitigate the impacts of development and keep it within the character of the neighborhood, it’s not realistic to promise a drastic change like a moratorium in such a short time for only a single neighborhood,” Ibsen said.

The payoff for Hines’ new stance came recently for him, in the form of the official endorsement of 4Proctor, the neighborhood group that has formed in opposition to unchecked development in the area, including six-story buildings like Proctor Station.

The group’s rallying cry is that development, “should be compatible and in scale with the surrounding neighborhood and enhance and preserve its unique character.”

With Hines’ newfound position on the matter, 4Proctor is now rallying in support of his candidacy.

“My position clearly distinguishes me from my opponent, which in a political sense is a bonus,” Hines acknowledged, saying that Ibsen has reaped the rewards of his stance in the form of “financial support from developers.”

Ibsen has received more than $6,000 from developers, including Point Ruston’s Loren Cohen, and several smaller contributions from Proctor Station developer Bill Evans. Hines, meanwhile, has a $950 contribution from the Pierce County Affordable Housing Council, the political action committee of the Master Builders Association of Pierce County, which he received before he announced his new position.

“I will stand with you in support of four stories and against six stories,” Hines trumpeted in a statement from 4Proctor announcing the endorsement. “I can’t promise we’ll prevail but you won’t have to wonder how I’ll vote.”

Now the question is how District 1 will vote, and whether Hines’ new position on six-story developments will make a difference.