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Southern boom brings concern
By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald
Bonney Lake officials have been looking into their crystal ball at the south Plateau region and what they see are more houses, more people and massive gridlock.
City Council members decided at their Feb. 17-18 retreat it was time to give some serious consideration to a solution for the impending boom of development south of the city.
“We want to figure out how to control the growth, the density (of houses) and deal with transportation issues,” Mayor Neil Johnson said.
There are three major housing developments giving the council and staff a case of jangled nerves.
Cascadia tops the list with 6,500 homes on 4,700 acres with a nearly 20-year span until completion. The development broke ground last year and is set to begin building the first phase that includes about 1,700 homes. The northern tip of the subdivision begins along 198th Avenue East and about 120th Street East and stretches south to the Carbon River.
Patrick Kuo, president and founder of Cascadia, promises a high-tech business and industrial park with 500 acres designated as a free-trade zone, an 18-hole golf course, parks and schools.
Falling Water is located off Rhodes Lake Road near Victor Falls Elementary School and already has homes ready for purchase. The development is planned for more than 1,000 homes on nearly 500 acres.
Plateau 465 is developing nearly 500 acres of land across from Cascadia with plans for more than 3,000 homes. The development group, which is part of Investco Financial Corporation, has filed a request to be designated as a master plan community in Pierce County's comprehensive plan.
If the county allows the comprehensive plan amendment, Plateau 465 would be allowed to seek a “planned unit development” designation, allowing mixed land use from commercial to high-density development. That could bring up to 10 units per acre on average.
“Typically, master planned communities have a range of densities and land uses,” said Chip Vincent, advance planning manager for Pierce County. “They will have high and low density with commercial. It's really a mix of different land uses.”
Cascadia and the Northwest Landing development in DuPont are examples of master planned communities.
What has the City Council, mayor and staff on the edge of their chairs is figuring out how Bonney Lake controls its own fate as the days of development get closer.
“We don't want to make the same mistake as South Hill and we don't want to change 198th (Avenue East) into a Meridian,” Councilman Mark Hamilton said. “I don't have a lot of faith in the county and we want to make sure this doesn't take us over. The only way to control growth is to have jurisdiction.”
Gaining jurisdiction over the south Plateau means bringing the area into the city's urban growth area with an eventual move toward annexation. This includes the three large developments of Cascadia, Falling Water and Plateau 465, along with county urban growth areas like Prairie Ridge and Rhododendron Park.
Deputy Mayor Swatman said the city is already “already on the hook (to provide sewer) to much of the area like Plateau 465, which is in our sewer service area.”
According to Swatman, sewer capacity is on a first-come, first-served basis and “we have to plan so our ratepayers don't get stuck with significant increases in sewer rates.”
Bringing these south Plateau developments into the city's UGA and eventually annexing them could help get a sewer membrane plant built to serve the area and highway improvements like a new Rhodes Lake Road corridor.
“Transportation is one of the drivers,” Swatman said. “The trade-off may be that we give them (developers) a few more units or more capacity (homes) so they have the profit to build the roads.”
Swatman pointed out that for an annexation plan to be practical for the city, Cascadia would have to be included.
“My impression is they (the county) will give us everything but Cascadia,” Swatman said. “But we're not getting the ugly without the good.”
The cost of increased police protection and city services, along with bringing some of the rural areas up to city standards, will need the impact fees and tax base a development the size of Cascadia could generate.
Vincent said from a county perspective “we have tried for years to expand their (Bonney Lake's) UGA north and south. Existing urban areas should be inside a city. There are issues and challenges up there that can only be solved locally.”
In terms of annexing Cascadia, Vincent said the city would have to deal with Cascadia.
Chuck Lappenbusch, senior vice president of Cascadia, said the development has been planned and approved through Pierce County.
“Cascadia has become buildable land to help satisfy projected growth in Pierce County,” Lappenbusch said. “It only makes sense to complete Cascadia under Pierce County jurisdiction. It makes no administrative sense to switch in mid-stream. We know that sometime down the line these discussions (of annexation) will be more timely.”
Tom Ballard, spokesman for the Plateau Transportation Partnership that includes Cascadia, Plateau 465 and Falling Waters, said it is “great if we can get everyone in a room and hopefully come up with a joint vision.”
City officials will be meeting with members of partnership to open up a preliminary discussion of growth, transportation, city services and annexation.
“This (annexation) may be a way to control growth,” Johnson said. “I prefer not to, but at what point do we step up and take action?”