Planning Commission Meeting Report

On August 16, 2017, the Tacoma Planning Commission voted to hold a public hearing on September 13 regarding a set of proposed interim regulations, banning new heavy industry projects in the Port of Tacoma, that could be put in place by the City Council during the subarea planning process.

If you’re new to this like I was recently, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Let’s break this down.


Basically, current city and port regulations allow any kind of polluting industry to make the Port of Tacoma their new home.  Residents of Tacoma don’t like this—they made this abundantly clear in shutting down plans for the methanol refinery and in their current opposition to Puget Sound Energy’s fracked gas facility.  There is also increasing conflict with neighborhoods surrounding the heavy industry of the port, as they are forced to deal with the noise and pollution.

Subarea Plan

The City and Port of Tacoma have decided to conduct a review to determine what kind of industry will be allowed in the Port and where it may be located. The planning process may take several years.  The final regulations resulting from the process make up the subarea plan.  Ideally this subarea plan would take into account Tacomans’ vision of a swift and just transition away from fossil fuels to a future of clean energy and green jobs.  That remains to be seen.

Interim Regulations

In the meantime, however, residents don’t want a bunch of new polluting industries to move in before the permanent regulations determined by the final subarea plan are put in place.  Thus the push for the interim regulations.  These temporary regulations could potentially freeze any new heavy industrial projects from being permitted during the subarea planning process.  We need these interim regulations because any facilities approved before the final subarea plan comes into effect will be grandfathered in.

The Planning Commission

This panel of citizens, called commissioners, were appointed by the City Council and make recommendations on various planning issues.  They can request information from City staff and ask for public input before making these recommendations.  The City Council can heed or ignore their findings.

The Recent Meeting…

In a session spanning nearly three hours, the Planning Commission reviewed City staff recommendations on appropriate interim regulations and then voted on which of those to include.  At one point, in fact, they even voted on whether the commission thought interim regulations were even necessary.  Only one commissioner said no.  They also voted on whether or not there should be a public hearing to discuss these interim regulations.  Having banned any public comments during these commission meetings to hasten their work on the issue, the commissioners felt it necessary, and right, to give the public a chance to voice their concerns.

The Current Draft of Interim Regulations

It’s important to note that the interim regulations being presented for public comment are still just a draft.  The commission voted to include:

  • A prohibition on “high risk/high impact” uses concerning fossil fuels, mining and quarrying
  • A prohibition on any unlisted industries (those not falling under an existing category)
  • A prohibition on new non-industrial uses in the Port (hospitals, group housing, etc)
  • Extended notification about new projects in the Port (2500’ from boundary of Port of Tacoma)
  • A moratorium on new housing development along Marine View Drive

What’s Next

Now there is a public hearing tentatively scheduled for September 13 from 6-8 p.m., at the Tacoma Convention Center. The commission will hear public input, meet again, and finalize its recommendations by its regularly scheduled September 20 or October 4 meeting. Based on this timeline, interim regulations could be adopted by the City Council in mid November. Any interim regulations put into place would be subject to review every 6 months, with the possible exception being any regulations that might be put into place for one year at the outset. The City planning staff seemed to indicate that these interim regulations would only be necessary for 18-24 months, which seems odd given the subarea plan could take much longer.

Dive Deeper: If you’re really interested, read the Agenda Packet from the latest Planning Commission meeting for more details.

What To Do

  1. Attend and deliver your comments at the public hearing on interim regulations. Click here for details.
    September 13, 2017, 6 PM
    Greater Tacoma Convention Center
    1500 Commerce St.
    Public comments will be accepted through September 15, 2017 at 5 PM. Public review documents will be published at this link the week of August 21.
  2. Please write a polite email to the Mayor and City Council Members and tell them how important it is to implement the interim regulations banning new fossil fuel projects as soon as possible and to keep them in place for the entire duration of the subarea planning process. Council Members Mello, Blocker and Ibsen are working to get the interim regulations approved in a timely manner, so please make sure to thank them!

Mayor Marilyn Strickland,
Council Member Anders Ibsen,
Council Member Robert Thoms,
Council Member Keith Blocker,
Council Member Marty Campbell,
Council Member Joe Lonergan,
Council Member Lauren Walker Lee,
Council Member Conor McCarthy,
Council Member Ryan Mello,