By GENE B. FOSTER, Northeast Tacoma resident
A large profit incentive is driving North Shore Investors LLC’s frenzied drive to proceed with development of the North Shore Golf Course.
They seek to drop a large population center bereft of infrastructure in the midst of our well-established community. This is by no means solely a NE Tacoma problem. Although NE Tacoma is tied politically to the City of Tacoma, its geographical location has resulted in strong economic and cultural ties to the City of Federal Way, and we share the region’s ecology.
Consider the profit potential: 860 homes with an average sale price of $300,000 would net an income of $258 million. The builder’s firm costs would include the cost of construction (assumed to be around 50 percent of the selling price or $129 million) and the cost of the land (rumored to be around $18 million). Subtracting these costs
from the net income could leave around $111 million to cover variable costs including site preparation, landscaping, legal fees, storm water control, mitigation, etc.
Folks, these are big bucks. The developer’s final net profit lies in minimizing these variable costs. Expect a concerted effort to do just that, and these guys are skilled and aggressive negotiators. Once an approved Land Use Application is in hand, specifications will revert to the minimums required by Tacoma’s circa 1980 code. The lovely drawings and landscaped vistas will be empty promises and forgotten when the bulldozers go to work. Why else did they fight so hard to be vested in the outdated code rather than do the right thing and design to present-day, community-friendly standards? Sound Built Homes doesn’t enjoy a JD Powers bottom rating for customer satisfaction by accident — they earned it.
The developer is currently seeking a Mitigated Determination of Non-significance Agreement (MDNS) from Federal Way. This is a negotiated legal instrument by which Federal Way would agree to the impacts on its infrastructure resulting from development of the North Shore Golf Course and forgo requirements for a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). There is obviously a financial settlement involved.
The ploy here is to eliminate Federal Way as a player at a minimal cost. Then, when the developer submits his revised Land Use Permit Application to the City of Tacoma in the near future, the ability of the city to force a new EIS will be weakened and the developer will be able to focus his legal staff on the hapless city.
What will the impact of this development on your community be? There are many aspects to consider. For openers, the North Shore development would be by far the largest housing development in Tacoma’s history.
To put things in perspective, according to the last census, Washington averages 2.5 persons per domicile. At this level, 860 homes would house 2,150 residents. As these are primarily entry-level homes, they would probably attract young families with more than the average amount of small children. This could drive the average to as high as three people per home or even more. The expected population would then range from 2,150 to 2,580 new citizens.
This population exceeds that of the nearby city of Algona with 1,972 residents. In Algona, the population is spread over 864 acres for a density of 2.3 persons per acre. At North Shore, 372 single-family homes and 468 cracker box townhouses of the type shown in the photo of Sound Built Homes’ Glacier View development are planned. As many as 2,580 people would be crammed into 114 acres resulting in a density of 22.6 persons per acre.
For a closer example, consider the Wynstone Development currently under way on SW Campus Drive in Federal Way. Here, 44 single family homes will be built on 13.5 acres resulting in a more reasonable population density of around 8 people per acre. The point is that North Shore would be a very high-density development and the residents will be looking for room to breathe.
Federal Way has an infrastructure rich in recreational amenities while NE Tacoma’s facilities are meager. Will the City of Tacoma be providing all the expected recreational amenities? They don’t exist today and little room is available for their development. These hemmed-in citizens will seek an outlet and they will swarm to your parks and athletic fields. Bored and restless youngsters may get involved in vandalism, mischief and mayhem.
Probably most of these families will require two incomes to survive. This could mean at least two cars per family. Some 1,500 cars will be wending their way to work each week day. Unfortunately, the likely routes will pass through the Federal Way grid, creating havoc at the intersections.
According to the developer’s application, there will be a 50 percent increase in impervious surfaces resulting in substantially increased storm water runoff. About 30 percent will be directed to Joe’s Creek and the remaining 70 percent will be dumped over the hill to the Hylebos Waterway. Last November’s heavy rainfall of around 16 inches overwhelmed the golf course’s existing storm water retention system and portions of the golf course were flooded. The photo (courtesy of Bill Thompson) shows the flooded 12th fairway. How will the increased, pollution laden, storm water be handled? When the newly authorized Puget Sound Partnership begins to dictate cleanup requirements over the next decade, who will be sharing the immense costs?
If an MDNS were to be executed by Federal Way, could you get a second bite of the apple if unforeseen consequences surface after the development is complete? Maybe, if the right stipulations are cited in the MDNS, but who would be available with deep pockets to go after?
Sound Built Homes is sheltered within the North Shore Development LLC. The LLC stands for Limited Liability Company. It is established for the sole purpose of managing development of the North Shore Golf Course and assuming any resulting liabilities. But an injured party’s recovery would be limited to the value of available real estate and income from home sales. The much larger assets of Sound Built Homes would not be at risk. Further, the development company can be dissolved at any time at the direction of the owners. You can expect that it will exist only until shortly after the last dollar of profit is harvested. Then it and any responsibility for future liabilities will disappear forever. Or in the worst case if the development goes astray or doesn’t sell and fails, the LLC can declare bankruptcy and walk away leaving the community to clean up the mess.
This proposed development is fraught with risks both apparent and unforeseen. Your city planners will be tempted by the prospect of short-term dollars for needed projects, but this would be shortsighted. They should reject the developer’s offer and enjoin the City of Tacoma to require a full-up new EIS. This would bring in the expertise of the appropriate agencies to identify and quantify the various impacts. Then Federal Way’s future costs could be more reasonably estimated and the environmental impacts realistically assessed. Hopefully, grounds will emerge to dismiss this abomination.
Your city planners and council have your best interests in mind and they need your input and support. The city planners presented their findings to the City Council on Nov. 6 (after press time).
Gene B. Foster is a Northeast Tacoma resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.