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Big-picture planning good for Tacoma, good for business

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Nov. 30, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
November 30, 2011 3:06 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Ask business people what single thing would make them more inclined to expand, develop or invest – and in the process create more jobs. Many likely would respond: certainty.

For instance, if they could be certain that the property they’re interested in had already undergone traffic and environmental review, that would make it a more attractive prospect. The money they would otherwise have spent doing their own review could be plowed into the project, making it more economically feasible.

That’s the rationale behind the new way of handling development in Tacoma’s south downtown area encompassing the Dome and Brewery districts, the University of Washington Tacoma and part of the Foss Waterway. The city is keen to develop the area, especially given its proximity to rail, bus routes and the interstate.

That proximity is paying for the area’s environmental review and master plan, which will be developed over the next two years. Tacoma has received a $500,000 federal grant designed to help cities plan growth around mass transit. The city expects an additional 100,000 residents by 2040, and the goal is to channel that growth in ways that take advantage of existing and projected mass transit to avoid more traffic congestion.

The master plan not only will be a boon for developers – allowing them to proceed directly to getting building permits and saving an estimated $5.8 million – but it will also help the city plan for infrastructure investments. Many of the area’s sewer and power lines are old, and this study can help city officials decide what needs replacing when.

The only potential down side to this approach – from the public’s standpoint, at least – is that state law limits appeals on environmental grounds once a sub-area impact statement is approved. So anyone interested in the future of south downtown would be advised to learn more now (see below).

This kind of plan – one that looks at an entire area and how the pieces fit together instead of taking a parcel-by-parcel approach – is a smart way to look at development. And right now, while there’s a lull in activity due to the economic downturn, is a perfect time for Tacoma to get its ducks in a row and plan for the growth that is sure to come.

Learn more
A community meeting kicking off the master-planning process will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. today in Room 102, Carwein Auditorium, the University of Washington Tacoma. Also, go to the city’s website here.

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