IRG and Save Weyerhaeuser have different ideas when it comes to preserving the Weyerhaeuser Campus. Haley Donwerth/staff photo

Property owners propose measures to protect former Weyerhaeuser campus

Questions about future public benefit remain.

Owners of the former Weyerhaeuser campus in Federal Way recently announced measures showing their commitment of preserving and protecting the historical site, but organizers of the Save Weyerhaeuser Campus nonprofit in opposition to the development said this is the start of a process to iron out the details.

Located at 33663 Weyerhaeuser Way South in Federal Way, the site was purchased by Industrial Realty Group in 2016 for $70 million. Since then, controversy has consumed the development plans, sparking national attention and triggering approval processes at city, state and national levels.

Opened in 1971, the Weyerhaeuser campus is upon its 50th anniversary.

IRG, Save Weyerhaeuser Campus and several additional consulting parties are amid the Section 106 Army Corps of Engineers approval process in consultation with the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation because of the development plan’s potential of impacting wetlands.

On Feb. 11, IRG announced a formalization of measures as a response to the Section 106 process. The company plans to establish a view-conservation easement to prohibit development blocking views of the campus, and another easement for the headquarters’ exterior “to maintain its world-renowned architectural significance and to preserve the building,” according to a news release.

IRG also emphasized providing an approximately 50-foot forested buffer on development sites to limit the visibility of buildings, among other measures that Vice President Dana Ostenson said are “promises made, promises kept.”

Preservation of the commercial campus has always been a top priority for IRG, he said, and this, in terms of restoring the headquarters building and maintaining the wooded areas, is dependent on the funds from incoming proposed development.

The proposed development is about 16% of the entire 400-acre campus, Ostenson said, and the company has put in effort “beyond what a typical company would do” to be a partner to the Federal Way community.

Proposed development of industrial buildings on the site could bring in 3,100 jobs to the city, with another 780 jobs from construction alone, Ostenson said. Possible incoming occupants may include manufacturing, biotech companies and lab companies, among other services.

Save Weyerhaeuser Campus members said there are gaps in IRG’s measures.

“The details aren’t there yet,” said Lori Sechrist, president of Save Weyerhaeuser Campus. “We’re supportive if this is the first step … but we also support keeping it as transparent as possible.”

The upcoming Section 106 meeting, set for Feb. 26, and its subsequent biweekly meetings will allow for involved consulting parties to discuss the mitigation measures, ask questions, suggest changes and come to a compromise.

Main concerns of the nonprofit include the viability and depth of the forested buffers, visibility of fencing for stormwater ponds, and protection of the Pacific Bonsai Museum and Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, both of which are on the campus property.

IRG’s measures are visual assurances, but the nonprofit is also concerned about future public benefit, such as the use of the 10 miles of trails. These trails are currently closed to the public due to the state outdoor recreation COVID-19 safety guidelines, Ostenson said.

“Specifics [are] what we need to make informed decisions,” Sechrist said.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, launched an international letter-writing campaign on Feb. 2 to “prevent inappropriate development” at the Federal Way site. The nonprofit aims to educate and engage with the public about the value of landscape heritage nationwide.

Letter writers include former Weyerhaeuser architects, designers, historians, professors, and more from across the nation. The letters were sent to Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell regarding the city’s land use and construction permits and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Seattle district commander Col. Alexander Bullock.

“It seems a shame that such an important artifact, representative of the best of its era, long recognized and honored, would be lost to its neighborhood, state and country by destruction in such a careless and undignified way,” wrote Peter Walker, original landscape architect for Weyerhaeuser.

Though declining to share a specific number, Ostenson said the company’s financial investment into the property since its purchase is “a very large number” and the ongoing opposition, of this level, was not expected.

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