Matt Driscoll

Get a grip, Proctor. Dense developments help preserve Tacoma, not destroy it

Growing pains in Tacoma’s Proctor District are nothing new.

In the months and years leading up to the opening of Proctor Station and then again in the lead up to Madison 25, its more recent sister development, plenty of residents were dragged, kicking and screaming, into Tacoma’s future.

The controversial mixed-use apartment developments, they claimed, would ruin the neighborhood’s “character.” Once they went up, life in Proctor would never recover. The massive buildings, we were warned in hyperbolic terms, would block out the sun and instantly turn a once beloved neighborhood into some combination of Seattle and the nine circles of hell.

Spoiler: Proctor survived and thrived. New businesses opened, people found a place to park, foot traffic increased and life went on.

Still, even with Proctor’s resilience in the face of new renters and dreaded density, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the early insta-reaction to the latest large development proposed in the area feels strikingly similar.

As The News Tribune’s Debbie Cockrell reported, a plan to build a new 80-unit apartment building where an auto-body shop and a single-family home now stand, in its earliest possible stages, once again shows signs of igniting Proctor’s fury.

“They are making it as bad or worse than Ballard. A once charming, enjoyable place to visit turned into a mass of housing and impossible traffic,” read just one of the negative comments posted on the North End Neighborhood Council Facebook page.

A few years back, I wrote that it was time for Proctor to grow up.

It’s apparently time for a new directive: Get a grip, Proctor.

The fact is, the Proctor District is one of several urban areas zoned specifically for this sort of development — for a reason. It’s not haphazard. It’s by design.

The fact is, the South Sound’s population is going to grow in the coming years, one way or another. Tacoma alone is expected to welcome more than 100,000 residents by 2040, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council . They’ve got to live somewhere.

Perhaps most important, the fact is dense developments built in the appropriate areas — like the Proctor business district —actually help preserve the quality of life and many of the things that have drawn so many people to Tacoma in the first place, including single-family neighborhoods.

Yes, you read that right.

If you like your single-family home — perhaps even your single-family home just outside the limited area zoned for dense growth in Proctor — developments like the ones that have reached toward the sky over last several years are one way preserve it. Dense development in urban centers help make sure single-family neighborhoods survive, and they help make sure that others in the future will be able to afford the same thing one day if they want it. (Or is that not something you care about?)

The calculation on all this is not difficult, though that doesn’t stop some people from acting like it’s mystical math cooked up by a gang of dubious “urbanists” who secretly want nothing more than to take away your parking spot.

Here’s the simple reality, however:

If we don’t accommodate growth, it will continue to push sprawling, unsustainable development out into the hinterlands — eating up the open spaces Pierce County should be preserving, not turning into tract housing and strip malls. Some families, understandably, will likely always want to live in the suburbs, and that’s fine. But we need attractive, realistic options for those who do not.

If we don’t build new housing, it will further escalate prices on a limited housing stock. Think the housing market is crazy now? Wait until 2040, especially if we do nothing.

And if we don’t plan for the future, it will make congestion and climate change worse. People need to have options for living near the jobs, services and transit they depend on, and if those don’t exist, we’ll all pay the price.

Now, are there reasons for concern and continued community engagement? Of course. There always are.

Two quickly come to mind:

If it was up to me, future Proctor developments would be filled with the affordable housing Tacoma desperately needs (though I shudder to think what the reaction to that plan might be).

Meanwhile, the city’s mass transit options need to continue to improve, and fast, because without reliable, convenient public transit, the density rubric falls apart.

But the fact remains, people are coming to the South Sound — like it or not. In fact, they’re already on their way.

So what will Tacoma look like in the future?

Much of it depends on the decisions we make today.

Welcoming the kind of dense development that — once again — is on the verge of infuriating Proctor is one of the best moves we can make.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.