Controversy over the former Weyerhaeuser campus in Federal Way continues, as those interested in preserving the historical site urge for “responsible” development while the owners hold firm to current development designs.
The site was purchased by Industrial Realty Group in 2016 for $70 million. In the following years, the nonprofit Save Weyerhaeuser Campus organization has advocated for environmental and historical preservation of the campus. Because of natural elements on the site, a parallel approval process is required with Section 106, part of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), alongside the City of Federal Way’s permitting process.
The Section 106 Army Corps of Engineers process, which is triggered when projects are impacting protected wetlands, said Cindy Flanagan, education chair of the Rainier Audubon Society.
In a virtual meeting Jan. 15, involved parties from IRG, Save Weyerhaeuser Campus, original campus designer Pete Walker, and other national groups with interests in the land use debate met to discuss IRG’s Building A and Building B warehouse plans.
Building A, the first warehouse, is in the building permit process after having received environmental and land use approval, but it still needs a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The second warehouse, Building B, received environmental approval in October, which the Save Weyerhaeuser Campus organizers appealed because they felt the city was not paying attention to the historical significance of the site and the impacts that will occur because of the incoming development, organization members said.
Building B is awaiting land use approval from the city. Permits for development on the northern portion of the campus are under review.
The proposed plans for five eventual warehouses may remove 132 forested acres to allow for 1.5 million square feet of new development.
‘We want responsible development’
Though no audio recording of the meeting is available, minutes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recorded Dana Ostenson, vice president of IRG, stating the realty group is not willing to redesign the buildings at this point, despite being 50 percent beyond the original master plan.
Requested by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), Pete Walker, architect Craig Hartman with Skidmore Owings & Merrill (the original architects for Weyerhaeuser), and landscape architect René Bihan, principal at SWA’s San Francisco Offic, made an analysis of the proposed development, according to a TCLF report. The analysis provided options on the 425-acre campus for development and noted the IRG proposal shows “there’s too much development on too much site.”
The minutes also recorded that Pete Walker, the site’s original designer, said the master plan was developed to show Weyerhaeuser where future development could occur without significantly altering the property.
While the Building A — a 225,950-square-foot general commodity warehouse — of the proposed construction would “likely fit within construction intent,” the overall design shows it is about 50% larger than the master plan without considering necessary parking and a water detention pond, according to the minutes.
The proposed project designs would have adverse effects on the campus, such as loss of forests, elimination of trails, and impacts on the visual elements, said Flanagan. George Weyerhaeuser envisioned a seamless mesh of the corporation and landscape, and the two are inseparable, she added.
“We don’t oppose development, but we want responsible development that has a balance of conservation, and development that is fitting,” Flanagan said.
While IRG’s plans are in compliance with all the applicable building codes, the intent does not hold to the campus’ historic vision, Save Weyerhaeuser Campus argues.
Building A has been approved by the city, approved by a hearing examiner, and approved by the Washington state courts, which affirmed the prior approvals because the appellant could not show “any probable significant environmental impacts that are left unaddressed or unmitigated” including any harm to historical resources, Ostenson told the Mirror.
The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review of Building B has been approved by the city and is similar to Building A in virtually all respects, he said.
“We continue to participate in the Army Corps process, which we expect to result in approval of both the Building A and Building B projects,” Ostenson said. “We, of course, do not comment on the substance of ongoing administrative procedures.”
Options for the campus
Three options are available for the campus: voiding and changing the plans entirely; minimizing the scope of the project by reducing the size of the buildings or the number of facilities; or mitigating to make up for the adverse effects, such as implementing conservation easements on the remainder of he campus, placing development bans on portions of the campus, or finding another common-ground solution for all involved parties.
The biweekly meeting discussions seek reasonable, meaningful compromises, said Lori Sechrist, president of Save Weyerhaeuser Campus.
Collaboration to save the historic aspects of the campus has been encouraged by the Army Corps.
“It’s truly a national impact,” Sechrist said. “I think that’s why we were all taken aback [by IRG vice president Ostenson’s refusal] because we’ve been encouraged to start talking, to lead these conversations.”
Sechrist said Ostenson put “the hard stop on it” when options of redesign came up on Jan. 15. “It caught everybody off guard a bit,” she said.
“We just can’t allow the scale that they’re proposing to happen,” Sechrist said. “That’s the goal, is to just continue to push and put pressure. To come to the table again and really truly be open minded about what they can do, or what are they willing to do, rather than say ‘can’t.’”
Ostenson told the Mirror with the recent affirmation of the Washington Superior Court, the company is excited to be “finally close to the end of this lengthy permit and appeal process which has gone on since 2016.”
IRG looks “forward to returning 100% of our focus to restoring the good paying jobs lost when Weyerhaeuser left, increasing Federal Way’s tax revenue, creating new economic opportunities to support other Federal Way businesses, and preserving the beauty of Woodbridge Corporate Park.”