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Tacoma City Business Preview - Week of December 10, 2013

Tacoma Link Expansion

Since the City Council selected its preferred corridor for the next phase of Link light rail expansion in Tacoma last spring, the City has been working with Sound Transit to identify the specific roads for the expansion. The future route will run from downtown to the Stadium District, then on to the MLK business district. The specific streets have yet to be chosen.

Sound Transit staff presented the possible alignments, as identified so far, to the Council Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee last month, and they are scheduled for another presentation to the full Council at this week's study session. 

The potential Link expansion "alignments" offer a few ways of climbing the hill from downtown Tacoma - starting either at the terminus of the existing Link tracks, or just south of there, in the 10th and Commerce transit center. From there they would climb to the heart of the Stadium District via either Stadium Way, Broadway, or Saint Helens, with a few variations on the specifics around getting out of downtown. From Stadium, all the proposed alignments would proceed up Division to MLK. Sound Transit offered two options for navigating the MLK corridor: either a simple out-and-back along MLK to South 19th; or a loop running up MLK to 19th, and back along J Street.

This current phase of planning for the Link expansion is for conceptual design and environmental review only, but it will lay the groundwork for future grant and other funding discussions.


Neighborhood Council Review

At this week's City Council study session, City staff will present recommendations for proposed revisions to the existing Neighborhood Council language in the Tacoma Municipal Code.

At this week's regular Council meeting we will hear the first reading of an ordinance that would revise the TMC as it relates to the Neighborhood Council Program.

The proposed changes come out of a comprehensive review of the program, which followed the elimination of the Neighborhood Council Coordinator position, and the reorganization of City departments providing services to neighborhoods. The review, which included public outreach, stakeholder surveys and focus groups, and a peer city review for best practices, determined that many neighborhoods were not represented adequately within the existing structure; that there were barriers to communication, outreach, attendance, and transparency; and additional issues around compatibility with state law.

Recommended changes include a reduction in governance and program language in the TMC; revision of current "guidelines" into "standards and guidelines;" and enhanced program resources for outreach, online presence, and leadership capacity building.



South Downtown Subarea Plan

A pair of ordinances scheduled for first readings this week would adopt changes relating to Tacoma's South Downtown Subarea Plan. The first would adopt the plan itself as a part of Tacoma's Comprehensive Plan. The second of the ordinances would make related amendments to the Tacoma Municipal Code.

The area-wide, long-range plan is intended to plan for significant growth while fostering economic development in the south end of Tacoma's downtown. The plan provides planning and policy interventions designed to guide and encourage development. An accompanying area-wide environmental impact statement considers environmental impacts and mitigation analysis for the subarea as a whole, rather than on a project-by-project basis. Code changes associated with the plan include feather sign regulations and downtown fencing standards.

At the December 3 public hearing we heard a lot of voices in support of the plan and planning process, with a few suggestions for adjustments to the way transfer of development rights are handled in the plan.

Feather signs in downtown areas would continue to be prohibited unless associated with a use not located on public property (like food carts or car sharing services). Additional exceptions would be added to allow the signs when identifying an accessory retail outlet co-located with a manufacturing facility (Brown & Haley, we presume), or one special event per business every two years for no more than 15 consecutive days. Any feather signs would be required to be located on private property unless a City street occupancy permit is secured.

Downtown fencing standards now include a prohibition on chain-link used for required screening, or between the front of a building and a public street, other than where wetland or recreation uses are involved. The standards also limit use of barbed or razor wire to areas not visible to a public street or adjacent residential use, prohibit electrified fencing, limit the maximum height of free-standing walls, fences, or hedges between a public street and a building to three feet, unless the fence is decorative (in which case it may be up to eight feet), in which case a degree of transparency and a planting strip are required.

Changes were made to numerous other areas of the Code, including language added to allow for UWT campus guidelines to be managed on a campus-wide basis, rather than a project-by-project basis; and adjustments to the section of the TMC dealing with floor-area rations for TDRs in downtown Tacoma.


Mixed-Use Development for Proctor?

Plans to build a multi-story mixed-use development in the heart of the Proctor District have been making periodic appearances in the Tacoma rumor mill for a while now. The latest, however, suggests that we could see the project actually moving forward sometime soon. Maybe....

A resolution on this week's City Council meeting consent agenda would set January 16, 2014, as the date for a public hearing before the City of Tacoma Hearing Examiner on the petition of 28 Proctor Holdings LLC, to vacate a portion of the alleyway air rights westerly of Proctor Street between North 27th and 28th streets.

The vacation is being requested as a part of a plan to develop a five-story mixed-use development on the block between 27th and 28th and Proctor. The development would include retail and residential components. The request to vacate air rights would allow the development to span the right-of-way and keep the alley open to the public for vehicular traffic.

If you have an opinion on this one, now would be a good time to speak up.


Purchase Resolutions

A purchase resolution before City Council this week would approve $171,741 budgeted from the Solid Waste Fund, for unarmed, uniformed security officer services at the Solid Waste Management Division for an initial two-year term with the option to renew for three additional one-year terms, for a projected contract total of $429,352.90.

A second purchase resolution this week would increase a City contract for mobile, marine, and cardlock fueling and carwash services by $4,719,402 plus applicable sales tax, for a cumulative total of $14,106,402 budgeted from various departments. The increase would provide funding for the continued purchase of on-site fueling for City vehicles in various departments, including police, fire, public works, and environmental services through January 2015.

The third and final purchase resolution on this week's Council agenda would approve $9,400,414, plus applicable sales tax, budgeted from the Solid Waste Fund, for cleanup, collection and hauling services in the event of a natural disaster that overwhelms internal resources. This contract would be a contingency contract; it would not be used unless Tacoma experiences a natural disaster that results in debris in quantities beyond the City's capacity to manage. It is estimated that 87.5% of all expenditures under this contract will be reimbursable by FEMA and the State in the event of a federally declared disaster.


City Property

A couple of pieces of property could be changing hands if their respective resolutions are adopted this week. The Washington State Department of Transportation could acquire 2,115 square feet of Tacoma Rail Mountain Division Property for the low, low price of $10,500, to accommodate the I-5, M Street to Portland Avenue HOV Project. A public hearing on the issue was held at the October 15 Council meeting, and no public comment was heard.

A second resolution would authorize the acquisition of a piece of property located in the Heron Ridge Estates north of Marine View Drive in Northeast Tacoma, for $1,300 to maintain the existing stormwater facility. The property includes an underground stormwater treatment facility serving the development and surrounding public roads. The property containing the treatment plant had, for some unknown reason, been dedicated to the homeowners' association at that time. The HOA no longer operates, and it appears that the facility has not been maintained. The property is in foreclosure, with the title held by the County, which is prohibited from granting an easement to Tacoma to allow Environmental Services access to the facility. The alternative to City acquisition of the parcel would be to wait and attempt to negotiate access with new owners if and when the property changes hands.

This week's Council meeting is also the date set for a public hearing on the proposed sale of approximately 10.82 acres (1.21 miles) of real property within Tacoma Rail Mountain Division property, located in the vicinity of East D Street to Puyallup Avenue, to Sound Transit for its Sounder Commuter Rail Service. The proposed sale includes provisions to allow Tacoma Rail to continue its freight operations on this property, and no public street right-of-way is included in the proposed transaction.


Citizens' Forum

It's time once again for citizens to share their thoughts on any item over which the Tacoma City Council has jurisdiction. You get three minutes...


Other Items

The final reading of the ordinance making mid-biennial adjustments to the City of Tacoma's 2013-14 budget is scheduled for this week's meeting. We heard the first reading of the ordinance that would make minor adjustments and corrections to the budget for the next year at last week's Council meeting.

At this week's Council meeting the Mayor will proclaim the week of December 9 - 15, 2013, as Computer Science Education Week in the City of Tacoma.

Don't forget, if you've got your eye on that Council District #1 seat that will be temporarily vacated by Councilmember Ibsen's leave of absence, your application is due no later than this Thursday, December 12. You'll also want to clear your schedule for the interviews at next Tuesday's Council study session.

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