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Federal Way dodges traffic as hearing examiner denies Northshore proposal

A proposal to replace Northeast Tacoma's Northshore Golf Course with several hundred homes was denied on several accounts Jan. 7.

Hearing examiner Wick Dufford denied a rezone modification, preliminary plat approval and site plan approval for The Point at Northshore. The development would have replaced the 116-acre golf course, at 4101 North Shore Boulevard N.E. and 1611 Browns Point Boulevard N.E., with approximately 860 homes. Among other things, the development would have also brought significantly more traffic to Federal Way.

In early 2007, Northshore Investors LLC submitted an application to redevelop the golf course. A zoning change was needed for the project to be permitted. Dufford's decisions regarding the plat and site plan approvals are final rulings. His ruling on the rezone is a suggestion to the Tacoma City Council, which has the ultimate say on whether the rezone will be granted and the project will continue in another fashion.

"Despite all efforts, there is really no way to hide the insertion of over 800 new homes into an area where they do not now exist. And there is really no artfulness of design that can make such a development a less than significant change in the perception of open space by those living in the adjacent plats. The proposed development is well and thoughtfully designed, but given the history and physical context of this particular PRD, it is in the wrong place," Dufford wrote in his ruling.

Federal Way dodges traffic

Had the development been approved, it would have directly affected Federal Way. City staff has continually been in contact with Tacoma staff and expressed its desire for mitigations, mostly traffic, if the project were to move forward.

The residents occupying The Point at Northshore were expected to make 5,330 average daily commutes on the surrounding roadways, according to a draft supplemental environmental impact study (DSEIS) released by the City of Tacoma this past May. A 2007 Transportation Concurrency Analysis, prepared by Federal Way, identifies 23 Federal Way Transportation Improvement Plan projects that would have been impacted by the development, according to the DSEIS.

Public guides decision

In making his decision, Dufford took into consideration the effects The Point at Northshore would have on the surrounding community and residents. Several hundred public letters were received and multiple public testimonies were given during the hearing. The public expressed concerns about the impact the development would have on quality of life, transportation, home values, schools and aesthetics.

"There was not, in all of this, the faintest whiff of public support for the proposal," Dufford wrote in his ruling. He went on to say, "The public sentiment expressed in this case is primarily from people who have a genuine and substantial interest in the outcome. There is little point in having public hearings, if such interested public sentiment counts for nothing."

Open space argument

Dufford also considered a decades-old agreement. In 1981, golf course owners, North Shore Golf Associates and owners of the County Club Estates, a residential area surrounding the golf course, signed an Open Space Taxation Agreement (OSTA). This allowed the area to be rezoned as a R-2 planned residential development (PRD) and permitted for higher density development surrounding the golf course. The agreement relied on the course to meet open space requirements.

Throughout the application process, the City of Tacoma maintained the agreement is binding and the golf course must remain as open space. It cited a 1981 hearing examiner's ruling that accompanied the OSTA.

"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," according to the 1981 hearing examiner ruling.

Big victory

Save NE Tacoma members fought to keep the open space since 2007. They raised approximately $300,000 to pay for an attorney to oppose the development. Spokesman Dave Radford said he is encouraged that Dufford took the public's feelings into consideration when making his decision.

"We're very ecstatic," he said. "It's a huge, huge win and a boost for our morale."

Dufford's findings could be appealed by the developers. If this happens, Save NE Tacoma plans to continue rallying against The Point at Northshore, Radford said.

"It's still not over," he said. "We're at the three yard line, but we still have to carry the ball over the goal line."

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