Everything housing on the Plateau | Part III

The final installation of a three-part series focuses future growth projections, culture change, and how you can shape the future of your city.

Everyone knows that housing in Black Diamond is booming, but what is happening in Enumclaw and Buckley?

In short, a lot. After a decade-long water and sewer moratorium and the 2008 recession, Enumclaw is experiencing nearly 15 years-worth of pent-up development in almost a single go.

And across county lines, Buckley just cooled down from a scorching-hot rush of housing construction, though the city is poised to see the fastest growth in its history since the mid 1950s.

Consider this article series your housing development primer. In October, we examined how development requirements are set, how projects move through the city planning process, and what projects are currently in the works. Later, we explored the current housing market and how to glean what could be in store in the near future. Now will take a look what can be expected in the further distance and how you, as a resident and taxpayer, can steer the inevitable growth of your city.

Given that Black Diamond is experiencing massive growth, thanks to the master Ten Trails development, we are currently only looking at Enumclaw and Buckley.


As previously reported, the state of Washington requires counties and cities to manage their population growth through the 1990 Growth Management Act.

The GMA, among other things, requires counties to develop Comprehensive Plans, which is where you can find not only population projects, but also housing and job projections over several decades.

Both Enumclaw and Buckley’s current Comprehensive Plans are out of date — they were passed in 2015 — but they can still offer an idea of how their cities are likely to grow in the next 20 years.

But more importantly, both cities are currently developing new Comprehensive Plans with new population growth targets, meaning that for anyone with a stake in how they want their community to develop over the next two decades, this is the time to let your elected officials know what you’d like to see happen.


The census currently estimates Buckley at 5,300 residents. That’s a rapid growth of about 1,000 people in the last 10 years. But that’s just the beginning: Buckley is likely about to see the fastest growth in city history since at least the end of World War II.

The city’s 2015 Growth Target put Buckley on a target for having 7,500 residents by 2030. City administrator Courtney Brunell said that city estimates currently aim for a population around 8,300, by about 2044.

That’s nearly 150 new people per year, and based on reports from the planning department, “we’re way ahead of schedule,” Brunell said.

Reaching their growth targets would mean adding about 1,330 new homes over the next 22 years. Around 500 to 625 of those units could be built in the next two to five years alone, boosting the city’s population by around 25% over that period.

“We’re going to be looking at meeting our earlier … target, that 7,500 or so, once what we have in process is developed,” Brunell said. “And there’s a chance we get even higher than that.”

A population surge of that magnitude means Buckley could see “a significant change … in the look and feel of the city within a short time frame,” Building and Planning Director Emily Terrell said.

Buckley’s growth is currently limited by the city’s sewer capacity, which could handle up to 10,000 residents, and its total lack of urban growth area (UGA). In fact, Buckley has never been granted a UGA.

There are residents who are understandably skeptical of expanding city boundaries and inviting even more growth, Brunell said. But at the same time, the city already provides some Pierce County residents with city resources, such as in an area north of the Rainier School that the city leases and sub-leases from Pierce County.

“A lot of this land is already treated like it’s the City of Buckley, but we have no entitlement to annex it,” she said.

The city could decide to pursue a UGA again next year, but that process hasn’t started yet, she said.

There are property owners that want to be in the city, and “we would welcome them,” Terrell pointed out. “But our applications thus far have been unsuccessful.”


In contrast to Buckley’s massive growth, Enumclaw’s has been much more incremental.

The city’s population rose quickly in the 1990s, going from around 7,000 residents inside city limits to about 11,000 in 1998. However, a water and sewer moratorium passed that year by the City Council — which put a 10-year pause on all new housing construction while the city upgraded its utilities — was at least part of why local population to actually began to decline. By 2010, the number of residents shrunk by about 500 people, to about 10,600.

Since then, the city’s population has been slowly building itself back up, and finally surpassed its record of 11,000 residents in 2015.

“It took 14 years to get back to the population level we had in 2010,” said city Community Development Director Chris Pasinetti. “So really, we didn’t start growing until 2015.”

Between 2015 and now, the annual increase in residents averaged about 225 people per year, resulting in a total population of just over 12,900 in 2022.

Pasinetti said he considers this growth “minimal”, especially considering Enumclaw grew by nearly 4,000 residents between 1990 and 2000, an average of 389 people a year.

According to the city’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan, Enumclaw’s population growth target for 2035 was just over 14,300 residents — about another 1,400 people over the course of 20 years.

But now that the city is working on a new Comprehensive Plan, it’s time to update that growth projection.

Although nothing is set in stone until the new Comprehensive Plan is published in 2024 (and even when it is, population projections are still constantly changing), Pasinetti said Enumclaw’s growth target will be around 1,057 dwelling units (King County now only uses dwelling units for growth projections, not individual people).

In 2015, the average person per home was about 2.39, so that can translate up to more than 2,500 residents living in the city by 2044.

However, Pasinetti said that people per home average is likely to go down — though that’s just a “guess” on his part.

But even if the ballpark estimate is correct, that means Enumclaw could see itself exceed 15,000 people in just over two decades, making the city about as large, population-wise, as current-day White Center or Port Orchard.


If a city is growing, it’s changing.

But how a city changes will be partly up to residents who let their elected officials know how they want this inevitable growth to be shaped — a blueprint that is laid out through the Comprehensive Plan.

Buckley residents in particular may want to tune into how their city’s Comprehensive Plan is shaping up to be, not only because of how quickly the city is growing, but also because of what the city is sorely lacking. Making room for, and building the homes is one thing, but serving them with the basic amenities of a city is another challenge altogether.

For example, the city has no major grocery store; your best options as a resident are small family owned groceries like Match Mart or the Buckley Public Market, or making a trip to Enumclaw or Bonney Lake.

“The city absolutely needs more basic commercial services,” Terrell said. “We do not have a (major) grocery store. The pharmacy went out. We don’t really have any banks anymore … the basics of life are being serviced by Bonney Lake and Enumclaw, and we’d very much like to bring those into town.”

City Councilmember Marvin Sundstrom agrees the city needs a grocery store and a bank. “But good luck with that,” he wrote in an email, pointing to the trend toward consolidation in both industries. (The Courier-Herald reached out to each city councilmember to get their thoughts on development in the city.)

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition found two-thirds of banking institutions have disappeared since the early 1980s, with small banks suffering the greatest decline. Altogether, nine percent of all brick-and-mortar bank locations in the U.S. closed between 2017 and 2021. Consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch reported that the number of US grocers fell roughly 30% from 1993 to 2019, summarizing: “The trend is toward fewer but much larger stores.”

“There is just a large number of service businesses we could use here, the city has to support them & develop the ability to pull the traffic from 410 to help those businesses succeed,” Sundstrom wrote.

Getting a big grocery store in town would likely require a much larger population, Brunell said — roughly 20,000 people. But you may not even need one, since the city already has an abundance of quality specialty stores like Blue Max Meats, and more are coming in, like Rainier Fresh (an upcoming produce store) and Rainier Creamery (a dairy produce store, to be built in the former Columbia Bank building).

Those developments are exciting, Terrell said, and the city hopes to encourage “more of the same.” And it’s also reminiscent of the old-school small town — a community made up of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

All this development, though, could very well change the look, feel, and culture of Buckley.

Historical Society museum treasurer Jean Contreras is no stranger to what happens when small towns grow. Contreras has lived in the Plateau area for about 10 years, but she grew up in a small town north of Disneyland in California called Brea.

Brea’s population was 3,200 in 1950, a bit smaller than Buckley. Then, it exploded: By 1980, nearly 30,000 people lived there, according to the U.S. Census.

In a town once known for growing citrus fruits, “you’d be hard pressed now to find any orange groves,” Contreras said.

“You just wonder, is there going to be any open space left in 20 years?” Contreras said. “I’m not saying that Buckley will be that way (like Brea), but there is pressure to keep developing areas.”

Buckley is doing many things right, Contreras said. Downtown looks better than it has in years, and she’s happy to see new faces and families walking around on Main Street.

“If somebody tells me Buckley is dead, I say, ‘Well you, haven’t looked at it,’ ” Contreras said. “It’s thriving.”

The individual specialized stores provide good products, but for older people, a multiservice one-stop-shop sort of business would be nice, she said — something “kind of (like) Walmart on a smaller scale” that could offer services the city doesn’t yet have.

“Whoever comes in is going to have to say, ‘Let me invent something that doesn’t exist yet,’ ” Contreras said.

In contrast, Enumclaw already has much of what its neighbor to the south is missing — large grocery stores, several banks and ATMs, and a thriving downtown that consists mostly of local businesses — which, at least according to a few elected officials, will keep the city insulated from major changes to its culture.

“I think I take a bit of an outside approach in the fact that I believe growth is good for the Enumclaw area. I know that’s hard for many to consider, however from my experience as a small business owner, growth only leads to more jobs for local residents and more services for the local community,” said Councilmember Tom Sauvageau. “I believe the local culture is so well engrained that a growth of 1,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 isn’t going to change that… this town’s culture and values are too engrained to justify those new to the area are going to change what we stand for. In fact, I believe that our culture and values draw people that are like minded and those searching for an area as rare as the Enumclaw Plateau end up moving here because they related to the culture and values that already exist.”

Councilmember Chris Gruner added that Enumclaw’s numerous 501(c)3s and other service organizations also help keep the community connected.

“Non-profit organizations (such as Plateau Outreach Ministries and Valley Cities Behavioral Health) are doing an incredible job partnering with the city to provide services for members of our community who need a helping hand,” he said. “We will have a continued focus on public-private partnerships to identify and meet needs with caring, efficiency, and effectiveness.

But as the city grows, it will need additional services and businesses to keep people investing their time — and money — in the local economy. Both Sauvageau and Gruner noted that one thing Enumclaw will definitely need is a community center.

“We do have a need to replace the aging senior center and provide more city facilities,” Sauvageau said. “But I regularly hear about parents and residents asking for additional activities to do in the area, which I believe a community center would help to address.”


Both Enumclaw and Buckley are only just gearing up to update their next Comprehensive Plan, which happens every eight years. These plans are expected to be complete and published by December 2024, as required by the state.

That means roughly two years for city leaders, the business community and residents to put their heads together and decide what sorts of town they want to build (Comprehensive plans focus on their city’s overall goals, rather than specific developments or businesses).

“This next cycle of Comprehensive Plans are going to be some of our city’s most important ones, due to life. Life changes,” Pasinetti said. “I can’t emphasize [enough] that the Comprehensive Plan is so important, because that’s what we want out town to look like, moving forward. The next one is a big one.”

With that said, make sure to be checking your city council’s upcoming agendas and keeping an eye on open house events structured to garner local opinion on Comprehensive Plan visioning.

For Buckley, it’s no easy balancing act. According to Terrell, residents say they want the city to retain and improve its small-town charm, create business opportunities that keep Buckley from being just a bedroom community, and protect the city’s open spaces for iconic wildlife like elk, which need corridors through the city for grazing and migration.

Some issues that Enumclaw and Buckley will be extra focused on will be traffic and local transportation, as well as retaining and attracting more jobs, both Brunell and Pasinetti said; Brunell added Buckley also needs to take a good look at environmental preservation, while Pasinetti said Enumclaw is going to be struggling with housing affordability.

One big unknown is the state-run Rainier School. The habilitation center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is currently tasked with evaluating whether or not to shrink its operations.

The campus itself is in city limits, so were the state to pare down its large campus on the east side of town, a huge chunk of city land could be up for grabs — and jobs could be on the line — so Buckley officials have to build in flexibility for the school in the upcoming comp plan.

“We don’t really control (what happens to the Rainier School),” Brunell said. “It’s this big unknown that’s happening at the same time as the comp plan amendment.”

While homes in Enumclaw are less expensive than other places in King County, that doesn’t mean it’s always affordable. According to October housing market data, the median home listing price in Enumclaw was about $700,000, compared to Buckley’s $570,000. That makes Enumclaw a less attractive place to move for many first-time homebuyers and could stymie growth — and when cities don’t grow, Pasinetti said, city governments have to tighten their belts and limit services.

“Housing affordability is something that all of the cities in the region will struggle with and will be an important focus for the city moving forward,” he added.

This could result in Enumclaw’s updated Comprehensive Plan focusing on goals that will specifically encourage affordable housing development.

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