Opinion

Don’t let year-round residents spoil Chambers Bay, former county chief pleads

Former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg hits the ceremonial first tee shot during the opening of the Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place on June 23, 2007. Ladenburg was wearing a Scottish outfit called "plus fours," in honor of the Scottish links-style golf course.
Former Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg hits the ceremonial first tee shot during the opening of the Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place on June 23, 2007. Ladenburg was wearing a Scottish outfit called "plus fours," in honor of the Scottish links-style golf course. News Tribune file photo

Chambers Bay Golf Course and the public park in which it’s located are in grave danger.

Chambers Bay was built to host major championships and increase tourism in Pierce County. It hosted the 2015 U.S. Open and succeeded spectacularly, bringing in more than $124 million in economic activity.

Today, that continues with hundreds of tourist golfers coming from around the world to play there.

That could all end.

The original master plan for the park did not allow any residences, only a hotel. Recently, however, the County Council agreed to amend the master plan and allow public housing on a long-term basis, as requested by the hotel developer.

You may have heard that the developer was not going to do that. However, he has now refused to limit the time people can rent “villas” he will build.

The public housing would be stand-alone, 2-story, 3-bedroom homes. They would result in permanent lease-hold residents in the park, subsidized by taxpayers.

These residents would not be the tourists we wanted — tourists who pay hotel-motel taxes, car-rental taxes and local sales taxes, and who use local restaurants more than permanent residents do. They would be people given long-term leases, maybe up to five years!

The plan is to have three times as many permanent residents as hotel patrons. The hotel has become an afterthought to the creation of a housing development. It is a terrible idea.

Another huge reason to reject long-term housing is that it most certainly would lessen, if not destroy, the chances that our region will get another U.S. Open championship.

I have spoken with many at the USGA, and they say that having permanent residents on the site presents numerous problems for them.

For security reasons, they need to control the site of their championships. This becomes problematic if there are hundreds of people living on site.

Permanent residents would want access in and out at all times and would bring dozens of “guests” to any tournament in their back yard.

A hotel can be emptied and its uses controlled by the USGA; not so with people leasing homes.

Of course, all of those sites would have great views of the golf course, running the risk that “owners” might try to sell their exclusive access.

It is my opinion that allowing anyone to stay more than 30 days on site is a huge mistake. All units need to be run as a hotel, with no leases or long-term stays allowed.

The original call for hotel development did not ask for a residential complex. If it’s true that this developer cannot finance the project without residents, then the other developer who responded to the RFP should be given the opportunity to build a hotel, as its proposal did not suggest any permanent residents.

The public park and golf course will be here 100 years from now. Let the hotel come when it’s time is due.

The County Council has this back its agenda on Tuesday (Sept. 12). Three of the seven members currently support an amendment to limit the time of stays on the property.

If you care about another economic boon made possible by hosting a U.S. Open and golf tourism, or if you just don’t want our park ruined with people living there, urge the council to do the right thing.

John Ladenburg was the Pierce County executive at the time Chambers Bay was developed 10 years ago. He served two terms from 2000 to 2008.

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