Annexation of Point Ruston gets hearing in Olympia

Bills that would allow Point Ruston to annex into the City of Tacoma received a hearing from the House of Representatives Local Government Committee following ongoing frustrations between Tacoma and Point Ruston developers and the City of Ruston over permitting lags of the $1.2 billion development. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

A legislative effort to shift part of the Point Ruston development on Commencement Bay from the City of Ruston and into the City of Tacoma is working its way through the halls of the state capital.

House Bill 2880, championed by Tacoma’s 27th District Representatives Jake Fey and Laurie Jinkins and 29th District Representative Steve Kirby, received a hearing from the House of Representatives Local Government Committee last week and committee discussions Wednesday when it was continued until after press time on Thursday. The bill, and its sibling in the Senate, SB 6487, would shift the Ruston portion of the $1.2 billion residential and commercial development into the city limits of Tacoma. The 97-acre, waterfront site currently equally straddles the city borders between Tacoma and Ruston.

The move comes as the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between the project’s developer and Ruston over “unnecessary” permitting delays dating back years, leaving much of the site’s construction work largely only occurring on the Tacoma half of the property. The annexation push is strongly opposed by Ruston officials, calling it the use of a bullying tactics by one city – Tacoma – to seize a valuable tax base from a smaller neighbor – Ruston.

“The project must succeed for our city to exist,” Ruston Mayor Bruce Hopkins said. “There is no doubt about it. This bill does not present good government.”

The bill, he said, violates the state’s Growth Management Act rules regarding annexations by removing the requirement of a vote of Ruston residents and its City Council. The bill also removes the need for approval by the Boundary Review Board and could make it easier for other cities to do the same in future years.

For its part, Tacoma officials said the annexation effort is a last resort to protect that city’s investment of $31 million in Local Improvement District debt it fronted to install infrastructure at the development. Point Ruston needs the tax base in the development to move forward to pay back the remaining $20 million of that LID funding.

Point Ruston straddles the City of Ruston and the City of Tacoma on a Superfund Site of the former Asarco smelter. Most of the redevelopment of the property has occurred on the Tacoma half of the site, a fact Tacoma and developers blame Ruston for by not being timely with issuing building permits on that city’s side of the property. Illustration courtesy of Point Ruston

“This is an extraordinary circumstance,” former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said. “We are trying very hard to be good partners.”

Tacoma had tried to work out an interlocal agreement with Ruston during a similar annexation battle three years ago that would have had Tacoma handle the permitting process on behalf of its much-smaller neighbor. Ruston later dropped out of that effort.

Specifically, the legislation would allow the property owners of Point Ruston to petition for annexation into Tacoma without Ruston’s approval or a boundary review process with a deadline of 2021. Any future development would have to follow the current master plan for the site. Future land-use requirements and height restrictions must also remain consistent with prior codes and all back taxes must be paid before annexation is completed. After an annexation petition is approved, both cities must then submit to binding arbitration over future costs and tax revenues.

“The amount must be sufficient to maintain the city from which the territory is annexed as an economically viable city,” according to the bill’s summary.

Point Ruston is being built on the site of a copper smelter that dated back to 1888. It operated until 1985, leaving behind toxic soil around Puget Sound that was caused by the release of pollution from its smoke stack and is now being remediated. The commercial development of the land is part of that remediation process by returning the waterfront property into taxable retail, office, entertainment and residential uses.

Subscribe to our newsletter

To stay updated with all the latest news, and offers.


  1. Ruston always seems to be a problem “city”, from its less than stellar police department that has suffered from a poor Police Chief to an ineffective City Council. Now they cannot even process building permits in a timely manner, causing delays measured in years? Unacceptable! If they aren’t interested in making this project happen then step aside and Tacoma will get it done.

  2. Mr. Whitfield, I would ask you to do a bit of research and check to ensure that your facts are accurate. I have and I can confidently say that the City of Ruston has delayed ZERO properly submitted permits. Also if “Tacoma will get it done” why isn’t all of the development construction done on the Tacoma side?

    I would also invite you to provide details as to what you mean by “a poor Police Chief” and “an ineffective City Council”. Do you know just how much work the City Council and Mayor have done for the Ruston Residents on a shoe string budget over the last dozen years?


  3. This article reads like a propaganda piece for Point Ruston. A little research would show that Ruston has been responsive in their permits; albeit more strict and maybe more expensive. Did you even ask the developer to provide any documentation that Ruston is stonewalling with the 66 permits they have issued on this project? Tacoma’s real reason for wanting to take over is the lucrative taxes from this commercial core. They need the income after the millions and millions in special tax abatement they have granted on the property. The politicians pushing this bill have all gotten thousands of campaign dollars from Point Ruston’s owners and friends. There is no way to justify changing state law to settle a local dispute. It’s disgusting politics at its worst, supported by news stories like this that don’t even try to report both sides of the issue.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.