Politics & Government

Development freeze gives Van Lierop 4-month wait

It took a few weeks longer than expected, but the Puyallup City Council on Tuesday placed a four-month freeze on development plans on the east side of the city, where controversy has grown as thick as daffodils once did.

The council voted 4-3 to approve a moratorium on the processing of any land-use or building plans in a 70-acre area near East Pioneer Avenue and Shaw Road. The council first introduced the moratorium in early January.

The council majority hopes calling a timeout will ensure one of the last large swaths of Puyallup Valley open space is not overrun by unsightly industrial growth. Some believe it may not take the entire four months for city leaders, landowners and developers to settle on acceptable standards.

“We need to get to the table and cut through the circus and do it real quickly,” said Councilman John Hopkins, who sided with the majority as a key swing vote.

The action means longtime Puyallup Valley daffodil grower Neil Van Lierop will have to wait to sell his land to Schnitzer West, a Seattle development company. Van Lierop said during public comment that “this is a disgusting game that’s going on here.”

Likewise, a Schnitzer representative said he was “completely floored” this week when he learned the council had called a special meeting for Tuesday night. Jeff Harmer, a senior investment manager, said he’d been working with the city the last few weeks to find common ground short of the moratorium.

Schnitzer rushed a land-use application to the city on Jan. 7 in hopes that it would be approved by early February and lock up the company’s rights to develop the property before a moratorium could derail it.

The application shows a warehouse of nearly 500,000 square feet, though Harmer said it’s very preliminary.

Councilman Steve Vermillion, who voted against the moratorium, said he didn’t blame Schnitzer for filing the early application; he described it as “putting a foot in the door before the city slams it.”

But Councilman John Palmer, who voted in favor of the moratorium Tuesday, said it wouldn’t “feel too good” letting Schnitzer officials get their property rights vested and then trying to negotiate with them.

Tuesday’s vote followed a 75-minute closed-door session in which council members met with staff to discuss “litigation or potential litigation.”

City Manager Bill McDonald said earlier Tuesday that neither Schnitzer nor Van Lierop had sued the city. But he told The News Tribune: “You have to assume that could happen.”

Speaking before Tuesday’s vote, Puyallup resident Nicole Martineau said she hoped the council wouldn’t be swayed by that possibility.

“I would urge the council not to act out of fear of a lawsuit,” said Martineau, a former councilwoman.