Pierce County Council Approves Orton Junction Project

Richard Smaby

The Pierce County Council unanimously approved the Orton Junction Project at their October 25th meeting.  The Orton Junction Project has focused Pierce County’s attention on its dwindling farmland over the last many months.  Many council members justified their yes vote based on the recent compromise reached among the city of Sumner, the developers, and the Cascade Land Conservancy to sacrifice the Orton Junction farmland to preserve other farmland in the area.

The Council took comments from 32 attendees prior to the vote on the compromise.  Residents and business people of Sumner spoke pro and con, many emphasizing that the Orton Junction farmland will be lost forever to farming, others focusing on the promise of jobs.  Some saw the compromise as community development; others challenged that view, noting that the Orton Junction location is not integrated into downtown Sumner.   Representatives of the City of Sumner, the YMCA, and Multicare spoke in favor of the compromise.

 Ryan Mello of the Cascade Land Conservancy explained why he supports the compromise, which he helped put together.  He said that it is necessary to have an effective strategy to preserve the County’s farmland and the right strategy is to placing conservation easements on farmland, so it cannot be developed.  In the case of Orton Junction compromise the developers will be paying the costs of buying those easements for 500 acres of existing farmland.

Marian Berejikian of Friends of Pierce County emphasized that the compromise is simply one more example of giving up valuable farmland.  It violates government regulations.  It is based on promises.  It allows rural land, not just farmland, to be used in the 500 acres. Tim Trohimovich of Futurewise added that Sumner has other land, within its Urban Growth Area, which it can use for its community center, as identified by Planning Commission staff.

Council member Stan Fleming said that no one is offering to farm the Orton Junction land, so it can be put to better use as part of this project.  Council members Dick Muri and Roger Bush saw the compromise as a win/win opportunity.

Council member Tim Farrell commented that he didn’t like it, but had to support it, reflecting the pain of having to sacrifice one area of farmland to protect others.  He said it was the best he and others could do.