Politics & Government

Frederickson’s big-box retail center OK’d by County Council

Pierce County leaders want to keep Frederickson, home to a Port of Tacoma industrial area, as industrial as possible and limit the amount of retail growth.
Pierce County leaders want to keep Frederickson, home to a Port of Tacoma industrial area, as industrial as possible and limit the amount of retail growth. Staff file, 2011

Frederickson will get its big-box retail center after all, thanks to a veto-proof vote from the Pierce County Council.

Tuesday’s 5-2 vote again adopted the countywide comprehensive plan, which the council first approved June 30. County Executive Pat McCarthy vetoed it in July because she didn’t like two sections of the plan. The council was feeling the heat of a deadline to submit it to the state.

The stickiest point was Frederickson, the unincorporated community east of Spanaway designated by the county as an industrial area.

County leaders have invested $80 million into the so-called Canyon Corridor, envisioning a freight-friendly highway ribbon that eventually would link Canyon Road to the Port of Tacoma. Maintaining Frederickson’s identity as a hub for industrial development and manufacturing jobs is part of that vision.

In her veto last month, McCarthy warned that allowing large-scale retail development in Frederickson would create “another Meridian,” referring to the perpetually traffic-jammed corridor on nearby South Hill.

Frederickson residents such as Bob Benum saw the debate differently. They don’t mind industry but they also covet a place to shop, in the form of a big-box town center planned by developer Chris Pallis.

The plan passed Tuesday by the council allows retail developments as large as 170,000 square feet, up from an existing standard of 60,000 square feet. But it came with a proviso: Each large-scale project must be accompanied by a development agreement and multiple layers of scrutiny before obtaining county approval.

Benum was all for it, saying residents have to drive to other communities for goods and services.

“I don’t know if you people get to Frederickson very often,” he told council members Tuesday. “But the hype you’re hearing about Canyon Road becoming another Meridian is ludicrous.”

The decisive vote — in the sense of securing a veto-proof 5-2 majority — came from Councilman Derek Young, who opposed large-scale retail development in Frederickson during the June 30 vote.

The Gig Harbor Democrat said Tuesday that he still has misgivings. But he also said state laws require the county to adopt a comprehensive plan, and dragging out the Frederickson debate could threaten future investments in infrastructure.

“We’re about to lose millions in grants because we won’t be (Growth Management Act) compliant,” Young said. “I’m reluctant to say yes.”

But he did vote yes, after an earlier version of the amended plan that would have allowed smaller-scale retail in Frederickson failed to pass.

Councilmembers Dan Roach, Joyce McDonald, Jim McCune and Doug Richardson, all Republicans, made up the rest of the majority. Dissenting votes came from Rick Talbert and Connie Ladenburg, both Democrats.

McCarthy was on vacation and unavailable for comment Wednesday, county spokesman Ron Klein said. She hasn’t decided what steps she might take in response to the council’s vote, he said.

While large-scale retail won this week, John Merriman lost. He owns 5.2 acres of property on Brookdale Road East, and he’s been fighting to change its zoning designation from rural separator to an urban designation.

The council had allowed the change in its earlier version of the comprehensive plan, but McCarthy vetoed it, saying it would expand the county’s urban growth area too much.

On Tuesday, the council tried again, but the five votes necessary to override another veto weren’t there. The measure failed on a 2-5 vote.