My husband and I bought our first home in Central Tacoma in 2001. We have stayed in this neighborhood for many reasons: 1) the homes were affordable; 2) this is a thriving working-class neighborhood with a great mix of older and younger families of varied backgrounds; and 3) we all love and respect our neighborhood.
In 2007, the property across the street with six rental houses was re-zoned from residential to commercial mixed-use (CCX) by the city, then was sold to a foreign investor. Except for a few homes that were occupied, the rest were left to languish to the point of demolition in 2018.
For years leading up to this demolition, we had to deal with fires caused by homeless individuals, drug dealing and drug use, excessive trash and feral cats we took upon ourselves to spay and neuter.
Fast forward to the second half of 2018. The property was in the process of being sold to an out-of-town developer and was slated to host a four-story, 920-unit storage facility.
What the developer didn’t realize is that the proposed site, and the surrounding neighborhood, are governed by a legally binding, decades-old covenant that restricts the development of parcels to residential use and limits them to 2 stories in height.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of proper notification as outlined in the Tacoma’s Municipal Code, the neighborhood was never offered an opportunity to appeal the proposed land use and the plans were approved by the city planning department.
This ultimately led to the neighborhood and adjacent Gloria Dei Lutheran Church being sued by the developer, in an attempt to be released from the covenant restrictions and gain unrestricted ownership of the parcel to build their 4-story storage monstrosity.
Despite the area’s CCX zoning, the City of Tacoma Zoning Reference Guide notes that “mixed-use center districts are intended to create spaces where people can work, live, walk, shop, play, and eat all in the same area. Mixed-use center districts accommodate and support alternative transportation such as walking, transit, and bicycling to reduce reliance on the automobile.”
It also states: “Residential uses are encouraged in all mixed-use center districts”.
Although there are other commercial businesses nearby, nothing on the north side of South 19th Street is of this magnitude. A 4-story storage facility would a striking use of the land, positioned adjacent to single-family homes.
And with a light-rail line eventually projected to go down 19th, doesn’t it make more sense to develop the land under current zoning, with retail and residential units co-existing within a residential mixed-use center?
How is the city encouraging residential use here, by rubber-stamping a storage facility without considering the neighborhood impact or long-term growth and urban density?
In addition to the covenant violation, numerous concerns were raised about the proposed plans, including the height impact on adjacent parcels and residential structures, insufficient street width for moving trucks, lack of sufficient parking for office and retail spaces, ingress/egress facing residential properties, garbage spill-over, and the potential for people living in the storage facility.
The latter is already a well-documented issue in both King and Pierce counties and corroborated by code enforcement officers in Tacoma.
These issues also weren’t considered, due to the lack of project notification.
It is unconscionable that the failings of the City of Tacoma have resulted in an entire neighborhood of residents who have invested their lives and hard-earned money being sued by a developer to impose his will.
We are hoping that in bringing enough awareness to this situation, we can petition the city to rescind the approved land-use permit and provide residents the full appeals process we were denied.
Kris Blondin is a Central Tacoma resident, former candidate for Tacoma City Council and former downtown restaurant owner. For more information about her neighborhood’s legal fight, including how to provide financial support, click here.