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Northshore development: Residents await conclusion after long battle

Attorney Aaron Laing, representing Northshore Investors, LLC, and attorney Jay Derr, representing City of Tacoma, with his co-council are seen at a public hearing Oct. 16. Laing and Derr presented differing opinions to hearing examiner Wick Dufford on whether the application for The Point at Northshore, a proposed 860-unit development to replace the North Shore Golf Course, should be approved. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Attorney Aaron Laing, representing Northshore Investors, LLC, and attorney Jay Derr, representing City of Tacoma, with his co-council are seen at a public hearing Oct. 16. Laing and Derr presented differing opinions to hearing examiner Wick Dufford on whether the application for The Point at Northshore, a proposed 860-unit development to replace the North Shore Golf Course, should be approved.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Within a month, a nearly three-year debate as to whether several hundred homes will replace Northeast Tacoma's North Shore Golf Course is expected to near an end.

"I feel very deeply that if this project goes through, it will very definitely affect my quality of life," neighboring resident Sharon Dalton said.

During a four-day public hearing, City of Tacoma hearing examiner Wick Dufford heard testimony from City of Tacoma attorney Jay Derr, Northshore Investors attorney Aaron Laing, Northshore Investors principal owner Kurt Wilson and several upset Northeast Tacoma residents.

The City of Tacoma’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Study on the proposed 860-home development (The Point at Northshore) was also presented to the hearing examiner. The study identifies the impacts the development is expected to have on open space, traffic, available school space and aesthetics, among other things, as areas of concerns.

The City of Federal Way is following and has weighed in on the Northshore happenings, given a new development at the location will increase traffic here.

Dufford has the final say on the preliminary plat, site plan, requested variances and reductions and wetland stream assessment and exemption permits pertaining to The Point at Northshore. He will also make a recommendation to the Tacoma City Council on a rezone modification request. The definition of open space and The Point at Northshore's preliminary plat design were hotly debated during the hearing.

Open space

The Point at Northshore meets open space requirements as they apply to the golf course, which is zoned R-2 PRD (One-Family Dwelling and Planned Residential Development District), Laing said. The Tacoma City Council, in summer 2007, amended the city code read that only common space is counted as open space in a PRD. The amendment to the code's language substantively alters the code and, because Northshore Investors submitted its application in January of that year, the applicant should be held to the code's former language, which allowed private yards to be considered open space, Laing said.

Several audience members scoffed at the idea of personal yards as open space. During a public comment period, many of them said they worry two interior parks and a perimeter trail that Northshore Investors is proposing will not truly be open to the public. Northeast Tacoma is lacking in recreational space and redeveloping the golf course will only add to the problem, neighbor Marc Arnold said. Laing ensured the perimeter trail and parks will be open to the public.

"From the recreation perspective, we're providing something better than is existing," he said.

Several audience members made reference to a 1981 hearing examiner's condition of approval to rezone the golf course as a PRD. The property's owners requested the rezone and subsequently secured a tax exemption for the property. The condition reads: "The applicant shall submit a legal agreement, which is binding upon all parties and which may be enforced by the City of Tacoma. It should provide that the property in question will maintain and always have the use of the adjacent golf course for its open space and density requirement which has been relied upon by the applicant in securing approval of this request."

If the zoning of the golf course is modified the agreement will be broken, audience members said.

"The City of Tacoma promised us that was our open space in perpetuity and they should abide by that," Northeast Tacoma resident Cathy Lysne said.

Preliminary plat design

A Proposed Action Alternative, which was presented by the city, was discussed throughout the hearing. The plan calls for less homes and more transition zones within the development. It would save some existing views of Mt. Rainier and provide a degree of relief to neighbors, whose views of the golf course and mountain will be blocked by the new homes.

"It's about 'How do you integrate the two developments so you continue some sort of open space?'" Derr said.

Though the city is willing to consider options for building on the land, residents in attendance were not. Several wore shirts reading "Stop Northshore Golf Course Development." Arnold said he and his wife bought their home overlooking the golf course when they retired. They were led to believe the PRD zoning restricted the golf course from future uses as anything other than open space. The couple knew the golf course has long been for sale, but did not know it could be transformed into a housing project, he said.

"We don't know what's going to happen to our investments and we're insecure about it," Arnold said.

The opposition said there is no way the course's owners can afford to maintain the golf course. Sales have declined and nobody seems interested in purchasing a golf course. Selling to an investor willing to transform it for another use it the only option, Laing said.

“If we tried to give this golf course away today, it would be very hard to do,” said Ted Stone, the owners' real estate agent.

In making his decision, Dufford will consider both sides of the argument, Tacoma municipal codes, residents’ statements and 275 submitted exhibits. His recommendation on the zoning modification will be forwarded to the Tacoma City Council. That body will then will decide whether to grant the modification. Wilson requested Dufford approve language that allows the City of Tacoma and City of Federal Way to co-negotiate traffic mitigations if the project moves forward.

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