Editorials

Council takes shortsighted direction on big boxes

A zoning change that would allow more big-box retailers like Walmart superstores would add traffic to the Canyon Corridor, which is meant to move products quickly from Frederickson.
A zoning change that would allow more big-box retailers like Walmart superstores would add traffic to the Canyon Corridor, which is meant to move products quickly from Frederickson. AP file, June

Do folks out in Frederickson know what they could be giving up in order to save a few minutes’ drive to a department store?

Jobs. Good-paying ones.

Unless it is challenged and reversed, action taken last week by the Pierce County Council will enable a developer to build a big-box shopping center in Frederickson, an unincorporated area now set aside as an industrial jobs center.

The council adopted a countywide comprehensive plan with a veto-proof 5-2 majority; Democrat Derek Young joined the council’s four Republican members – Jim McCune, Dan Roach, Doug Richardson and Joyce McDonald – to enable large-scale retail.

That’s disappointing, and shortsighted. The council’s decision threatens to undo not only efforts to slow urban sprawl, but also to provide the kind of family wage jobs that would mean fewer county residents having to commute to King County to make a decent living.

The reason Young gave for switching sides on the issue was that Pierce County would lose out on grant money if the comprehensive plan didn’t pass on time. But about half the state’s plans are out of compliance, says Executive Pat McCarthy. And a check with the state found that the county is not at risk with grants already approved and at very little risk with new grants going forward. This argument is a nonissue.

Some in Frederickson see value in not having to drive the short distance to one of the many existing stores along Meridian Avenue or state Route 7 – including a Walmart Superstore, a Fred Meyer, a Kohl’s, a Target and a Kmart. But letting that one center in opens the door for other retail stores – and their relatively low-paid jobs – to crowd out what county planners hope for the area: well-paid manufacturing jobs like the ones provided by such Frederickson employers as Boeing. Manufacturing jobs in Pierce County pay about twice as much as retail jobs.

With retail development will come increased traffic on Canyon Road, in which the county and state have invested $80 million as a freight-friendly corridor north out of Frederickson. Soon it could be as crowded as Meridian, discouraging prospective employers who depend on reliable movement of their products.

The zoning change doesn’t just enable one development in the Frederickson area. State law requires that the rezone apply to all property in the unincorporated county with the same retail-and-commercial zoning limitations. Any area that had limited stores to 60,000 square feet now must allow up to 175,000 square feet. The council’s action has opened a potential Pandora’s box of supermall developers.

What that part of the county needs is a greater job base – which has the added benefit of lowering the tax rate for residents – not another Walmart superstore paying wages that require workers to seek publicly funded benefits.

The only positive in this vote is that the plan does require development agreements for large-scale projects. County officials should rigorously police any such agreement to minimize traffic impacts and maximize public benefits.

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