Politics & Government

Tacoma, Ruston accord could smooth permitting for $1.2 billion Point Ruston

An update on the construction at Point Ruston shows progress on work on the Ruston side Friday.
An update on the construction at Point Ruston shows progress on work on the Ruston side Friday. Staff photographer

Tacoma and Ruston officials say they are cautiously optimistic about forming a partnership to plan and permit one of the biggest developments in Pierce County.

Point Ruston, a $1.2 billion waterfront project, straddles the city line separating Tacoma and Ruston.

The two cities have been talking since March about a streamlined permitting and planning process for the 97-acre site, one of the most contaminated pieces of land in the country. Ruston initiated the negotiations out of a fear that state lawmakers would remove Ruston’s ability to veto Point Ruston’s petition to annex all of the development to Tacoma.

Last month, Tacoma released a draft interlocal agreement, the first of several agreements to come in the next few weeks as the two cities suss out responsibilities for each government, and how much each should be paid for its work.

The two cities are already doing much of what the new agreement would require, such as sharing documents, communicating about permits and regularly meeting to talk about the development, Ruston Mayor Bruce Hopkins said.

The developers of Point Ruston, who have complained that the city of Ruston has stymied the project with permitting delays, say they are encouraged.

“Consistency and predictability is what a real estate developer looks for when you’re dealing with a complicated and multi-jurisdictional (development),” Loren Cohen, Point Ruston’s legal representative, said. “... We are fully supportive of the ideals that are set forth in that document.”

Hopkins said Friday that relationships between his city and Point Ruston are much improved since the sometimes confrontational interactions between the two earlier this year.

“We’ve had very good meetings, cooperative meetings, with the developer,” Hopkins said.

The city is working to help the developer meet an aggressive timeline to build the Silver Cloud Hotel planned for the site. The foundation could be poured by the end of the month before fall and winter weather set in, Hopkins said.

“The city is doing everything in its power to accommodate them,” he said.

David Johnson, building official for city of Tacoma, said the challenge in crafting the interlocal agreement was that everyone had to set aside their differences over past slights.

“It had to be a new day in terms of how we were both looking at (the project) and behaving,” Johnson said.

Tacoma’s and Ruston’s approaches to development at Point Ruston have differed. Tacoma’s building officials pride themselves on being “facilitators, not regulators” while Ruston staff members closely heed that city’s more restrictive rules.

Johnson said some zoning codes in either city could change to make codes more uniform across the site. Hopkins, however, cautioned that process could be a lengthy one, given that a master development plan governs the development on the Ruston side.

Under the proposed agreement, Tacoma would accept and process all permits for the development, whether the proposed work is in Ruston or in Tacoma. The goal would be to process all permits within 30 days. Ruston officials will still have oversight of buildings constructed in its city, the agreement says.

The agreement also outlines how the two governments will resolve disputes. They must meet within three days to talk about disagreements in regulating or permitting for the site. Continued disagreement mandates a meeting between Tacoma’s city manager and the Ruston mayor within 14 business days. Mediation is required if that still doesn’t work.

Cohen said the agreement has been a long time coming.

“Everybody is operating in pretty good faith, and we are ready to put people to work,” he said.