Editorial by Marianne Lincoln
At the Pierce County Regional Council meeting on Thursday January 17, 2019, a contingent of community representatives from Frederickson, Midland, North Clover Creek Collins and Spanaway spoke during general public comments (myself included). They highlighted the devastation that massive development has caused in the area, turning pastures to apartment buildings and stripping the land of hydric soil and rerouting water flow in ineffective ways. They also noted the lack of infrastructure in sewers, policing (crime), and roads to accommodate heavy traffic.
As the meeting progressed, the County Planners did a presentation of proposed Comprehensive Plan changes for small cities. One change was to reduce the Urban Growth Area (UGA) boundary in Gig Harbor, taking out the land to the north of the inlet where it was difficult for the city to provide services. That number of acres is apparently placed in a UGA savings bank and can be re-allocated to another city which needs growth space. Buckley was the proposed recipient of these acres of new UGA.
When the Mayor of Buckley, Pat Johnson, spoke about the proposal, she expounded on her own experience helping write the original County Comprehensive Plan. She noted the presence of 5 speakers (dressed all in yellow) from the unincorporated UGA in the county and thanked them for their timely appearance at the meeting. Mayor Johnson, went on to describe the city and its growth along SR410. They are trying to create a friendly, walkable small city. They want the three schools to sit within the city’s boundary. The county proposal did not offer enough annexable urban space to include the schools. She was rejecting their offer. Accepting the offer would not give the city what it wants, but because of giving them something, it would put them at the bottom of the list and other cities would get the next offerings. In the vote, the offer to Gig Harbor was accepted and the offer to Buckley was tabled.
After another Buckley councilman chimed in (Milt Tremblay) about county growth patterns a voice from the Orting City Council spoke up as well.
So here is the root of all questions if you live in the unincorporated county:
If you can trade UGA area between cities and the cities want more annexable land, why don’t we give them some of the south county where we do not have county services to support the development?
Why is Pierce County developing in the unincorporated county area and not in cities as the Growth Management Act demands?
The contingent of 5 voices in the buildable wilderness could surely recommend several areas that have major wetlands in the UGA of unincorporated county that they would gladly see traded to a city that wants growth. Perhaps the floodplain of Clover Creek would be an excellent example. Another might be the split urban rural Shady Acres Airport that would prefer to all be rural.
So the county has been holding back on the people of the mid county. None of that contingent remembers being told they could trade UGA to a city. There will be interesting talks ahead with these cities and you can bet the representatives of the unincorporated UGA will be there, even if they are not officially on the council.
Here are my remarks:
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Dear Pierce County Regional Council:
There is a very large “city” being created south of Tacoma in the unincorporated urban area of Pierce County. A city bigger than Tacoma.
A city with inadequate sanitary sewers to protect our Sole Source Aquifer (SSA).
A place where the county is allowing developers to clear and grade wetlands using staff people without hydrology credentials to delineate.
A city that until recently was covered with pastures full of cows, horses and sheep.
A place where we used to be able to travel from Graham to Spanaway in 15 minutes and now it takes 40, if we aren’t stopped by an accident or a construction detour.
This area is now inadequately served by the roads that were built nearly 100 years ago. These roads have not been widened for additional traffic, have not had ditches moved so they accommodate pedestrian access or sidewalks, and have not been pushed through – but rather they dead end all over the area, forcing traffic to travel in stair step motions to get from one community to another.
Our communities created individual community plans when the statewide Growth Management was adopted. This was a process that required thousands of volunteer hours over multiple years by seriously dedicated community members. This area’s community plans have been revised away by county planners. Each plan is now nearly unrecognizable from its original version, stripped and modified away by county planners, not the participation of community members.
This area south of Tacoma and Puyallup and above the Puyallup Valley and east of JBLM has seen explosive growth rates in the past two years. According to major publications, we are the fastest growing county in the entire United States. This area has no council of its own, we have no city government, but we are considered worthy of urban level growth. Along with it, we have been seeing higher crime rates, lower policing, high rises where pastures have been and severely crowded schools.
Slower growth rates in the unincorporated area and conversely high growth rates within real city boundaries would result in better control of the infrastructure issues that have become out of control here in the middle of the county.
As you sit in your quaint little cities, we live with chaos, daily.
Please, give us a voice on the Regional Council!
Marianne Lincoln | Spanaway Community Association, President