With the Tacoma City Council finally poised to take up a recommended overhaul of the city’s waterfront rules after five years of process, members of the public flooded City Hall Tuesday to once again give council members an earful of opinions before any decision is made.
And once again, divergent testimony prevailed during what became a marathon public hearing over the city planning commission’s recommended updates to Tacoma’s Shoreline Master Program.
Commentary largely broke into two camps: Those who back the status quo of a working, industrial waterfront along Schuster Parkway; and those who support a long-envisioned public esplanade from the Tacoma Dome to Point Defiance.
Longshoremen, seafarers, chamber of commerce representatives and other business interests implored the council to reject the planning commission’s recent recommendation to downzone the area’s current industrial classification under which deep water port user Sperry Ocean Dock now operates.
“Gentrification and de-industrialization is just plain wrong – it’s morally wrong,” Scott Mason, president of Tacoma International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 23, told the council. “…We need these jobs. We need to be creating more high paying jobs, not less.”
Meanwhile, Stadium residents, citizen activist groups and local schoolchildren urged council members to support the commission’s recommended rezone for the area to encompass Sperry, the Tahoma Salt Marsh and the Jack Hyde and Chinese Reconciliation Parks into a more public-friendly mixed use classification. The rezone would one day potentially support incorporating the 1.2-mile “missing link” of industrial waterfront into an envisioned seven-mile public esplanade.
“I urge this council to put the city and its citizens first by endorsing (the zoning change) to make a pedestrian friendly walkway from the Dome to Defiance,” Linda Heaton, a Stadium resident and member of the pro-esplanade “Walk-The-Waterfront” group, told council members.
At one point, at least 70 citizens had signed up Tuesday to tell the council their views on the pending shorelines recommendations, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.
The conflicting viewpoints Tuesday underscores the complexity involved in coming to a waterfront plan that the community at large can live with.
It also further defined conflicting and entrenched positions among stakeholders that have hardened during a review process that dates to 2006 and involved thousands of pages of drafts and redrafts and more than 60 public meetings.
The extensive overhaul of the city’s shoreline plan is required under state law. In 2003, the legislature approved new guidelines for local governments to conduct a comprehensive review and update of their respective programs, many of which hadn’t been changed since the 1970s. The guidelines detail procedural steps and substantive requirements that must be met.
Last month, the planning commission unanimously adopted its recommended updates on waterfront policies and regulations, along with required new elements of the plan. The recommendations also incorporated a test for determining when private property owners must provide public access to waterfront, and provides them with a new option to pay a fee in lieu of providing such access.
Other highlights include a recommendation for the east side of the Foss Waterway to allow the NuStar “tank farm” to be rezoned entirely for heavy industrial use, while keeping mixed-use zoning and public esplanade standards for properties west of East D Street, including the city-owned Center for Urban Waters.
The council will now weigh whether a city vision to create a “clean-tech” Innovation Partnership Zone east of the Foss – a sort of public-private research cluster to be anchored by an expanded Urban Waters — can coexist under the commission’s recommendations.
But taking center stage at Tuesday’s public hearing was the recommended Schuster Parkway rezone. If approved, commissioners noted Sperry’s non-conforming industrial use would be grandfathered in to the new mixed-use zoning classification, so the company could continue operating as is. But company representatives contend such new zoning will increase Sperry’s cost of operations and decrease its property sales potential.
The council has until Dec. 1 to send an updated plan to the state’s ecology department for review. A first reading is set for Nov. 15, with a final vote tentatively scheduled for Nov. 22.