Wednesday, June 28, 2017 This Week's Paper

Homeowners voice opposition to port lease proposal

Residents of a narrow sliver of land along Marine View Drive are less than enthusiastic about a lease proposal from their landlord, the Port of Tacoma. Their small homes have existed for decades. Many were originally used as crab shacks but were later turned into homes. The 17-acre parcel is located north of East 11th Street. The port purchased it from Foss Maritime for $2.75 million in 2005. Prior to this purchase, residents were on month-to-month leases with Foss Maritime. The port was awarded a $1.45 million grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2006 to offset the cost of land acquisition. There are nine tenants at this location. An additional tenant lives in a port-owned structure. Port staff met with residents in May 2008 to explain the port’s plans for habitat restoration and public access. There was discussion of continuing month-to-month leases, replacing them with life estate leases and other options. Some residents expressed interest in purchasing the port-owned land underneath their homes. Staff made no recommendations to Port of Tacoma Commission.

In June 2009 staff and residents met to discuss port plans to demolish an unoccupied structure as well as habitat and public access. Both sides agreed to start meeting quarterly. In spring 2011 the port finished the Dick Gilmur Shoreline Restoration and Kayak Launch project. In March 2012 port staff presented a draft lease agreement to tenants, in hopes of completing the leases in May. Tenants present to the commission a letter requesting a delay until Sept. 1 so the residents could have more meetings with staff on the proposed terms. The commission examined the lease, and heard testimony from residents, during its Sept. 20 meeting. Jason Jordan, senior environmental project manager with the port, discussed details of the lease. The port proposes charging 9.2 cents per square foot per month. Jordan said for a home of 1,800 square feet, this would cost $166 per month. It has an annual escalator clause pegged to the consumer price index, for a minimum of 2.5 percent. Leases would be limited to residents named on deeds as of Dec. 31, 2008. Tenants would pay leasehold tax and be responsible for maintenance. The port could terminate the lease at its discretion. The port would need to give tenants six months notice if this occurs and they need to move. Tenants would have the opportunity to sell their homes within the first 12 months of the lease. After that date, the port would not buy their homes, even if the port terminated the lease and instructed tenants to move.

Environmental regulations require the port to create environmental mitigation sites in compensation for various projects built on the Tideflats. Jordan said the port has no immediate plans for this parcel, but it is likely at some point that these homes would be razed for such a mitigation site. He showed several renderings that show what the area might look like as such a site, depicting people bird watching on the beach or on the water in kayaks. Jordan stressed these are conceptual designs. A number of residents testified. Steve Shelton said his family has had a home at this location for 32 years. He said residents are stewards of the land and remove litter on the beach on a regular basis. Shelton said he does so weekly. He said at one point the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wanted to place contaminated sludge near this area and place a cap on it. “Our neighborhood banded together to stop this.” Shelton said most residents are in their 50s, 60s or 70s. They assumed they would be able to live in these homes through their retirement. Under the proposed lease, his daughter would not be able to acquire his home.

Shelton renovated his home. He said he would not have spent the money to do so had he known the port would eventually take over his home. He said the port has not been clear with its plans. He said staff turnover during the past five years has contributed to the frustration he and other tenants feel. Clyde Anderson said he does not want to be held liable if a beachcomber is injured on the land adjacent to his house. “The lease proposal is simply unacceptable,” said Sondra Purcell. She requested the 12-month limit be removed for the buyout option. “We thought the port would be a much better landlord than Foss.” Barbara Birntson said she is 67 and has lived in her home since 1982. She said one neighbor has expressed interest in the buyout. Birntson said she could not agree to the lease under the proposed terms. Commissioner Don Meyer said much miscommunication has occurred between the two sides. The 12-month limit for buyouts is a problem for him, he said. Several other commissioners expressed a similar concern. Oct. 4 had been designated as the date for the lease agreement to be signed. Commissioners instructed Port CEO John Wolfe to work on the lease language and return to them in the near future.