Know Your Planning Commission 9.26.12

***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 panel 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 26th, 2012 covered two primary topics.

  1. Sanitary Sewer Update
  2. Deliberation and Recommendations to the City Council on the 2012 Comprehensive Plan Amendments

The meeting was well attended. Looking out into the crowd I saw some familiar faces and it made me hope we had achieved a status worthy of groupies.  Though there was some applause throughout the meeting, in the end, no one asked for an autograph or volunteered to help carry our instruments out to the van.

1.     Sanitary Sewer Update

A presentation on sewers regarding infiltration and inflow of rainwater?  Has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?

City Engineer extraordinaire Mark Palmer updated us on what’s going on with sewer I&I.  I&I means Infiltration and Inflow (referred to in this 200 page report as RDII for Rain Dependent Infiltration and Inflow) which is basically all about how much rain water is getting into sewer pipes.

I&I causes a few different problems and is an indication of others.  For example, rainwater getting in means that the water treatment plant is needlessly treating already clean water, which adds to costs and wear and tear on the machines. Also, if water is getting into the pipes, it’s possible that sewage is getting out.

Nearly all of Puyallup’s infrastructure issues boil down to water (pun intended).  Flooding, stormwater, waste water, clean water, territorial Mer-Man attacks, aging pipes, overflowing creeks, meandering creeks… the city is going to need to start issuing water wings at the door.

All these issues are interrelated.  The study showed one area was particularly susceptible to rain water infiltration, though often hours after the rain storms.  That area sees a lot of flooding from Clark’s Creek so it can hardly be a coincidence.  Even though we don’t have the excitement of mutant turtle crime fighters in our sewers, this kind of study and focus is very important.

This was an expensive and necessary study.  I’m really into new tech toys, so I would love to see us have our own permanent monitoring equipment so that we always know “what’s going on” within the pipes, and the study even recommended this very thing.  It’s hard to believe these kinds of devices will get prioritized very high given the city’s budgetary issues but we’ll probably end up with them eventually.

Mr. Palmer went on to explain some of the very disturbing findings of the report and on-site surveys.  The area which flows under Clark’s Creek Park is a complete mystery.  We don’t have the original plans for that area and it’s almost completely unserviceable. We physically can’t get to the pipes. The solution is to bypass the area entirely and redirect the flows to the neighboring areas. This is a little like trying to redirect milk from one glass to another using crazy straws fashioned from varying sizes of licorice. Uphill. In the Dark. Blindfolded. We’ll have to do it at some point, and I’m guessing that the council will have to weigh the impending and inevitable ecological disaster against the money we don’t really have.

A quick note about the city budget…  I haven’t completed my analysis of the comprehensive budget yet, but I’d like to discuss the city’s debt from a conceptual standpoint.

We have two prominent kinds of debt to deal with. I’m not an economist, so my homegrown terminology will likely be wrong, but just go with it for a bit. The easily relatable type of debt is the money kind.  We owe a ton of money. Projects like City Hall are still being paid off, plus the intricacies of bond debt and interfund loans (don’t get me started). These are somewhat easy to grasp because we mostly have our heads around mortgages, credit cards, and loan sharks.

We have another kind of debt which I’m going to incorrectly refer to as Legacy Debt.  We owe the past and ourselves many years of neglected road and infrastructure legacy debt. While previous leaders were busy grafting Bellevue on to our sleepy little burg, they begged borrowed and stole from our infrastructure in order to construct shining monuments to their egos and beautiful parks. What this means is that though our cash debt is about $10,000,000, we owe much more than that in repairs and upgrades long since abandoned. I’m hoping we can peremptorily work out how to catch up with the legacy debt before catastrophe strikes. It’s going to take working together and biting the bullet. We face almost no greater long term issue than this.

So yeah… sewers!  In the end Mark Palmer asked if we should restart the process of having a sewer strategy within the Comprehensive Plan, and we all agreed that we should.  It won’t be an easy document to create, but if the Stormwater plan is any judge, it’s in the right hands.

2.    Deliberation and Recommendations to the City Council on the 2012 Comprehensive Plan Amendments

At this point Associate Planner Lindsey Sehmel took to the podium to walk us through the following Comprehensive Plan amendments.  Each of these issues has been discussed at length in previous articles so I won’t re-explain much in this one.  Please refer to the links below for full descriptions of the proposed amendments.

Zoning Amendments (previously discussed here and 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

Text Amendments;

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

Each issue had a certain amount of deliberation and discussion.  I’ll try to recap it a bit, but the comments will largely be my personal reasons for my votes.  I should also note that we were down one of our commissioners.  Curt Gimmestad was out on a private matter.

Privately initiated map amendment, CDA Pirscher/Puyallup Care (901 South Meridian)

Commission Recommendation: 4-2 Against

There was a bit of discussion against accepting this change ranging from wishes for a walkable downtown community, to the idea that changing market conditions shouldn’t warrant changes in zoning.  Commissioner Hastings and I were pretty much on the same page in voting for recommending the change. Without being too presumptuous, I’d say we’re both believers in the rights of property owners.  Personally, I feel that the current zoning doesn’t fit with the area and changing it back to what it was four years ago is perfectly reasonable.  It’s bordered on three sides by GC (General Commercial, the requested zone).  It’s current designation of CBD (Central Business District) feels out of place with the closest CBD area is kitty corner to the property where Cattin’s is. It’s also located outside of the downtown regional growth center, and if anything, allowing it to be zoned CBD four years ago was the mistake, not this request.

Privately initiated map amendment, Meridian Mobile Home Park (202 27th Ave SE)

Commission Recommendation: 6-0 Against

Most of the points discussed were covered in the previous articles here on this site, but there were several more ideas put forward. For example, rezoning this to HDR (High Density Residential) and then developing the land to HDR standards would necessitate things like road widening and traffic lights. There is no place to widen the roads, and if travel on them was increased it would certainly affect the quiet atmosphere of the entire surrounding community.  Also, Commissioner Ordonez pointed out that the proper stepping of zones should be from lower density residential on up to higher density as to not make jarring changes. I have many personal reasons for wanting to deny this change, but the Planning Commission’s mandate is to evaluate the legitimacy of the application as it applies to several local and state laws. I’m happy to report that this distinction was not in conflict with my feelings, and in my opinion, the application had a very serious flaw in it’s foundation.

The applicant stated that the rezoning was in line with the city’s goals and plans. Indeed, it is within the spirit of the adopted South Hill Neighborhood Plan (previoulsy discussed here). While the plan has been adopted, the finalized Future Land Use Map has not.  This property is on the extreme edge of the South Hill Neighborhood Plan which was adopted under a City Council with a very different direction. It is more than premature to start rezoning unfinalized areas, it would be irresponsible. Ultimately, this may or may not have an effect on the land owners plans and goals, and the final decision (on this, and the other amendments) lay with the Council. I’ll be watching with interest to see what happens on October 16th and November 13th when these come before the council.

City initiated map amendment, 1002 14th St SW
City initiated map amendment,  1023 11th St SW
City initiated map amendment,  1605 23rd Ave SW
City initiated map amendment,  1243 27th St SE

Commission Recommendation: 6-0 For (all items)

There was pretty much no discussion around these issues, but I’d like to say one thing.  We had many people come and speak for and against these items.  Most of the comments related to pending or proposed projects which would be on this land, and not to the rezoning themselves. The project based comments are certainly important, but are mostly unrelated to the rezoning.  Those comments will be forwarded to the council for the final decisions and will bear weight on the projects themselves.

City initiated Community Character Element

Commission Recommendation: 6-0

For There was no discussion during this meeting on the Community Character Element amendment.

City initiated Environmental Element

Commission Recommendation: 4-2

For This one had a fair amount of discussion, and as with the first item, Commissioner Hastings and I were in the minority on the vote.  To me this whole thing breaks down to “trees are good, we should have more of them” and then a series of restrictions and punishments for non-believers. This is an over-dramatization of course, but much of the language seems heavy handed.  My specific issues with it are the arbitrary and unachievable canopy coverage goals (unless we annex a forest like Redmond did) and the requirements forced onto home owners for the specific care and maintenance of the trees.

Commissioner Hastings also brought up that the specific numbers were inserted late in the process and were poorly evaluated.  It was argued that this policy is only a goal, and a tentative reference.  That adopting it wouldn’t necessarily mean that the city code would follow the the prescriptions therein.  There is a massive flaw in this logic.

The moment this is adopted into the Comprehensive Plan, it ceases being a goal and becomes a plan and a required direction. When the city proceeds to write code based on this plan they won’t second guess the careful vetting and work done to adopt it. It’s the entire reason we go through the process of analyzing every aspect in the first place. We can see examples of this mentality above in the Mobile Home Park amendment and in the “walkability” notions. People within the city will point to this adopted language and use it as a foundation to their arguments. The walkability idea for downtown is one of the most ridiculous schemes in recent memory (I’d be happy to explain why if anyone is interested) and it’s cited time and time again, even during this very meeting on the Puyallup Care rezoning. To believe that those writing code based on adopted plans (which they themselves architected) would scrutinize that plan for validity and reason is beyond naive.

That said, one of the reasons I live on the hill is because I love trees. I like how they look and the character they add to the community. I would love to see more trees in our city, and I recognize the benefits they bring to property values, character, disposition, commerce and stormwater management. However, I believe it should be accomplished through education and incentive rather than mandate and fiat.

3.    Other Commission Business

Sr. Planner Ron Buckholt presented us with the revised survey Q&A regarding building heights.  They are much improved, though not yet final.  We’ve been asked to submit our suggestions by Wednesday of next week so they can be taken into account and the final draft can be created for use in the October 17th meeting.

During citizen comments we were praised for our vote against the Mobile Home Park rezoning and lightly scolded for the vote on the Environmental Element. The Mark Palmer fan club also made a brief shout out, though Mark had already departed and was unavailable for an encore. (I’m commenting in jest, but I happen to agree with the assessment of City Engineer Mark Palmer’s value to the city.)

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

3 responses to “Know Your Planning Commission 9.26.12

  1. Georga Prossick

    Nice report Chris. Not fun when the water is high and my 4 toliets won’t flush.

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

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