By Debbie Klosowski, Mayor
Attracting businesses to Town Center while preserving the community’s vision for a future downtown were key points at a joint meeting of the University Place City Council and the Economic Development and Planning Commissions this week.
The overall vision for Town Center was developed over a number of years, starting even before incorporation. Citizens indicated a desire for a pedestrian friendly gathering place with a mix of civic, commercial and residential uses. Strict design standards, along with increased height and density, were also approved after extensive public meetings. Although the general layout of the Town Center plan has undergone slight revisions over the years, the vision has remained the same: Develop a gathering place, increase retail and build up our sales tax base.
Since that time, there have been several new appointments to the Economic Development and Planning Commissions as well as four new Council members. As a result, the City Council sponsored a joint meeting to bring everyone up to speed on the history of Town Center as well as issues we are currently facing.
Development Services Director David Swindale presented a brief overview of the Town Center process along with distinguishing the differences among the three “town centers”:
Town Center Area encompasses the overall area along Bridgeport between 35th and 44th.
Town Center Overlay Zone refers to stricter design standards and additional height and density within the Town Center area between 35th Street and Homestead Park. For example, any NEW drive throughs are prohibited in the overlay zone for several reasons. There are plenty of drive throughs (fast food, coffee and drug stores) in other parts of the city. Drive throughs are not seen as pedestrian friendly nor do they encourage people to get out of their cars and shop in other stores.
The decision to increase height and density was to encourage economic development and protect existing single family neighborhoods by centering growth in one area in order to comply with the State’s Growth Management Act.
Town Center Project refers to the City Owned properties on the east side of Bridgeport Way from Homestead Park to 35th Street along with intermittent parcels on the west side of the street.
After the Town Center plan was developed, the Economic Development Commission (EDC) developed an Economic Development Strategic Action Plan recommending that the City take an active role in moving Town Center forward, an action made even more critical due to significant losses in City revenue from several voter approved initiatives. Since then, the City has undertaken several major PUBLIC components including sidewalks, streetlights, utilities, intermodal transit facility and the Civic Building which will house the Library as well as City Hall. We’ve also completed the half acre (and 100% State funded) Market Square which will be an outstanding gathering spot for the community right in the heart of Town Center.
Private sector interest is strong and we are looking forward to Applebee’s Restaurant starting construction this spring; however, it is still difficult for many developers to obtain financing.
The current economic climate, along with a request from a local developer, subsequently led the EDC to request that the council consider more flexible regulations within the Town Center area.
According to EDC Chair Rich Berndt, additional flexibility could potentially attract more businesses sooner, resulting in additional services and revenue for our community.
Nat Franklin, owner of the Green Firs Shopping Center, also suggested waiving traffic impact fees and allowing new drive throughs that would be shielded from the street along with protecting pedestrians. Rainy weather and the convenience factor also make drive throughs attractive options, according to Mr. Franklin. (On a separate note, he also announced that he plans to bring Staples Office Supplies to Green Firs along with possibly replacing Shari’s Restaurant with a Chase Bank complete with a new drive through).
“Protecting the public realm” and “holding onto our vision” were key points offered by Tom Sheldon, principal with GGLO, a premier architectural firm based in Seattle with two decades of experience in designing high quality buildings and places in urban and suburban locations. Most notably, the GGLO team transformed University Village near the University of Washington from a declining retail mall into a vibrant center comprised of high quality buildings, retailers, a strong neighborhood identity, connections to the community and authentic sense of place. U Village is now the leading lifestyle retail center in the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Sheldon was also responsible for helping bring vibrancy to the South Beach neighborhood of San Francisco with a signature mixed use building directly across from the AT&T Ballpark, home of the San Francisco Giants.
Although Mr. Sheldon concurred that drive throughs could be designed so that they were not visible from the street, he emphasized “taking care of our demographics.” For example, young adults want to have services readily available, places to socialize and are less likely to need or want cars. Seniors and middle aged people may rely on cars more so flexibility is important when discussing future changes.
After Council and Commission members discussed various issues, the Council requested, the Planning Commission reexamine regulations to determine opportunities for more flexibility that could improve economic development while preserving the vision for Town Center.
Council also requested that the EDC obtain input from the business community to both identify obstacles and provide specific recommendations for the future.
In other action, the Council:
Awarded 40th Street Safe Routes to School project to Lloyd Enterprise for $675,611 to construct curb, gutter, sidewalk and street lights along the south side of 40th Street between Sunset Drive and 67th Avenue. Other project components include similar improvements along the 40th Street frontage near Albertson’s along with replacing an aging water main.
All water main costs are 100% reimbursable by Tacoma Public Utilities while the sidewalk project involves a State grant of $697,000 and $135,000 in City surface water management funds.
Construction is expected to start in February with completion this summer.
Authorized City Manager Steve Sugg to pursue federal funding for Cirque Drive improvements.
Keep Voting for Playground By the Sound! – Vote every day until the end of January to help raise funds for the playground as well as the U.P. Library and U.P. Volunteer Center. Visit www.refreshup.org.
Help raise funds for U.P. Parks and Recreation at the first annual Black Tie Ball & Auction on Friday, February 4, at the Fircrest Golf Course. Tickets are $100 and going fast! Contact Dixie Harris at 564-6373 for more information.
U.P. Library Grand Opening – Join us on Saturday, February 12, to help celebrate the grand opening of the new Pierce County/U.P. Library in the new Civic Center.
Daddy Daughter Dance – Dads and daughters, don’t miss out on this wonderful evening on Saturday, February 12, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. This extremely popular event often sells out so register by calling 460-2530 or register online at www.CityofUP.com!
Neighborhood Meetings – Say hello to Council members and share your thoughts at upcoming neighborhood meetings starting at 7 p.m. on the following dates:
* Wednesday, February 9 – U.P. Senior Center, 2534 Grandview Drive W.
* Thursday, February 10 – New Tacoma Cemetery, 9212 Chambers Creek Road W.
* Thursday, March 3 – First Baptist Church, 2844 Mountain View
* Wednesday, March 23 – U.P. Library, 3609 Market Drive (Civic Building)
Spring is just around the corner! Check out these two great events:
* Learn how to prune apple trees at a FREE Master Gardener pruning class on Thursday, February 10, at 7 p.m. at United Church, 3912 Grandview Drive W. Please register by calling Molly Wolfe at 564-2562. People who attend the class (sponsored by CORE – Curran Orchard Resource Enthusiasts) are also invited to attend future pruning parties at the Curran Orchard to practice their new skills.
* Community Garden – Interested in creating a “community garden?” Please join Scott Seitz from the Tacoma Narrows Rotary on Thursday, February 3, at 6 p.m. in Room D-2 (City Hall complex near the 37th St. driveway) to discuss plans for a future community garden at Cirque Bridgeport Park. For more information, please visit www.UPCommunityGarden.org.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to contact me at dklosowski@CityofUP.com.