Mayor's Letter #1
I have been fielding some similar questions over the past several months and felt I would try to explain some things about our City that you might find informative. I am calling these Mayor's Letters because I think the total explanation is too long for a single post and I want to insure that if you want to follow them for continuity, identifying them like this would be useful. As I thought about some of the issues/challenges we face, I thought I would start with providing some background about DuPont and how it grew to what we know today. Many of you know all of this, so please do not be insulted, I just want to frame our City for a common reference.
There are several factors that serve to define our City. Some are historical and some are geographic.
1. DuPont is a small-medium size City on the Southern end of Puget Sound in Pierce County. We currently have ~9500 residents with a unique demographic of 30% Active Duty military families, 40% retired military families and 30% employed in the civilian or other government sectors or retired. We have one of the highest per capita incomes in the County and one of the lowest Municipal tax rates.
2. We are a geographic island, bounded by JBLM and Puget Sound. We sit directly adjacent to the busiest transportation corridor on the West Coast (I-5) and directly adjacent to one of the 3 largest military installations in the U.S., JBLM.
3. We have been and in many ways still are a "Company Town". Beginning in 1833 the Hudson Bay Company established a trading post in what is now DuPont. In 1903 the DuPont Corporation purchased the property and build a munitions/explosive factory along with a village of housing for its employees. In 1973 the munitions/explosives plant closed and the property was sold to Weyerhaeuser . Much of the land in DuPont was contaminated by the manufacturing of explosives and other unrelated activities. Several areas within the City have/had high levels of arsenic and lead contamination. Weyerhaeuser planned to establish a deep-water port for timber shipping. The State vetoed that plan and Weyerhaeuser shifted to developing a planned community called Northwest Landing, their first attempt at a Master Planned Community. If you want to see their second effort, take a trip to Snoqualmie Ridge at the intersection of I-90 and Hwy 18. I have visited several times to look at similarities in design and to identify what lessons Weyerhaueser learned from NWL.
4. In 1985 the original proposal for the NWL development was drawn up. The planners envisioned a City where people "Lived, Worked and Played". The design included 1/3 of the City's space for residential, commercial and green spaces. The cornerstone commercial activity was an Intel Facility opened in 1993, designed to support 5-6000 employees. The area around the golf course was zoned to be the home of a business and technology park with companies supportive of the larger Intel campus. Between the military and the tech industry the population was expected to be made up of their employees and families. The down town core was planned as a walkable area with retail and mixed use facilities.
5. There are pros and cons about being a master-planned community. On the positive side, a well planned community addresses all of a city's needs in a coherent well thought out way. On the downside, the original designers have a disproportionate say in the city's future. Poor design in the beginning is very difficult to undo in the future. We are a mixture of great foresight and poor design.
6. I consider the original design to be about an 85% solution. The geographic limitations and presence of contaminated soil created some external barriers to the design and layout of the City that created some obvious design flaws i where certain activities were placed. The developers desire for short term profits created by residential building exacerbated the layout issues. Changes in the tech industry and the global recession combined to dramatically change some of the original intent.
7. Where things started to change: My comments here are not intended to cast blame but to provide background as to how and why the original NWL design began to change.
a. For a variety of reasons (I have heard several plausible explanations but nothing from the original source, so I chalk these up to urban myth), Intel never employed more than about 1200 people at the campus. The facility sat mostly vacant and unused until Intel completely left and sold the facility about 3 years ago. This caused the supporting Tech Industry to stay away from the Business and Technology Park planned around the Golf Course.
b. The supporting business/office park planned for Edmonds Village never materialized so the property was rezoned (at the owners request) as residential. This created a permanent conflict between the Industrial/Commercial property North of Center Drive and a previously unplanned housing area right across the street.
c. Seeing a major shift in the economic landscape the property owner of land North of Center Drive asked the City to add warehousing as an allowable use (previously this was not an allowable use) in 2002. Through a public process including the Planning Commission, Public Hearings, City Council with Public Hearings, guided by the City's Community Development Director, warehousing was added to the allowable uses for that property. No size restrictions for building size were included. I consider this a mistake that has created the situation we find ourselves in today. This process was attempted again in 2016 with a very different outcome.
d. For reasons neither I nor the staff can find recorded in the City's archives, the Clock Tower Apartments were granted a permit for construction. This property was then and is currently zoned as mixed use, which means retail and commercial activity on the first floor with residential allowed on upper floors. This area was intended as our walkable retail area, including the grocery store. I suspect a combination of pressure from the State and PSRC through the Growth Management Plan to increase population density to meet regional goals and economics of the time drove the City leadership to this decision. It has created a situation we need to address because under its current zoning, apartments are not an allowable use and there are some legal liabilities for the City because of this.
e. Trax is a similar example, but the City and developer skirted the multi-use requirement by inclusion of the boutique retail space on the ground floor that sat mostly vacant for many years.
f. Creekside apartments is another example of a multi-family residence that is creating conflict. That property was originally part of a commercial/industrial area North of Sequalitchew Creek and South of the Cal-Portland mine. The owner of the property requested an addition to the zoning (same owner that owns Lot Y) that permitted multi-family residential. This was done and is allowable. The challenge is that it sits at the corner of the only entrance to a commercial/industrial area. The City denied a request to create a second entrance North of the Apartments to avoid the conflict and subsequently the layout was designed for the current entrance and we can no longer go back and add the second entrance. This means that any development of Lot Y and lands North of there will be forced to move in and out of the property on the Creekside Apartments entrance.
I think this is long enough for my 1st letter. I have tried to provide a factual background to how and why DuPont developed into what we are today. There are challenges, but I still think we have one of the nicest cities in our region and believe our path forward is sound, but it is important to understand where the original intent changed and why so we can move forward with open eyes. I will cover some additional topics in subsequent letters.