Know Your Planning Commission 9.12.12

***This series of articles are recaps of planning commission meetings.  They will run after each meeting and are 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 September 12th, 2012 covered two primary topics.

  1. Public hearing for the 2012 Comprehensive Plan amendments
  2. 2012 Regulatory code amendments

We had a completely packed house for the public hearing on the Comp Plan amendments. Most people were there to voice concerns about the proposed zoning changes the Meridian Mobile Homes Park, but not all. Citizens rose up in support of each other for nearly every item, sometimes to sound of deafening applause.

1. Public hearing for the 2012 Comprehensive Plan amendments

Associate Planner Lindsey Sehmel presented us with a pretty thorough overview of each of the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments and the process in general (required public notice, burden of proof for consistency with city plans is on the applicant etc.)

Public notice is given to the property owners within a certain distance to the relevant property. When you see those big white official looking signs, stop and read them. I guarantee that they affect us all in some way, even if only through our friends and neighbors.

I’m going to break with the typical chronological presentation format for this article and instead group each amendment with the relevant citizen comments, but first, I’d like to highlight the next steps in the process. These dates are subject to change but probably will not.

  • Sept 12th, Public hearing (7 PM Council Chamber in City Hall)
  • Sept 26th, Deliberation/discussion and recommendation to City Council (7 PM Council Chambers in City Hall)
  • Oct 16th, City Council’s First Reading (6:30 PM Council Chambers in City Hall)
  • Nov 13th, City Council’s Second Reading (6:30 PM Council Chambers in City Hall)

[Note: When the city is looking at the adoption of new policy or amendments to existing policy, the council’s protocol is to hold first and second readings. The First Reading is when the official text is submitted to the legislative body. Typically this is accompanied by discussion and sometimes direction by the council to make changes. The Second Reading is usually performed at a separate meeting partially to allow the public more time to review the policies, comment, contact their councilman, and to allow staff to make changes discussed between readings. This Second Reading is where the policies will likely be adopted. At each of these council meetings (and any others) the public is welcome to comment about these or any other city issue. We need to speak up to be heard.]

The 2012 Comprehensive Plan amendment cycle consists of the following topics. Most of these have been discussed in some detail in previous articles so rather than retread too much over old ground I’ll provide links to the old write ups.

Two privately initiated and four city initiated zoning/land use amendments (previously discussed in detail here);

  1. Private: CDA Pirscher/Puyallup Care (901 South Meridian, across from the fair entrance by Cattin’s)
  2. Private: Meridian Mobile Home Park (202 27th Ave SE, off of the Meridian hill across from the SHAG housing)
  3. City: 1002 14th St SW
  4. City: 1023 11th St SW
  5. City: 1605 23rd Ave SW
  6. City: 1243 27th St SE

There are also two city initiated text amendments up for consideration.

  1. Community Character Element update (previously discussed here)
  2. Environmental Element (previously discussed here and here)

The following overview will contain paraphrased and summarized public comment and are not meant to portray all the viewpoints presented. There were also a great many written comments provided which I’ll draw from (including a petition with 47 signatures from households containing 185 men, women, and children opposing the mobile home park rezoning). What is written below is a reflection of the statements made and I have not yet, at the time of this writing , made an effort to substantiate the details presented to us. I have no reason to believe they are in anyway false, but I am quoting other people’s statements instead of being a personal witness to the events. Recordings, official minutes, and submitted documents are available on the city web site and are linked below.

Privately initiated map amendment, CDA Pirscher/Puyallup Care (901 South Meridian) [Note: this amendment is to change the zoning back to its previous state after the development deal fell through some years ago.]

Number of citizen commenters on this topic: 3

  • Why do they want to flip the zoning back to the previous status?
  • What is planned for the property?
  • The applicant spoke and said the change was to make it more contextually similar with the surrounding zones

Privately initiated map amendment, Meridian Mobile Home Park (202 27th Ave SE) [Note: At a previous meeting the presenter representing the landowner said the possible plans after rezoning would include apartments or Sr housing. Building anything to take advantage of and comply with the increased density would necessitate the displacement (eviction) of all current residents (over 50 families).]

Number of citizen commenters on this topic: 22

The following overview will contain paraphrased and summarized public comment and are not meant to portray all the viewpoints presented. There were also a great many written comments provided which I’ll draw from (including a petition with 47 signatures from households containing 185 men, women, and children opposing the mobile home park rezoning). What is written below is a reflection of the statements made and I have not yet, at the time of this writing , made an effort to substantiate the details presented to us. I have no reason to believe they are in anyway false, but I am quoting other people’s statements instead of being a personal witness to the events. Recordings, official minutes, and submitted documents are available on the city web site and are linked below.

I’d like to add a small editorial and point out a few of the most disturbing points to me personally. As a planning commission member, I have to focus on the zoning and land use aspects alone. I have to examine how the application aligns with the cities goals and plans. I am essentially tasked with ignoring the human element. My eventual vote will have to take a more narrow set of factors into account than those presented to us through public comment. I’d like to stress that the Planning Commission’s vote will result only in a recommendation to the council. The City Council has a different criterion and mandate then we do, and while they will listen to our advice for the land use element, they have the leeway and scope to use both citizen comment and other factors.

I am not however, bound by that restriction within this article, and indeed, I have a responsibility to be true to myself and my community. The public comments have not fallen on deaf ears, and though my vote may be clinical, the despair and tears displayed through over one hour of comments compel me to advocate beyond my restrictive responsibilities.

  • The residents of Meridian Mobile Home Park are in danger of losing their homes
  • The park’s managers have discouraged the spread of public hearing notifications by taking down notices
  • The park’s managers have encouraged residents not to attend the public hearing , telling them is only has to do with sewers and their statements are not needed
  • The park’s managers have been encouraging residents not to renew leases and instead go “month to month” on their homes (this not only makes it easier to evict them, but may also remove any relocation compensation they may be otherwise entitled to)
  • The park managers have been selling mobile homes to residents (even during this application process) which would leave the residents in debt for immovable structures and with nowhere to move them
  • This rezoning would hasten the destruction of a long term and irreplaceable community

The following represent a very small highlight of 42 distinctly different points brought up by existing residents as well as many others.

  • Existing residents won’t be given compensation to move
  • Many current residents are Senior Citizens, retired, or disabled and most are low income families.
  • Many residents spent years saving to be able to afford a their home and can afford nowhere else in Puyallup
  • These are long established homes with gardens and fences, a permanent neighborhood
  • Requests for the city officials to look at the big picture with empathy and consideration for the existing residents
  • This neighborhood is very important to the community
  • The city should make it harder for landowners to make people homeless

City initiated map amendment, 1002 14th St SW [Note: There were a great many comments regarding the proposed use of the property rather than the issue of zoning which the Planning Commission is meant to research. All the comments will be forwarded to the City Council who has a wider scope than we do on the Planning Commission.]

Number of citizen commenters on this topic: 6

  • Need to consider the wildlife
  • City pumps water into the ditch which makes it worse
  • Creating a new ditch will create more and bigger problems
  • The new plan will flood both sides instead of just one
  • Also, one citizen spoke in favor of the plan

City initiated map amendment, 1023 11th St SW

Number of citizen commenters on this topic: 1

  • Silver Creek has seen little to no maintenance
  • Will soon be flooding homes

City initiated map amendment, 1605 23rd Ave SW

Number of citizen commenters on this topic: 3

  • Concerned for the wildlife
  • Increasing public access has already resulted in private property trespassing
  • What is to become of the home on the property?

City initiated map amendment, 1243 27th St SE

Number of citizen commenters on this topic: 2

  • Concern for drawing more people to already crowded parking
  • Homes are already in danger of flooding every time it rains
  • Some neighbors are for the rezone but have concerns about storm water retention and water run off

City initiated Environmental Element

[Note: This amendment is for the new Urban Forestry policies which we have previously discussed at length. I’ve indicated the specific sources of some of the comments below because they originated from companies or organizations instead of private local residents. In some cases, these were solicited instead of volunteered comments.]

Number of citizen commenters on this topic: 2

  • [In regard to residential zones] “After accounting for land occupied by the home, driveway, and patio, canopy coverage of 35% is nonsensical.” (from the Master Builders Association)
  • Nothing in the plan provides protection or benefit to the city
  • No benefit for spent resources
  • General statements of support (from EnCo Environmental Co who conducted the GIS analysis for the city and from the EPA)
  • The canopy goals for school district lands are more than double the current usage and their primary concern will is a safe and secure environment for their students (this was submitted by the school district and contained very detailed maps and pictures in support of their concerns)

I, and my fellow Planning Commissioners, have a lot to consider on these issues. It would be unwise for me to express any incomplete conclusions at this time, but they will be detailed in my next article after we have deliberated and voted.

2. 2012 Regulatory code amendments

The second exciting topic on the agenda was an introduction to six regulatory code amendments. These have been brought to the Planning Commission to seek direction on future work to be conducted on certain codes. Some of this is just to clean up the code, while others are to address evolving public needs.

The first amendment (Preliminary Plat Timelines) is to clean up PMC (Puyallup Municipal Code) 19.08.140 which regulates how long a preliminary subdivision approval can last. The city code specifies 7 years, while the state legislature has recently changed it to 9 years. Pending evidence to the contrary I think this is a necessary change since the state law will trump the city code and it would be nice to be consistent and transparent.

The second amendment (SEPA [State Environmental Policy Act] timelines) is a change to PMC 21.04.205 (1), and .090 which has to do with how the public commenting timeline is executed. The city planning department would like to add in a state provisioned optional timeframe which would forgo the standard public comment period when they discover there is no negligible environmental impact. Instead, the comment period would coincide with the application period. I’m concerned about the removal of a public comment period in favor of expediency, but also see where it might be a good flexibility to have. I need more information about this change but it seems to me that the public comment period is often crucial in deciding if the foreseeable impacts are benign.

The third amendment (BSP [Binding Site Plan] Committee) relates to PMC 19.10.050 and would be a shift in approval authority from a committee to the Hearing Examiner. [Note: A binding site plan is basically a way for someone to lock an approved plan in place for a time so that they don’t have to revise everything if an ordinance changes in the middle of their project] The committee currently consists of the Development Services Director, the Public Works Director, the Building Code Official, and the Fire Code Official. The issue is that often times one or more of the committee members are in charge of reviewing, constructing and then approving the BSPs and this can be a conflict of interest or result in not enough oversight. I’m generally in favor of a few more eyes viewing and approving plans, but in this case, the Hearings Examiner may prove to be more impartial.

The fourth amendment (Multi-Family Residential Uses and Setbacks) deals with changes to PMC 20.25.010, .020, and .028 and has to do with allowing Single Family Residence building on the Multi-Family zoned plots. Again, I need some more information on this, but right now I’m not in favor of establishing an outright provision which would allow for cottage housing or similar. Zoning flexibility is all well and good, but we already have processes for altering the intended use of a zone to fit a different scope of work and we should use them instead.

The fifth amendment (Detached Accessory Buildings in RS Zones) relate to PMC 20.20.040 (4)(b) which make allowances for detached accessory buildings (like a detached garage) on lots less than 8,000 square feet in size. Currently there is a formula which calculates an area known as the “rear yard area” and specifies that these buildings can’t be more than 25% of that area. The trouble is that the use of this calculation on any lot which meets the minimum sizes in the RS-04, RS-06, and RS-08 (RS means single family residence, -04 means the minimum lot size is 4,000 sq. ft., -06 is 6,000 sq. ft., -08 is 8,000 sq. ft.) prevents the allowance of any such building. There hasn’t been a specifically suggested adjustment to this formula yet (other than removing the coverage limit), but something certainly needs to be tweaked to make this both fair and usable.

The sixth and final amendment (Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit) has to do with PMC 20.020.010 (9) which deals with outbuildings colloquially known as “Mother-in-law” units. It seems we have a bit of unfair code on the books with this one. Back in 1995 the Mother-in-law allowances were removed from our code. We weren’t told why it was removed, but we do know that the city has to deny 2-3 legitimate and sometimes heartbreaking requests for such units each month. The times have changed and we must change with them. This will be a tricky one to implement but we have some great working examples in the work conducted by the City of Seattle so I’m sure we’ll get it right. [Note: For those concerned about the existing outbuildings related to the proposed halfway house on Shaw Road, I have my eye on these revisions and will do everything I can to keep them in the proper context.]

For more specific information about the meeting, please see the following list of resources.

If you have questions or concerns about this (or any other city matter) please reach out to the City Council, myself or any other Planning Commission member. 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 9.12.12

  1. Chris Chisholm

    Hi Chris. Thanks for your work on the commission and this site. I have a couple corrections for your notes:

    Meeker Restoration Project: I counted 3 people who voiced concerns and/or opposition to the Meeker restoration project, and 1 in favor, myself. I also noticed you didn’t include any points from my testimony about all the project benefits, including how the project will directly protect all of us south of the ditch from flooding, despite fears to the contrary, and indirectly mitigate flooding downstream on Clark’s Creek, not to mention the state/fed mandated requirements the city is required to perform for water quality which this project achieves.

    Silver Creek: There was no mention that the creek will soon be flooding homes, and there was no mention that the project has little or no maintenance. The opposite was stated, that it has prevented homes from flooding since it was built (whereas the speaker said she used to flood 3-4 times per year). There is also a large cadre of volunteers helping city staff maintain the property. More should be done, of course:)

    Questions that have been submitted to the city about the project over the past couple is scheduled to be posted today at

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

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