The Tacoma Planning Commission hosted a marathon public comment meeting June 21 as sides stated their cases regarding plans for interim regulations for the Tideflats that would restrict land uses in the industrial and shipping while the area undergoes a multi-year subarea planning review. More than 40 people spoke regarding the idea, most of them voicing support for tighter rules while the review is conducted, but the Port of Tacoma believes such a move would be legally questionable.
Long-Range Planning Associate Planner Stephen Atkinson presented the case that interim regulations were warranted on the 5,160 acres of Tideflats because restrictions would calm public concerns that controversial projects could seek permits under the current rules while the parcel-by-parcel review chugs through the planning process. He said any actual restrictions and details of proposed regulations have not formed. Those will come next month. But the idea behind interim rules is to not allow changes to the waterfront that might ultimately be inconsistent with any new rules that would be developed during the subarea plan process.
“It’s not a moratorium,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a blanket prohibition of all future development.”
The commission will hear more
details about what interim regulations city planners recommend at its regular meeting on July 19. Until then, city staffers will draft a roster of interim regulations to explore as well as plan a public hearing regarding any changes before the commission forwards any recommendation to the City Council. The commission is tentatively scheduled to conduct the public hearing on Sept. 20 and make its recommendation to the council in October. The City Council would then hold its own public hearing and consider final action in November.
The City Council and Port of Tacoma Commission signed a partnership to jointly fund a $1 million subarea plan for the Tideflats earlier this year. The review, which will likely take between two and five years, will examine zoning and land-use rules for the industrial and commercial hub of the region that is home to shipping terminals, heavy industrial businesses and fuel refineries. But the “partnership” hit rough seas almost from the start, when the city’s resolution included the Puyallup Tribe as a partner, while the port’s version downgraded the tribe to “stakeholder” status and added Pierce County as a partner. City and port officials will now have to negotiate the difference in their resolutions in a heated political environment regarding who sits at the review table.
The Planning Commission’s meeting foreshadowed the heated debate as port and business groups voiced concern about the economic uncertainty interim regulations would have on drawing new businesses to the Tideflats, while environmental groups decried the idea of allowing petrochemical companies to locate on the waterway before the subarea plan enacts tighter zoning restrictions. They pointed to the controversial – and dead – plans for a methanol plant as an example of “old technology” the city should avoid as well as the rising protests about the construction of Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied natural gas facility on a former Superfund site as a project out of touch with the future of the city.
These developments caused Tacoma’s Tideflats to rank as the second highest endangered location in the state on the environmental watchdog Sightline Institute’s report against “dirty energy expansion projects.” Tops on the list was the Lower Columbia River, which has nearly a dozen fossil fuel proposals under consideration.
Shipping activities on the waterfront provide some 29,000 direct and indirect family-wage jobs and $223 million in state and local taxes. As a state-recognized Manufacturing/ Industrial Center, the working waterfront is a key part of regional job growth, particularly since it contains several large parcels of developable land. That’s a fact that makes any zoning change a matter of regional concern, as well as raises complexity to the process.