Tacoma City Council and the Port of Tacoma Commission passed separate resolutions last week that outline the process of conducting a multi-year review of planning and zoning rules for the Tideflats known as a subarea plan.
The process will cost about $1 million, which will be split between the city and port and include a comprehensive community dialogue about what developments and activities will be allowed in the shipping and manufacturing hub.
One difference between the city and port versions of the agreement is who will also be asked to be a partner in the process. The city’s resolution lists the Puyallup Tribe, since much of the land rests within the reservation. The port’s version downgrades the Tribe’s standing from partner to stakeholder alongside business interests and other owners of land on the Tideflats, under the idea that listing the Tribe as a full partner would go against the land claims settlement of 1988. That landmark agreement outlined how land-use decisions on the Tideflats would be handled through “meaningful consultation” between the port and the sovereign Puyallup Nation.
“I am not interested in deviating from the land claims settlement agreement regarding jurisdiction,” Port Commissioner Don Meyer said.
The commission also added the Pierce County Council to the roster of partners since the Tideflats have county and regional impacts in terms of jobs and economic activity. Shipping activities on the waterfront provide some 29,000 direct and indirect family-wage jobs and $223 million in state and local taxes.
The differences between the resolutions will now have to be negotiated between the city and port for final approval.
“I don’t know if we have ever faced this problem before,” Councilmember Ryan Mello said. “I think they are misreading the land claims settlement. This is exactly where the tribe the port and the city need to have meaningful discussion. It’s a no brainer that the tribe should be a co and equal partner.”
"The Puyallup Tribe has a long track record of participating in discussions about future developments and plans for what happens on the tideflats, which lies within the reservation boundaries," Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud said. "We believe that our voice for the land, waters and air as well as the livelihood of our people and those of our neighbors should be heard as a full and equal partner. We should sit at the table during the discussions regarding the environmental and economic future of our lands. It is not only right for the Tribe but also for the region."Talks of creating a subarea plan for the Tideflats first started in 2015 and have heated up ever since, particularly after the now-dead plans for the construction of what would have been the world’s largest methanol plant that would have converted natural gas to methanol for shipment to China for the manufacturing of plastic. Those plans died last year amid outcries from environmental groups and concerned residents living by the planned facility. Many of those critics have since turned their concerning eyes to Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied natural gas facility, which is starting construction on the Tideflats and finalizing the last remaining permits. Critics work about safety issues with the storage and transportation of its planned 8 million gallons of chilled natural gas so close to residential areas and downtown Tacoma.
Those projects raised larger concerns about the future of the Tideflats regarding public safety and environmental stewardship, particularly regarding the manufacturing, storage and transportation of fossil fuels on the Tideflats.
The subarea plan is meant to address those issues, but it will take time. Similar plans for the area around the University of Washington Tacoma and Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood took about two and a half years each. One for the area around the Tacoma Mall has taken three and half years. A comprehensive look of the Tideflats will likely take upwards of four years.
“There are some issues that need to be addressed before then,” Mello said.
The council then asked the city’s Planning Commission to begin drafting a list of recommended changes for council consideration that would be in enacted before the subarea planning process is completed. Those recommendations could come in a matter of months.
Ultimately, only the City Council will enact the subarea plan since only the city has authority over land-use regulations and zoning rules.
“We do not delegate that authority to the port or anyone else,” Mello said. “The council is the final arbiter of the subarea plan. The document is a city document.”