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Northshore development nixed; area must remain a golf course

An overhead look at the Northshore Golf Course, at Federal Way
An overhead look at the Northshore Golf Course, at Federal Way's border in Northeast Tacoma, shows the golf course at the center of surrounding development. On Tuesday, the Tacoma City Council denied a rezone modification application, submitted by Northshore Investors LLC, which could have resulted in development of the course. Northshore Investors wishes to construct an 860-home development over the golf course. It could appeal the city council's decision.
— image credit: Courtesy image

The Tacoma City Council ruled Tuesday to uphold a hearing examiner's decision, thus protecting Northeast Tacoma's Northshore Golf Course from massive development.

North Shore Golf Associates, owners of the golf course located at 4101 Northshore Blvd. N.E., claims it is losing profits. The company wishes to sell the land. In 2007, Northshore Investors LLC proposed to purchase the 116-acre golf course and subsequently erect the 860-home The Point at Northshore over the fairways. Northshore Investors and North Shore Associates have been at odds with the City of Tacoma since the land use application was filed. The City of Federal Way has also had its concerns about the proposed development.

The council's 8-0 decision means the golf course must remain as such.

Northshore Investors may appeal the decision. For now, the decision applies only to the land use application submitted by Northshore Investors, said Jennifer Ward, Tacoma land use administration supervisor.

"Should any future permits be submitted for development of the golf course, they will be subject to the permitting requirements in effect at that time," Ward said via e-mail.

Point of contention

From the beginning, Tacoma and Federal Way have had concerns about the slated development. The parties worried about impacts to traffic, schools, open space and the environment.

A 2007 Transportation Concurrency Analysis identified 23 Federal Way Transportation Improvement Plan projects that would have been affected by the The Point at Northshore, according to the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Study.

On Nov. 20, 2007, Federal Way staff submitted a five-page letter to Tacoma detailing the environmental impacts it foresaw from the proposed development. Storm drainage, neighborhood traffic safety, recreation and open space were Federal Way's concerns, according to the letter.

Tuesday's meeting was highly anticipated by residents of Tacoma and Federal Way. Upwards of 300 people filled the council chambers and rooms designated for overflow. Many were members of the citizen-led Save NE Tacoma coalition, which formed three years ago to prevent the development of the golf course. Several members live at the edges of the golf course. They fear their property values and quality of life will decrease if The Point at Northshore moved in.

"We couldn't be happier (regarding the council's decision), that's for sure," said John Lovelace, Save NE Tacoma president.

Save NE Tacoma, over the past three years, raised between $280,000 and $325,000, which paid for an attorney to argue the case for keeping the golf course, said Michelle Radford, Northeast Tacoma resident and coalition member. Radford said she respects the city council, which she feels "did what's right" by upholding the hearing examiner's decision.

"We all banded together for one common cause that's saving our community, our open space," she said.

Aaron Laing, attorney for Northshore Investors, said he is disappointed in the council's decision, but not surprised due to the large number of constituents who have continually fought against The Point at Northshore. It's hard for a legislative body to go against the masses, he said.

"Even though the land use laws are supposed to be governed by rule of law, they are inherently political," Laing said.

BACKGROUND INFO

Hearing examiner Wick Dufford, in January, ruled against several aspects of the proposed 860-home The Point at Northshore development, which is proposed to be built over the Northshore Golf Course, 4101 Northshore Blvd. N.E. He denied the preliminary plat and site plan and recommended the denial of an application for a rezone modification, which was needed to construct over the golf course.

In making his decision, Dufford considered 1981 and 1979 documents, agreed upon by North Shore Golf Associates, owners of the course, and the City of Tacoma. The paperwork dictates the course is to perpetually serve as open space in connection with the surrounding The Northshore Country Club Estates.

In 1981, the golf course was rezoned as a Planned Residential District (PRD). The development of The Northshore Country Club Estates relied on the golf course to fill its open space requirements. North Shore Golf Associates entered into an Open Space Taxation Agreement (OSTA), which permitted the course to be used as open space for the neighborhood in exchange for a tax exemption on their property.

The OSTA 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."

Dufford's decision on the plat and site plan were final rulings, but the rezone was subject to appeal. Northshore Investors appealed Dufford's decision to the Tacoma City Council for a final say on the rezone. The council voted Tuesday 8-0 to uphold Dufford's decision.

Several actions led up to Tuesday's city council meeting and more legal action may come. In early 2007, The City put an emergency moratorium on building applications for PRDs. Northshore Investors argued its application was submitted before the moratorium was in place and should not be subject to the action.

The City of Tacoma sued Northshore Investors and North Shore Golf Associates, asking that a Superior Court judge require the developer to abide by existing zoning rulings, restrictive covenants and contractual obligations to keep and maintain the golf course as is. Save NE Tacoma joined in the lawsuit as a party plaintiff in February 2008.

Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Russell Hartman ruled in favor of the City of Tacoma when he declared, in February 2009, that the 1979 and 1981 PRD rezoning and OSTA are binding documents which limit the land use of the golf course. The defendant appealed the decision.

More legal action is to come. The Superior Court appeal is due to appear in court August 13. Northshore Investors has the option to appeal the Tacoma City Council's decision as well. If this is done, the appeals will be consolidated and heard on the same day, said attorney Aaron Laing, representing Northshore Investors.

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