Pierce County Council to Ignore Planning Commission on Orton Junction

Richard Smaby

I interviewed Marian Berejikian, Executive Director for Friends of Pierce County, about the upcoming vote by the Pierce County Council to grant Sumner an amendment to the county comprehensive plan to expand the Sumner urban growth area.  This amendment would allow Investco and others to carry out their Orton Junction project of commercial and higher density residential development.

Richard: I read your article in the TNT opposing the Orton Junction development project.  What are the issues from your perspective?

Marian: What people really need to pay attention to is whether the Council on October 25th will continue a pattern of sacrificing farmland to development.  This practice will reduce Pierce County’s farmland to zero by 2034, if the County Council continues ignoring its own planning commission and staff.  This is scary and should get folks attention. This happened several years ago with another County Council, when Bonney Lake wanted to develop farmland, and that was appealed to the Growth Management Hearings Board where Futurewise and Friends of Pierce County won. The historical facts are quite clear on farmland loss in Pierce County.  You can see them for yourself in the calculations done by the American Farmland Trust, based on the Pierce County Agricultural Protection Analysis: Farmland Loss around Puget Sound

Richard: But what specifically is wrong with the current proposal?

Marian: Everything!  First is the process.  The Pierce County Planning Commission recommended against the proposal.  That’s the Council’s own advisory body on land use management.  Pierce County Planning staff provided a detailed report which recommended denying the City of Sumner's and others’ request to expand outside Sumner's Urban Growth Areas to develop the farmland in question.  When both the Planning Commission and its staff recommend against a comprehensive plan amendment, the proposal is not forwarded to the County Council as part of the package.  However, County Council members can request to reconsider a proposal, and Muri, Roach, and McDonald did just that.

 Richard: I understand that the proposal includes putting some Urban Growth Area land back into farmland.

Marian: That’s the second thing wrong here.   Investco and others propose to remove already developed land from the Urban Growth Area in trade for being allowed to develop on farmland.  The area where Sumner is reducing of their Urban Growth Area (East Hill) already has houses on it. Reductions of the UGA are usually done to take out areas that cannot be developed, such as wetlands, farmland and other critical areas.  Bottom line - there will still be 125 acres of farmland that will be sacrificed to bulldozers and more pavement for a proposal that should not have been allowed to go this far in the first place.

Richard: But, we need to recognize that a city like Sumner is going to have development needs.  I understand they are including a YMCA and a branch of Multicare.  Both organizations are supporting the proposal.

Marian: They can still meet their development needs without violating any land use policies if they develop somewhere else.  The city of Sumner has space for development already inside the city limits. It has a 19 acre empty lot and a QFC standing empty in the downtown area.  Investco motivates its proposal by giving, for example, the YMCA its land for free, valued at approximately $2 million. Why not give free land to the YMCA from the land inside the city limits?   The city should contain sprawl within their own Urban Growth Area, not let it seep onto farmland outside of the city's Urban Growth Area.

Richard: Anything more you would like to add?

Marian Berejikian: I invite anyone who is concerned about this issue to attend the Pierce County Council meeting on next Tuesday, October 25th, at 3 p.m. to voice their opposition to the amendment.  Even if the Council approves the amendment, there is an appeal process where the amendment will most likely be defeated.  This is not the end of the process.  These types of proposals will keep coming up, because there is a lot of money to be made.  We have to stay vigilant and keep such issues on the front burner.