Interim rules for Tideflats up for discussion

The Tacoma Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the recommended interim regulations on the Tideflats that would be in effect until the full subarea plan is completed. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger.

Tacoma’s Planning Commission has released its roster of recommended Tideflats Interim Regulations and has set a public hearing on them for 6 p.m. on Sept. 13 at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. The City Council will ultimately decide what to do with the recommendations and will hold its own public hearing in the fall as well.

The draft interim regulations would generally prohibit new non-industrial uses, such as schools, parks and correctional facilities, and the expansion of any existing non-industrial uses on much of the working waterfront. The rules would also prohibit new residential units along the slopes above Marine View Drive, widen the public notification area for any proposed heavy industrial uses city-wide that require discretionary permits or environmental reviews, and prohibit city-wide the establishment of coal terminals, oil or gas terminals, chemical storage facilities, smelters and mining operations until the subarea plan process is completed. That could take years. The interim rules are meant to avoid the permitting of high-impact projects that would later not be allowed following the subarea plan review of land-use regulations.

The City Council and the Port of Tacoma Commission approved the concept of conducting a subarea plan for the 4,000 acres of land that make up the Tideflats months ago as a way to review the waterfront’s zoning rules. The estimated cost comes to about $1 million, which would be split between them. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians has said it was willing to financially support the effort as well.

Public interest about land-use rules around the waterfront has been on the rise in recent years, particularly sparked by the now-dead plans of building what would have been the world’s largest natural gas-to-methanol plant created an uproar of safety and environmental concerns. That controversy was followed by the vocal opposition to Puget Sound Energy’s construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility on the Tideflats that would be used to store gas to be used during peak weather periods and the fueling of TOTE ships that shuttle between Tacoma and Alaska. The most recent controversy to raise further questions about operations on the Tideflats was the planned mining of sand and gravel at a long-dormant mine along Marine View Drive.

Once the interim plans are passed, the battle over the waterfront will focus on the subarea plan process which will pit people and groups calling for cleaner industrial operations and specifically ones that don’t involve fossil fuels with business boosters who want less strict zoning rules so the Tideflats can become home to more jobs and commercial operations.

The Puget Sound Regional Council forecasts that the region will add about 83,900 industrial jobs by 2040. About 7,500 of those jobs are expected to come to the Tideflats, either on currently vacant land or business expansions. To prepare for that added commercial activity, the city has fast-tracked plans to reopen a mothballed fire station on the waterfront. It should be open this fall and be located near PSE’s natural gas facility, which had agreed to help fund the station as a condition of its construction.

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