This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
For 20 years, the Cascadia planned community has been a dream on the horizon, high on a plateau between Orting and Bonney Lake in East Pierce County.
Thousands of people would live there, and because it would be largely self-contained – with a variety of residences, workplaces, schools and shopping – it wouldn’t add significantly to local traffic congestion.
It was the community of the future – planned, not hodgepodge like most of the development in Pierce County.
But the dream came crashing to earth in the recession – along with the housing industry, banks’ ability to lend money and and people’s ability to borrow it. Cascadia was caught in the crunch; HomeStreet Bank foreclosed on developer Patrick Kuo in 2009 after he defaulted on $75 million in loans.
Now there’s hope that the state’s largest planned community will start moving forward again. The new owner, Newland Real Estate Group of San Diego, is a highly reputable developer with a 43-year track record of building planned communities all across the United States.
Newland claims to be “the largest private land developer of residential and urban mixed-use master-planned new home communities in the United States,”In Washington, it developed Fisher’s Landing in Vancouver and has two projects in the works – Creekstone in Kennewick and Eagle Ridge in Spokane.
Newland was named 2010 Developer of the Year by Builder and Developer, a national business magazine published for the homebuilding industry. It was cited for its “remarkable performance during one of the most economically challenging years in decades.”
Clearly, this is a company with the credentials and know-how to get projects moving. Its acquisition of Cascadia is an important step forward for Pierce County, which has already invested a lot of time and resources in permitting the 4,218-acre tract, and hopes to funnel much of its future growth there instead of into rural areas that lack infrastructure and jobs.
The fact that a single developer has bought the property is important, too; otherwise it might be split up and sold off to a number of developers. That would complicate matters for such public entities as Bonney Lake and Pierce County. They’d rather deal with one developer rather than several on important infrastructure issues.
One of the issues, of course, is traffic. Like Kuo, Newland has a longer timeline for commercial and office developments than for residential. That means initial residents likely will be commuting to employment – adding more vehicles to already congested roads.
It’s incumbent on the new owner to work with nearby cities, Pierce County and the state on ways to mitigate that additional traffic. Being a good neighbor will help sell Cascadia – or whatever it will be called.