The following is the letter that was given to members of the Pierce County Council Community Development Committee last Monday, June 20, 2016 at it’s hearing on Resolution 2016-79, to deal with urban unincorporated areas of Pierce County.
The Pierce Communities Coalition was the name adopted by people from Pierce County’s Sub-area plans. There were two each from Land Use Advisory Commissions and community associations that are from Summit-Waller, North Clover Creek Collins, Frederickson, Midland, Parkland, Spanaway and Graham/Elk Plain. Combined, these folks likely have more than 220 years of institutional memory testifying on land use issues in Pierce County. They are working to present a solid and well informed list of issues for the County Council to consider and assist the communities in addressing.
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Pierce Communities Coalition
PO Box 1071, Spanaway, WA. 98387
June 16, 2016
Pierce County Council
930 Tacoma Avenue South
Tacoma, WA. 98402
RE: Proposed “City of Pierce” and Proposed Resolution No. R2016-79
Attention Pierce County Council Members:
On Wednesday, June 1, 2016, citizens of Pierce County assembled to discuss and evaluate Pierce County’s proposed “City of Pierce” and to organize the newly formed: “Pierce Communities Coalition.” During the organizational meeting, it was agreed that a citizen coalition would be formed with two representatives from each of the attending communities, including: Fredrickson, Graham, Elk Plain, Spanaway, Parkland, Midland, North Clover Creek / Collins, and Summit / Waller. By consensus, Mr. David Artis was appointed moderator over Coalition meetings and discussions. The citizen Coalition currently seeks additional members from across Pierce County, including South Hill which was unable to attend our first organizational meeting.
On Wednesday, June 15, 2016, the Pierce Communities Coalition again met to study and evaluate the proposed “City of Pierce” as well as proposed Resolution No: R2016-79. The following is a summary of Coalition consensus on several pertinent issues.
Community Planning v. Central Planning. During the meeting, it became apparent that Coalition members do not all share the same perspective, but have viewpoints as divergent as their individual communities. This underscores that Community Planning was adopted in Pierce County simply because not all Pierce County communities are the same and only Community Planning can address the individual needs and issues of each community. The Pierce Communities Coalition is unanimous in its demand that Pierce County elected officials conduct land use planning through Community Planning and not venture onto the slippery slope of Central Planning. The Coalition believes that property owners have the right to assemble as individual communities and to demand that elected officials conduct planning on a Community Plan basis. The Coalition must emphasize that sub-area plans aka “community plans” are authorized by the State GMA.
Certification by the Puget Sound Regional Council. The Coalition understands that Pierce County elected officials perceive the need to obtain certification from the PSRC through the measures expressed in proposed Resolution R2016-79. It is the Coalition’s intent to assist Pierce County in satisfying the State GMA and the PSRC without the densification concept of the so-called “City of Pierce.” The Coalition realizes that the Pierce County Council has ultimate authority to determine development densities in a particular community and that there is no uniform bright line test for urban or rural densities. Nonetheless, the Planning Director, Dennis Hanberg, has urged elected officials to densify the subject area without the concurrent requirements of roads and sewers. Mr. Hanberg suggests that densification be allowed to occur through the use of temporary “community septic tanks” and existing road systems based on some hopeful anticipation that the necessary infrastructure may be extended sometime in the future. The Coalition unanimously condemns Mr. Hanberg’s proposal as imprudent, speculative, and potentially harmful to the public on the following grounds.
Concurrent Development and Infrastructure. Urban development is required to be concurrent with infrastructure to prevent the foreseeable public harm that would occur if urban densification is allowed to occur and the necessary infrastructure does not occur as speculated. The fact that the necessary infrastructure is not currently in place is evidence that it will not be in place after the proposed densification is allowed to occur.
Roads. Regarding public roads, the area already has severe traffic congestion which would only become worse if densification is allowed before necessary road improvements are made. The Coalition consensus is that urban development should be concurrent with necessary road improvements. Traffic safety must remain a top priority.
Sewers. The Coalition is unanimously opposed to Mr. Hanberg’s proposed “temporary” community septic tank systems. Mr. Hanberg’s ill-advised proposal would require the property owner to pay twice, once for the community septic tank system and again for a sanitary sewer system. The coalition’s primary concern, however, is the public harm that would occur if densification is allowed to occur and the speculative sewer line systems never occurs. The Coalition will soon forward documents and County agreements pertaining to the area’s sole source of drinking water which Mr. Hanberg proposes to cover with urban densification and temporary community septic tanks. As property owners and residents of the subject area, the Coalition can not allow this to happen.
Destruction of Pierce County Tax Base. The Coalition understands that each Puget Sound County is different and, therefore, each County must respond to the State GMA and PSRC requests in different ways depending on the circumstances. For example, Pierce County has been able to provide its citizenry with good roads, police and fire service, environment protection, and other necessary services because of the county’s ample tax base. In comparison, the City of Tacoma has some of the worst roads and streets in the State of Washington. The Coalition believes that the tax base equilibrium that currently exists in Pierce County would be destroyed if the County promotes large-scale annexations to adjacent cities. The resulting public harm would be twofold. First, the addition of annexed lands to adjacent cities would not necessarily enable those cities to provide better roads and services. Second, the removal of the subject area from the Pierce County tax base would probably cripple the County’s ability to maintain its current high quality road systems and public services.
Densification v. Livable Communities. It is apparent that, regardless of the densities allowed, the subject area will eventually be built out to full capacity. In other words, at some point in the future there will be no more room in the area for additional urban development. On this basis, the Coalition requests that Pierce County focus on creating a livable and healthy urban environment, rather than just trying to squeeze as many houses per acre as physically possible. The Coalition believes that Mr. Hanberg’s proposal is a recipe for a failed urban community based upon the unnecessary loss of livability and supportive tax base.
Proposed Solution. The PSRC is not an elected body authorized to make land-use density decisions within Pierce County. The authority to make such decisions rests with the Pierce County Council. The Coalition urges the County Council to require concurrency with infrastructure and urban development and to reject the concept of temporary community septic tank systems. The County should allow the subject area to develop at a reasonable urban density and to provide the necessary concurrent infrastructure based upon plans, not speculation. The Coalition urges the County Council not to give away Pierce County’s vital tax base through annexations.
Finally, we commend those Council members who have challenged Mr. Hanberg’s proposed “City of Pierce” concept. We urge Council members not to be herded down the wrong path which can only lead to the loss of community livability that we all cherish. The Coalition will soon provide additional information. In the meantime, we request that this matter be tabled until after the 2018 elections.
David Artis, Coalition Moderator