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Puyallup leaders OK deal to buy Van Lierop farmland

Neil Van Lierop walks his daffodil farm property in 2011 after the City of Puyallup annexed and rezoned his property. That was the beginning of a long, contentious journey that is now leading to the sale of 24 acres to the city.
Neil Van Lierop walks his daffodil farm property in 2011 after the City of Puyallup annexed and rezoned his property. That was the beginning of a long, contentious journey that is now leading to the sale of 24 acres to the city. Peter Haley

Puyallup plans to purchase 24 acres of a former daffodil farm, which for years has been at the center of a land-use battle that’s still tied up in court.

The Puyallup City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday night on an agreement to buy the land. Mayor John Knutsen abstained.

City Manager Kevin Yamamoto said the city will work to finalize the $3.75 million purchase from farmer Neil Van Lierop by the end of the year. At that point, Yamamoto said, the city will keep 18 acres — valued at $2.5 million — and resell the remaining 6 acres to the nonprofit Step By Step for $1.25 million.

The nonprofit already planned to buy some of the farmland from Van Lierop, a lifelong farmer in the Puyallup Valley who closed his bulb farm in 2013. Step by Step is an 18-year-old organization that helps at-risk mothers support healthy babies from pregnancy through infancy.

Tuesday’s vote came at the end of the regular council meeting, after the council recessed into executive session for about 45 minutes. When council members emerged, they announced the agreement that some had worked toward for years.

“I’m very happy to make this vote tonight,” said Councilman John Palmer, who has long advocated for purchasing land from the Van Lierops for parks or open space. “It’s a win for Step By Step, it’s a win for the Van Lierop family, and it’s a win for the citizens of Puyallup.”

Palmer added that the city intends to pursue a new park on the property that will likely be named in honor of Van Lierop.

Councilman Steve Vermillion said he was pleased to honor the well-respected farmer and his family, but he denounced the “trauma” imposed on the Van Lierops by the years-long, contentious process that preceded Tuesday’s vote. The process included a rezone, moratoriums and land-use changes that triggered a lawsuit by a Seattle-based developer.

“It’s time the Van Lierops be recognized,” Vermillion said.

Councilman John Hopkins applauded Krista Linden, Step By Step’s founder and executive director, for ushering the agreement.

“This was a very friendly deal,” Hopkins said. “She encouraged us to put this together.”

Part of the Van Lierop property, separate from the deal approved Tuesday, remains under the cloud of a lawsuit filed last year by Seattle real estate firm Schnitzer West. The firm previously had secured a contract with Van Lierop to buy some of his land and build a 470,000-square-foot warehouse project there.

Schnitzer sued the city in Pierce County Superior Court challenging an ordinance adopted in the spring of 2014. The ordinance added stringent development standards to the property near East Pioneer Avenue and Shaw Road.

Schnitzer claims Puyallup officials imposed an emergency moratorium to halt its project and passed the new rules “with the explicit intent to frustrate and prevent” developing land that had been clearly designated for industrial growth.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682, @KariPlog

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