Puyallup: News

Puyallup farmland a step closer to development

Supporters and opponents of a proposed rezone near Shaw Road in Puyallup agreed on two things Tuesday night: Retired farmer Neil Van Lierop should be able to sell his property for a fair price, and his former daffodil farmland should be thoughtfully developed.

What they couldn’t agree on is what that development should look like.

Despite overwhelming opposition from citizens who packed the Puyallup City Council chambers, council members voted 4-3 to approve the land-use application by local real estate firm Schnitzer West.

The vote went against a Planning Commission recommendation from July that advised the council to deny the application.

Schnitzer West has a contract in place to buy Van Lierop’s land for industrial development pending the city’s action.

Van Lierop, the last of a five-generation line of bulb farmers, closed his daffodil farm in May. His wife, Lore Van Lierop, stood in front of the council Tuesday and asked for approval in order to allow her husband to move on from decades of work in the Puyallup Valley.

“We can’t stop time or progress, so when you vote tonight think about Neil Van Lierop,” she said. “I love the fields as much as other people, but it won’t continue.”

Voting in favor of the rezone were Mayor Rick Hansen and council members Steve Vermillion, John Knutsen and Tom Swanson. Voting no were Kent Boyle, John Palmer and John Hopkins.

The rezone, which will be before the City Council again at an unknown date for a second reading, would make it easier to develop a single, unified property on land that currently is made up of two parcels with slightly different industrial zoning.

Use of the property has long been controversial. It was annexed into Puyallup in 2011, after three years of rezone discussions involving city officials and area landowners yielded a vision for residential and retail space.

Palmer, a former Planning Commission member, said officials spent a lot of time striking a balanced approach to developing the remaining agricultural land in Puyallup.

“The zoning was intended to respect the land, to allow development to occur and to allow the farmers to sell their land and get a reasonable profit,” he said.

But Vermillion said not everyone agreed with that mixed-use vision . He said the current zoning isn’t beneficial to the city and “doesn’t make any sense to me.”

During public comment, opponents of the rezone said Van Lierop’s land is a gateway to Puyallup, and they don’t want it turned into a “sea of warehouses.”

“My main concern is that warehouses are like cockroaches,” said Corry Glucoft, a candidate for City Council. “Once you put one up, that’s all you’re going to see.”

Jeff Harmer, a Schnitzer spokesman, said Tuesday the land was originally annexed with the intent to promote urban growth, but the area lacks infrastructure to support development. The zoning change will help establish that infrastructure, he said.

Harmer also said it was decided back when the agricultural designation was taken away that the area would be developed.

Political controversy has surrounded the rezone application process, and that continued Tuesday night.

Planning Commission chairman Steve Hastings and co-chairman Chris McNutt, who are both running for City Council seats, were criticized for participating in a private meeting in June that included a senior representative from Schnitzer West and three members of the City Council.

In an email obtained by The News Tribune, Puyallup City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto raised several concerns to Hastings and McNutt prior to the public hearing on the issue July 10. He suggested that attending a closed-door meeting with a land-use applicant may violate the state Open Meetings Act.

Both Hastings and McNutt recused themselves from discussion at the July 10 meeting, but both remained at the dais with Hastings leading the proceedings. When the public hearing continued two weeks later, both men left the room during the discussion and vote.

Mayor Rick Hansen and council members Knutsen and Swanson also attended the private meeting with Schnitzer in June. They were criticized by some Tuesday night for an apparent lack of transparency.

Ahead of the meeting Tuesday, Yamamoto advised the council members to disclose the nature of their involvement. They did so and participated in the vote.

At the end of deliberations, council members who both supported and opposed the rezone suggested the possibility of the city making an offer to the Van Lierops to purchase the property.

“If you want that property and the Van Lierops will accept the price that the city offers them, and you are willing to go forth and bond it, then so be it,” Vermillion said.