Know Your Planning Commission 8.22.12

***This is a recap of the planning commission meeting. It will run after each of their meetings. It is written by District 3 resident and Planning Commission Member Chris McNutt.***

The Planning Commission is a Council appointed yet independent body of citizens who act as a vetting/advisory organization for land use and zoning to the City Council. The following is a personal account and may not reflect the opinions of other Planning Commission members.

The meeting on August 22nd, 2012 surrounded three primary topics.

  • Informational status report on conceived Shaw Rd. Halfway House
  • Progression on altering downtown building height allowances
  • Updates and citizen comments on Urban Forestry policies

There was a fair sized audience who were mostly interested in the first topic on the agenda. Tom Utterback presented an update on our current knowledge of the proposed Shaw Road Halfway House. His zoning overview was previously given at the highly attended community meeting a couple weeks back.

Tom gave us the following image showing the property in question which is entirely entrenched amongst single family homes (RS-10 zone).

Speckled throughout this image there are several daycare facilities and schools.

He followed with a close up of the 1.6 acre property which consists of a large single family home with a few outbuildings.

Tom explained an RS-10 zone has lots as small as 10,000 square feet zoned for single family residences. The primary allowed use is for single family homes, though other uses (daycare centers, churches, etc.) may be allowed through a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). Standard to all zones, are limits regarding site features ie: building heights, building placement, required parking spots and more.

He explained how Washington State policies and laws specifically encourage a wide range of housing types in residential areas. Some of these types include group living structures (which can range from Adult Assisted Living facilities to Halfway Houses). The Puyallup code makes allowances for some of these categories (outright or by CUP) however, they must be compatible with the surrounding areas.

He then presented some statistics to illustrate a point…

…the point being, we must be careful when working out how to deal with this issue not to affect other kinds of living situations which are perfectly safe and allowed. In his graphic the third line totals approximately 1100 homes consisting of people living with roommates. Through the years, most of us have likely had roommates (sharing bills and living expenses). The text of the new ordinances will need to be crafted so as not to accidentally obliterate this time honored tradition.

Tom then shared a dusty 25 year old ordinance he discovered while researching this issue. The code of Puyallup allows up to six unrelated individuals to be qualified as a “family” for the purposes of sharing a residence. There are many exemptions from this ie: facilities requiring onsite care or more importantly (for our purposes), any facility whose owner receives funding directly from a government agency to operate the site.

He further defined three other types of group homes.

  • Adult Family Homes
    • Up to 6 residents
    • Licensed by DSHS
    • Involves special caregiving needs
    • Allowed in residential zones by state law
  • Boarding Homes
    • In-home care for aged persons
    • Licensed by DSHS
    • Involves special needs caregiving
    • 6 or fewer people allowed outright in residential zones
    • 7+ requires a Conditional Use Permit
  • Residential Treatment Facility
    • Licensed by DSHS
    • Care and rehabilitation services
    • Conditional Use Permit required for any residential zone
    • Limited to 5 residents (in addition to caregivers)
    • Minimum distances apply

The upshot? Any home in the city may be occupied by six people legally, provided nothing triggers the need for a permit (as listed above).

There is much speculation as to the nature of the intended facility for Shaw Road. Largely absent of facts or detailed plans, speculation is all we’ve had. In fact, during the public comment period Mr. Parson (the propert owner) took to the mic announcing how the speculation and questions weren’t addressing the primary issues since there is no plan and permits have not been submitted for approval.

There is still a lot of wiggle room and speculation about “what we know” but the initial concept boils down to something close to the following.

  • Focus on military vets
  • 10-14 residents
  • Use existing structures
  • No on-site manager
  • Potential home for felons
  • Potential home for sex offenders

This list should be in red as these plans throw up all sorts of red flags. The key issues with the imagined plan (as the city code is concerned) are the number of proposed residents, possible requirements for onsite management along with state licensing and funds. Additionally there are concerns regarding building permits, non-conforming use, and the possible intention to use the outbuildings.

From a community standpoint, the problems with the plan are more obvious and threatening. Unsupervised sex offenders gathered together with nothing but family homes, daycares and schools for miles…

Where do we sit in the process? The city council instituted a moratorium on halfway houses ( Ordinance 3013). By law, within 60 days of issuance there needs to be a public hearing, at which point the council will decide whether to extend the moratorium for the full six months. This hearing is scheduled for September 25th at 6:30 in the City Council Chambers in City Hall. I’ve heard they are working on an alternate venue (likely the pavilion where the public meeting was) to deal with potential citizen attendance issues.

Please attend and participate! City officials need everyone’s voice, speak up even if you’re sharing the same thing the last guy said. Public opinion is based on volume as much as it is based on issues.

I’m hopeful and confident the moratorium will be extended and the city will have time to research and create the best ordinances possible. This will give the city and community the tools needed to stay safe. It’s important this is done right as Puyallup is likely to become the template other cities look to.

The typical planning commission meeting ends with a public comment session. Since we had many audience members attending specifically for this topic, I made a motion to add a comment period right after the presentation rather than make everyone wait. The commissioners unanimously agreed. 10 people spoke their minds and hearts on this issue and plenty of good points were made.

I’ll forgo detailed account of each response since this is already becoming a long article. The full transcript will be available in the official minutes and live on in my notes of the meeting.

The second topic of the night covered further review on building heights (previously discussed here and here). Senior Planner Rob Buckholt took to the podium with two short sub-topics.

He began with a first draft of the types of questions to be asked of the public in order to solicit feedback regarding downtown building heights. I won’t print them all here as they will likely be altered and become more “consumer friendly.” The city is looking for opinions on topics like how the public feels about the 65ft tall City Hall (the max allowed) and more. I offered to help craft the questions and once the list is completed I’ll post it here for informal feedback.

The second half of the presentation was a much appreciated update on the next steps in the process.

  • Open house in October with visual displays of buildings in various poses and outfits
  • Develop and distribute a survey with the questions discussed above
  • Compile responses after two weeks of survey solicitation
  • Planning Commission debrief on survey responses
  • Formulation of the recommendation to city council

This proposal should then come before the planning commission for review and recommendation, then wind it’s way to the council for review, discussion, amendments and votes for adoption.

The third and final topic of the evening was further review of the Urban Forestry and Green Infrastructure policies meant to be included in the 2012 Comprehensive Plan amendments. The Planning Commision has been reviewing these policy revisions from time to time since October of last year, and I previously discussed it here.

The draft seems to be in it’s final stage now. We received many good citizen comments, some from private citizens, other specifically solicited from industry experts (if you look them up recommend looking at the full text instead of the summary. Some pointed out policy gaps such as how foliage around schools is meant to help deal with safety and for provisions allowing solar or alternative electricity collection technologies.

It was not all happiness and compliance. One citizen has been an outspoken opponent of these plans. Russ Telling, former planning commissioner and city council candidate (and father of by best friend from grade school) feels expending effort to address issues for which we have few actual problems is a waste of time, effort and city resources. Please see his full comment linked above for more specific details.

I see Russ’ point, though I do not entirely agree. There is something to be said for having a plan to partially mitigate stormwater. The preservation and care of trees is also likely to become more important as time goes on. One of the greatest benefits to this plan is having a framework to amend should our vision and/or view of reality change rather than starting from scratch. There is also something to be said for drafting preventative policies, especially around trees which take decades to grow and replace. [I should note any plan requiring “decades” to complete in any government are inherently tenuous. Too many councils, managers, departments etc will come and go in that time frame. It’s never a good idea to put off plans or responsibilities to the next administration.]

I personally have two major issues with the plan.

First, the goal of “30 by 30” (30% canopy coverage by the year 2030) is catchy, but not realistically achievable. At best, we could have enough trees planted by 2030 which would eventually grow to give us 30% canopy coverage. At the time it was agreed upon I think I said “as far as arbitrary goals go, I’m fine with it.” Later on I think I jokingly said that “25 by 25” would be better. This was a joke because we’re currently at a little over 26%, but the reality is holding steady at 25% will be an achievement. The canopy coverage study which pegged us at 26% was conducted prior to the clear cutting done for the Group Health facility and nearby senior center on South Hill. Further, the South Hill Neighborhood plan calls for an increase in both commercial and residential density among some of the most heavily forested areas of Puyallup. This would only be achievable through the removal of more of our canopy. This will obviously create a larger stormwater management issue if not built out properly. It also means (amongst other initiatives) that “30 by 30” is nearly guaranteed to fail.

Second, I take issue with the portions of the policy that require homeowners to care for their trees in specific ways. I love trees and let mine grow, if a neighbor wants to take one down or carve up a tree they own, it’s their right. Just because tree topping is a bad idea doesn’t mean we should explicitly forbid it. After all, they could cut the whole thing down instead…I’m not sure that is a better alternative. The point is people should be able to decide for themselves.

The larger problem is the fact these restrictions are in place for trees in the right of way. The land in front of your house which technically belongs to the city (sidewalks, strips along the roadside etc) are under your care to maintain and you need a permit (it’s free, but there is paperwork and a process) to trim or care for the trees in the right of way. This means the city says you are responsible to care for the tree in front of your house, but you also need permission to care for it. If the city has forced the responsibility on you, permission should be explicit and implied. If you need permission to act, you should also not be the sole entity of responsibility. This is compounded by the fact that in order to fully comply with the rules, some may need to hire an arborist, or face a penalty for improper care.

I should note, these are not new rules for the right of way, they are clarifications to other policies scattered about. This doesn’t make me like them, but they aren’t exactly new.

We finally proceeded to “other commission business” where we discussed adding a meeting in October, then on to our regularly scheduled public comment period.

For more specific information about the meeting, please keep your eyes on the City web site for the audio recording and minutes of the meeting (or click here for a copy of the agenda) If you have questions or concerns about this (or any other city matter) please reach out to any of the City Council or Planning Commission members. Also, feel free to comment below. I’ll try my best to answer questions.

We are adjourned.

Chris McNutt
District 3
Planning Commissioner


Filed under Chris McNutt, Planning Commission

2 responses to “Know Your Planning Commission 8.22.12

  1. Pingback: Know Your Planning Commission 9.12.12 | Puyallup NOW

  2. Pingback: Know Your Planning Commission - Chris McNutt for Puyallup City Council -

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