Politics & Government

Annexation threats worked. Ruston, Tacoma now playing nice over Point Ruston project

The developer of Point Ruston told state legislators Tuesday they played a decisive role last year as Tacoma gained control over permits for parts of the project inside the Ruston town limits.

Loren Cohen referred to bills passed by the Senate and House Local Government committees last year that would have allowed Tacoma to annex all of Point Ruston, which would have given Tacoma control of the 97-acre development and the property- and sales-tax revenues it generates.

The specter of annexation led to a Feb. 6-7, 2018, meeting mediated by Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier in which Ruston agreed to relinquish control of permitting for its part of the high-end development on Commencement Bay. The large retail and residential development is located in both Tacoma and Ruston.

As those annexation bills moved last year, Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, encouraged town officials to resolve their dispute with Tacoma and Cohen, according to Ruston Mayor Bruce Hopkins, who spoke to the Senate committee Tuesday as part of an update on where the project stands.

“This was to avoid further legislative action. We knew this would be a challenge because we had tried this before without much to show for it. We knew this time something needed to be different if we were going to reach any kind of agreement,” Hopkins said.

As a result, Hopkins said he asked Dammeier to serve as a mediator, and he was able to get all of the parties to reach a settlement.

Dammeier, a former state senator and House member, said the parties agreed to craft an agreement “in one night or we’re not going to do this.”

“Everybody came to the table ready to work hard, to stretch and to get things done. There’s still a long path ahead, but right now I am confident that development will get completed, and it will be to the benefit of Tacoma, Ruston and most importantly the people of Pierce County,” he said.

Under the agreement, Tacoma processes all new permits and related inspections for the entire development. Tacoma and Ruston coordinate on permitting. Ruston’s code applies to the part of the development within its town limits. Tacoma has the final say on permitting.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards noted there is a three-level process to resolve disputes if Ruston disagrees with Tacoma’s decisions on permits, but so far no disagreements have gone beyond the first level. The final step is legal action.

Cohen, the managing director of Point Ruston, said there are two more years of development work on the Tacoma side of the project. The entire development is expected to be completed in five years, he said. The investment will total about $500 million and quintuple Ruston’s property-tax base, he added.