Managing Tacoma’s Bayside Slope

A community forum scheduled for next week will continue an ongoing conversation around management of the Schuster Slope. More specifically, it will continue the conversation around the balance between vegetation and views.

Last fall we wrote about the concerns of Stadium Way residents and property owners over preserving their views of Commencement Bay and Mt. Rainier. Those property owners asked the City to revisit its plans for managing the vegetation on the Schuster Slope and along Stadium Way. This week Public Works staff and Councilmember Robert Thoms will attend a "community meeting" on the management of the Bayside Slope hosted by the Stadium Business District.

The somewhat overgrown forested slope may not at first glance seem like it would be the point of much contention, but from where it sits, it touches a number of neighborhoods and City initiatives.

Just uphill, the recently completed work on Stadium Way has made that road more passable for both motorized and non-motorized traffic. Just south of the slope and Stadium Way is downtown Tacoma where the Pacific Avenue Streetscape project has finally wrapped up at the north end of that street. On the downhill side of the slope is Schuster Way, connecting to the Ruston Way waterfront, Point Defiance, and Northwest Tacoma. Paralleling that, and cutting through the Schuster Slope is the one time Bayside Trail, now closed due to issues of maintenance and monitoring. The current preferred alternative for a pedestrian and bike trail along the Schuster Corridor, connecting downtown Tacoma to Point Defiance, passes along the slope.

So there are a lot of overlapping issues involving the slope, but the main issue to be addressed at the upcoming meeting seems to be around the question of trees versus views - a question that seemingly puts at odds a couple of City goals. 

An October 2013 City report titled "Schuster Parkway Promenade Conceptual Design Report" includes an assessment that supports the Stadium Way group's claim that views from the street are an important public asset.

Vegetated bluffs throughout the Puget Sound region have been actively managed to provide recreation, public access and habitat as a community asset. The Urban Forest Element of the City of Tacoma’s Comprehensive Plan identifies the views of Commencement Bay and Mt. Rainier from Stadium Way and Schuster slope as scenic views. The City’s Shoreline Master Program recognizes views as a form of public access that should be preserved and enhanced in concert with revegetation and improvement of tree canopy.

However, the same report also cites the City's goal of growing its tree canopy by 30% by the year 2030, and suggests the importance of the tree canopy on the Schuster Slope to that goal.

The struggling urban forest along Schuster slope presents an opportunity to balance the preservation of public access to scenic views with revegation [sic], enhancing canopy cover, habitat and overall forest health and safety.

The hillside faces a number of challenges, including slope stabilization and homeless encampments, and the City has been working for a while to identify a plan to better manage the area (read more previously from Exit133: Remember the Bayside Trails?). 

The key focus of short-term management of vegetation on the slope has been the control of invasive species, but long-term fixes will clearly be more complicated. The community meeting scheduled for next Thursday will give Stadium residents and property owners a chance to express their perspectives. What's yours?

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I think that area should be managed for slope stability, a better (i.e., real) bike path at the bottom of the hill along Schuster, and native vegetation.  Ideally there would be some thinner areas in the tree cover near the new Stadium Way viewpoints so that there are actually views in those key spots while retaining and enhancing the slope-stabilizing veg. in general.

January 7, 2014 at 4:56 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Debby Herbert

Yes, this is more complex than appears at first glance, as it is a public access issue for the safe physical and visual access to the shoreline for the general public, as mandated by both the Shoreline Master Pan, ( from the State and adopted by the City ), and Tacoma’s Comprehensive Plan. In its current condition the Stadium hillside does not provide either safe public physical or visual access to the shoreline.  Removing and establishing the correct vegetation on the slope is key to meeting the objectives of these various policies that cover slope safety and views for public benefit. For example, certain trees, including the Big Leaf Maple, are prohibited by TMC, ( 9.19.030 ) in public and residential areas, due to specific characteristics of those trees.

January 8, 2014 at 8:23 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Denny Faker

I’m Denny Faker the chair of the Stadium Way hillside design standards committee. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to have been working the past several months with a group of citizens so interested in having a say on this issue.Then to be encouraged to step forward with proposal in hand, knowing we will be heard and our plan truely considered by the mayor and council. We will be meeting to update the community and would like to invite you to come on Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Landmark Convention Center So. 2nd and st. Helens at 6pm.
Please join us to find out more about this adventure in our neighborhood. City staff and officials will be there to hear your comments. It’s great to have a voice in what your city is doing and Tacoma is the place to be!! See you thursday the 16th.      Denny

January 8, 2014 at 9:30 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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