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Tacoma council adopts updates to city’s shorelines plan

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Nov. 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
November 30, 2011 2:18 pm

Tacoma’s City Council approved an update to its Shoreline Master Program late Tuesday, beating a state deadline and putting the council’s stamp on a massive document five years in the making with an array of late amendments.

Council members said while their final tweaks to the city’s shoreline rules won’t necessarily make everyone happy, several of them said the updated plan provides key compromises that business and industry, residents and recreationalists should be able to live with.

“I think we ended up in a place that really demonstrated our ability to collaborate,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.

The proposal – an overhaul that includes updated goals, policies and development regulations for 42 miles of city shorelines, now goes to the state’s Department of Ecology, which will review it to determine if it complies with state law.

In 2003, Washington’s legislature approved new guidelines for local governments to conduct a comprehensive review and update of their respective shorelines programs, many of which hadn’t been changed since the 1970s. The guidelines detail procedural steps and substantive requirements that must be met.

Chief among the council’s final amendments to the plan adopted Tuesday is a new unique district on Tacoma’s downtown waterfront that includes the Tahoma Salt Marsh and Sperry Ocean Dock – an area that had become a battleground during the overhaul process.

Stadium residents and supporters of a proposed public esplanade from the Tacoma Dome to Point Defiance had sparred with Sperry’s supporters and other business interests over whether the industrial Schuster Parkway District that houses the dock and its hulking Marine Administration ships should be down-zoned into a more recreation-friendly mixed use designation now held by the neighboring Ruston Parkway District.

Under the amendment proposed by Councilman David Boe approved Tuesday, a new transition district is created between Schuster Parkway and Ruston Way. It allows industrial uses now permitted along Schuster Parkway, including Sperry, to be conditionally permitted, but new lay-berth facilities – terminals for ships longer than 300 feet — would be prohibited. It also reduces allowed heights along the shoreline from 100 to 35 feet, as a way to accommodate the area’s sloping, mostly residential bluffs above the waterfront.

Boe said he floated the proposal as a compromise to recognize the area’s unique characteristics as an “uncomfortable gasket between the two” districts.

“At this point, I don’t think everyone is happy, but maybe that means we’ve done our job,” Boe said.

He added more work could be done on the contentious zoning issue by periodically re-examining the plan.

“There’s potential for still working it,” Boe said. “…This is a living, working document.”

Councilman Spiro Manthou opposed the amendment, saying it added too much regulation and appeared to be “targeting one business.”

“This particular compromise respects the fact that there’s a property owner there, but that this city is evolving,” countered Strickland.

Other key amendments approved included Councilman Jake Fey’s proposal to direct city staff to identify and seek funding for a single preferred option for public access on the downtown waterfront; and Councilman Ryan Mello’s amendment to direct that any funds garnered from developers who opt to pay a fee in lieu of providing public shoreline access, be prioritized for a “Dome to Defiance” walkway or other downtown waterfront access projects.

Mello’s amendment passed 5 to 4, with opponents contending other worthy shoreline access projects not located downtown could be neglected.

The council also agreed to eliminate a mixed-use zone on the east side of the Foss along East D Street, pulling industrial zoning from the NuStar tank farms all the way to the Murray Morgan Bridge. The rezone eliminates any public esplanade requirements on the east Foss north of the bridge.

The council’s adoption of the plan came shortly after the unexpected death of longtime city employee Donna Stenger, a key supervisor of the shorelines update project.

“Our intent will be to add a dedication to Donna to the document,” Steve Atkinson, the primary city planner of the project, said Wednesday.

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