Ruston annexation spat ends with permitting deal

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The negotiating parties signed the terms of the agreements in Executive Dammeier’s office on Feb. 5 with the expectation that the agreements would be ratified by each city’s council at their regularly scheduled council meetings on Feb. 6. From left: Loren Cohen, principal, MC Construction Consultants; Bruce Hopkins; mayor, City of Ruston; Bruce Dammeier, Pierce County executive; Victoria Woodards, mayor, City of Tacoma; and Elizabeth Pauli, Tacoma City Manager. Photo courtesy of Pierce County

The City of Ruston and the Point Ruston development have reached an agreement for addressing permitting activities at the Point Ruston development with the assistance of the City of Tacoma.

The agreements was ratified by each city’s council at their regularly scheduled council meetings Tuesday night after their mayors penned the deal on Monday.

The agreement creates a collaborative process between Tacoma and Ruston for permit review in the portions of the Point Ruston development within the City of Ruston, which will, in theory, result in streamlined permit processing and greater consistency across the project. Tacoma will process the permits on projects to be built on the Ruston portion of the development, using Ruston’s rules and standards. Pierce County will inspect the final work on Ruston’s behalf. Ruston can then challenge the permits, prompting an arbitration process.

The waterfront condominiums, apartments, entertainment, shopping and dining options at Point Ruston that straddles the Tacoma-Ruston city lime along Commencement Bay represent $1.2 billion in private economic investment, making Point Ruston one of the largest privately funded projects in Pierce County history.

Point Ruston cranes might get even busier under a deal that would have Tacoma processing the construction permits for the development, even those on the City of Ruston side, in an effort to end a longstanding dispute Ruston have had with the developer. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

“This partnership allows the Point Ruston project to move forward and results in significant benefits for the residents of Ruston,” said Mayor Bruce Hopkins.

The deal came as bills were being considered in Olympia that would have allowed the entire project to annex into Tacoma without Ruston’s approval, which was the latest twist in a longstanding tiff between Point Ruston developers and the Ruston officials over permit delays and snags to redevelop the former Asarco Superfund site.

“We are grateful for the leadership that has helped ensure Point Ruston can finish its transformation from a former smelter to a positive community amenity that benefits the entire region. For the residents of Point Ruston, the businesses that are located there, our neighbors and this whole community, we’re ready to get to work,” said Point Ruston developer Loren Cohen.

Once one of the largest environmental clean-ups in the nation, the Point Ruston neighborhood now hosts a wide range of activities for individuals and families from trivia nights to blood drives, fun runs and birding classes.

“I have great confidence in the collaborative process that we have put in place to guide future development at Point Ruston,” said Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards. “I’m glad Tacoma could assist Ruston and Point Ruston in completing this regional destination project.”

U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer helped broker the deal to avoid a vote on the annexation option and the potential loss of tax revenue for the cash-strapped City of Ruston. The permitting deal triggers the withdrawal of those bills, which had already passed out of committee.

“I am pleased that there is now a clear path forward, and I am hopeful this represents a new chapter of folks working together. I commend everyone who helped reach this consensus, including the cities, developer and the county executive,” he said. “If our community follows the path they charted, we will fully reclaim what was once a hazardous waste site and reimagine it into a great addition to our community that leads to new jobs and new businesses.”

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier led negotiations among the parties and hopes the deal will benefit everyone.

“I’m encouraged by the agreement reached by all of the parties involved in the continued development of Point Ruston,” said Dammeier. “When completed, Point Ruston and the upgraded Point Defiance Park will be an incredible place for local families and visitors alike.”

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