This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
Tacoma’s Planning Commission is on the right track with a proposal that would put the brakes on any future expansion of the Sperry Ocean Dock.
The commission’s proposed recommendation – that the area along Schuster Parkway where the dock is sited be redesignated from “high intensity” to “urban conservancy” – is among several changes to the city’s Shoreline Master Program that the commission will vote on Wednesday. The City Council will make the final decision this fall.
“Urban conservancy” is the same designation that covers the Ruston Way waterfront so beloved by local folks. Extending the zone protected from heavy commercial use to the Sperry dock is a logical continuation of what the city’s been doing in recent years: reclaiming the shoreline from its industrial past and making it a people-friendly place.
No jobs will be lost with the redesignation. The two enormous gray cargo ships stored on the site – the Cape Island and Cape Intrepid – won’t be evicted. The dock can continue as a nonconforming use, it just won’t be allowed to expand. City staff say that at some point, if the cargo ships go away, the deep-water site could be used to dock cruise ships.
A long-term goal with the redesignation is to provide more public access to the waterfront. Today, people who want to walk from the Foss Waterway Esplanade to Ruston Way have to cross Schuster Parkway and walk along the bluff – not ideal, but not a huge inconvenience.
Ideally, the boardwalk would continue along the water; that’s not possible today because of the TEMCO grain elevator, Sperry dock and railroad tracks.
The city and the employers should work together on a walkway solution that will allow greater public access while not compromising the work sites’ security. These last vestiges of Tacoma’s working waterfront past do provide jobs, and those are worth preserving.