Puyallup Herald

Puyallup can take control of controversial warehouse project on county land, court says

Legal wranglings continue over future site of Knutson Farms warehouse project

Three judges with the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled the city of Puyallup can assume role of lead agency on controversial Knutson warehouse project, despite the site being on Pierce County land.
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Three judges with the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled the city of Puyallup can assume role of lead agency on controversial Knutson warehouse project, despite the site being on Pierce County land.

As the city of Puyallup, Pierce County and developers continue to battle over a 2.6-million-square-foot warehouse project, the latest legal decision places control in the hands of the city.

After a year-long wait, three judges with the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled April 3 that the city of Puyallup can assume the role of lead agency on the project, despite the site being located on Pierce County land.

“It’s a complete win for the city as we possibly could have attained,” said Joseph Beck, attorney for the city of Puyallup.

Margaret Archer, attorney representing developers Running Bear Development Partners LLC and Knutson Farms Inc., said her clients expect the project to continue without a lengthy delay.

“The market is strong, and the investors remain confident the project will be built as proposed,” Archer said in an email to The Herald.

The Pierce County Council voted 4-3 on Wednesday file a motion to appeal the decision to state Supreme Court.

Puyallup Mayor John Palmer called Pierce County’s decision to appeal “stunning.”

“The city must issue necessary permits and bears the brunt of the traffic, so of course the city should have a say in the impact assessment and mitigation,” Palmer said. “It’s time for the county to stop fighting and work with the city and listen to what Puyallup citizens have to say.”

The city plans to conduct an environmental impact assessment on the proposed project. The county was not required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) after determining the project would not have a significant impact.

Conducting an EIS involves public input — an opportunity that Beck said people haven’t had so far.

“The Puyallup citizens, over the last three years, have made it quite clear that they want to have a say in this,” Beck said.

The results of the EIS could result in scaling back the project or increasing mitigation required from developers.

The project cannot be built during the environmental review, said Archer, but an adjacent construction project by the same developers is already underway, so “a good part of the needed infrastructure will continue to be developed.”

The April decision by the Court of Appeals reverses a 2017 decision by Thurston County Superior Court that found Pierce County should be the lead agency over the project.

The appeals court decision stated that the city has jurisdiction because it “has approval and permitting authority over the roadwork and water and sewer services that are part of the proposal.”

The decision is the latest in a years-long dispute between the city and county regarding the Knutson Farms Industrial Project, a 162-acre warehouse project consisting of seven buildings. The city has spent $145,000 in legal fees on the issue to date, Beck said.

The project property borders Puyallup city limits at Shaw Road and East Pioneer and is adjacent to the Puyallup River, part of the city’s Urban Growth Area. The project would result in about 5,600 more vehicles on the roads each weekday, according to court documents.

The city offered to be a co-lead agency on the project in 2016 after concerns over environmental impacts, but the county declined, stating it would conduct a “robust” review process.

In 2017, the county determined that the project would not have a significant impact on the environment. An environmental impact statement was not required as long as various road-work conditions were met.

The city disagreed there would not be a significant impact and appealed to the Pierce County Hearing Examiner.

The city also filed to assume the role of lead agency, but it was not recognized by the county, according to court documents.

The city argued in Thurston County Superior Court that it should be lead agency because of a combination of traffic and stormwater concerns that would impact the area and because it was providing water and sewer services for the project, Beck said.

In October 2017, Thurston County Judge Chris Lanese released a decision disagreeing with the city, saying those issues weren’t sufficient to have jurisdiction over the project and declaring Pierce County as the lead agency.

The city appealed the decision to the Washington Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, a two-week public hearing was held in July 2018 on whether or not the project would have significant impacts to the area.

Pierce County Hearing Examiner Stephen Causseaux sided with the county in November, recognizing the county’s determination of non-significance, but with added conditions, including $600,000 toward Shaw Road improvements and $1 million toward the state Route 410 interchange project.

The city filed a petition in March challenging the hearing examiner’s decisions.

With April’s decision by the Court of Appeals in favor of the city, Causseaux’s decisions could be moot because they were based on Pierce County as lead agency, said Beck. He expects the court to vacate the decision, but that has not been determined.

Construction is underway on a separate warehouse by the same developers near the site.

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