Sunday, July 23, 2017 This Week's Paper

Our view: Start of Tideflats talks isn’t promising

It is good to see that the City of Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma have finally recognized the obvious.
The zoning rules and activities on the 2,400 acres of Tacoma Tideflats need a thorough and public review so that all sides have a shared vision, or at least an understanding, of the role the lands play in commerce and the environment now and into the future. The Port of Tacoma is turning 100 next year, after all.
The City Council and the Port Commission took steps in that direction last week by approving the concept of a sub-area plan by passing separate resolutions after talks of putting the working waterfront under the microscope first bubbled up two years ago.
The city’s version of the joint agreement lists the Puyallup Tribe as a partner in the effort since much of the Tideflats fall within the reservation boundaries. The port’s version downgrades the tribe’s role from partner to “stakeholder” in an effort to stem any expansion of tribal input that is not outlined in the 1988 land claims settlement. The port’s version also includes the addition of a new partner, the Pierce County Council. The reasoning, so the theory goes, is that the industrial area of the Tideflats has county-wide impact, so the full County Council should sit at the table when it comes to changing zoning rules for the economic engine of the region that supports 43,000 jobs in the county alone and 113,000 around the state.
Sure, that might make sense at first. The Port of Tacoma, however, already has a county-wide reach, since it gets a slice of the property taxes businesses and residents in Pierce County pay every year. Doubling up by having the County Council added to the mix would only further bog down an already lengthy process. That’s particularly true when politics enter the discussion.
The sub-area plan will come at a cost of about $1 million, split between the city and the port and take at least two years. Realistically, it will take longer, much longer. Heck, the city’s data diving to create a sub-area plan for the Hilltop neighborhood took two and a half years. Work on a plan for the area around the Tacoma Mall is rapidly entering its fourth year. A sub-area plan for such a critical area for the city and the region will take at least that long, particularly since none of those plans had such organized and vocal critics ready to storm any and all public meetings, forums or open houses related to them. A sub-area plan for the Tideflats is needed, but rest assured there will be fights legally if not physically, at every step.
Tacoma Councilmember Ryan Mello floated an idea to promote transparency and cool tempers that has merit. The idea is to have the city’s Planning Commission develop a list of future activities that should be immediately, but reasonably, removed from the roster of permissible businesses on the waterfront – coal exports, for example. The move would remove the sense of urgency – born from the methanol plant debacle of last year – and allow reasonable business expansions and activities to continue. An alternative of declaring an all-out building moratorium while the sub-area plan works its way to completion is not practical but certainly an option, particularly in these times when unrest at home leads to upsets at ballot boxes.