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Closer look at North Shore’s impact

The environmental impact of a 860-home residential development slated to replace Northeast Tacoma’s North Shore Golf Course must be studied further, a City of Tacoma Hearing Examiner ruled May 19.

On Dec. 14, 2007, the city told Northshore Investors that a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement must be submitted before the group’s application for the massive residential development, known as The Point at Northshore, would proceed in review. Northshore Investors appealed this requirement, taking the stand that the studies it submitted were ample enough to allow the review to continue.

But the environmental studies in question were completed in 1979 and 1981, when the golf course and largely undeveloped surrounding land underwent rezoning. In an appeals case, hearing examiner Wick Dufford sided with the city, deciding that more information is needed to determine the current-day impacts the development would have on the surrounding area.

Dufford’s decision means the city will not be forced to solely rely on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) studies completed nearly 30 years ago. Instead, it will review the aged documents, as well as perform an up-to-date EIS, said Jay Derr, City of Tacoma’s attorney.

Present day evaluations

The supplemental study will focus on how The Point at Northshore could impact the area’s recreation, transportation and schools. It will also evaluate land use of the golf course. The study will be used in conjunction with the 1979 and 1981 documents to determine if mitigations for the impacts can be made, Derr said.

“We wanted to do this environmental review to see if there are ways to mitigate impacts,” he said. “Then we can move into recommendation whether some or any development is allowed.”

The city of Federal Way became involved when it submitted a five-page letter Nov. 20 detailing the environmental impacts it foresees from The Point at Northshore development. Storm drainage, neighborhood traffic safety, recreation and open space continue to be areas the city is concerned with, according to a letter written to Tacoma by Federal Way Assistant City Manager Cary Roe.

Zoning disagreements

Even if the city finds mitigations can decrease significant impacts to the environment, that does not mean Northshore Investors’ application will be automatically approved, Derr said.

Through the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, the city will look at how The Point at Northshore affects the zoning stipulations of the North Shore Golf Course.

Since Northshore Investors submitted its application January 2007, zoning of the golf course has been a much-debated topic. The developer is asking the City of Tacoma to rezone the area to allow for the hundreds of homes.

“The city’s view is that request requires (the property owners) to change the zoning they got before (in the early 1980s),” Derr said.

North Shore Golf Course was rezoned as part of a 341-acre planned residential district in 1981, when the North Shore Country Club Estates development was approved for construction,then built around the fairways. A Draft EIS, issued August 1979, and a Final EIS, issued January 1981, were required for this rezone. These are the documents Northshore Investors submitted as part of today’s The Point at Northshore application.

A hearing examiner approved the 1981 rezone under the condition that the Northshore Country Club Estates development “will maintain and always have the use of the adjacent golf course for its open space and density requirement,” according to the 2008 Tacoma Hearing Examiner documents.

Golf course owners Northshore Golf Associates agreed upon this condition in September 1981 when an Open Space Taxation Agreement was signed between the associates and City of Tacoma, according to court documents. In forming North Shore Country Club Estates, “it is clear that the existence of the golf course as a large open space in the central portion of the site was integral to the development concept,” according to hearing examiner documents.

“That’s exactly why this whole case got an appeal and is so controversial,” Derr said.

Fast-forward 27 years and the city, Northshore Golf Associates and Northshore Investors now find themselves debating the golf course’s open space and zoning stipulations.

“The property owners believe they can ask for a (zoning) change and have asserted that those prior obligations do not apply to the golf course property; the city’s view is different than that,” Derr said.

Public input

The public will have its chance to express its viewpoint as well. Once the Supplemental EIS is completed, a 30-day public comment period will be opened, Derr said. The study could take through the summer to finish, he said.

“The key message I hope the public knows and understands is there are still upcoming opportunities for comment,” Derr said.

Additionally, zoning issues may ultimately be decided by a judge in January 2009, as the City of Tacoma is suing the Northshore Golf Associates for violation of the 1981 contract, Derr said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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For more information on this topic, visit the Save Northeast Tacoma citizen action group at savenetacoma.org.

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