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Posted on: November 28, 2018

Pierce County Hearing Examiner Issues Decisions on Knutson Farms Development

On November 21st, the Pierce County Hearing Examiner issued his decisions on the City’s appeals of Pierce County’s approval of the Knutson Farms warehouse development plan.  The project involves construction of approximately 2.6 million square feet of industrial warehouse buildings in the vicinity of Shaw Road and East Pioneer, on a site immediately adjacent to the Puyallup River. It would generate 1,750 heavy truck trips per day.

The City had appealed the County decisions to the Hearing Examiner because the County approved the development without preparation of a full State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) environmental impact statement (EIS) and without sufficient mitigation for its enormous impacts. The Hearing Examiner decisions culminated a process that included a two week trial in July, 2018 and extensive briefing by the parties over the following months.  The November 21st Hearing Examiner decisions allow the project to proceed, still without an EIS, but with additional conditions.

For example, Pierce County’s original decision required the Knutson development to contribute to planned improvements to the SR-410/East Main/Traffic Avenue interchange, but did not require that the improvements actually be in place for the project to go into operation. In contrast, the Hearing Examiner decided that  the improvements, which have not yet been fully funded, must be completed before any project development can be occupied because “… the City has shown by clear and convincing evidence … that allowing traffic from the Knutson project to impact the SR-410 interchange with Traffic Avenue and East Main Street will create significant, adverse, environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated except by the construction of the SR-410 interchange project.”

The Hearing Examiner further held that the County was “…clearly erroneous in not requiring completion of the SR-410 interchange project prior to issuance of occupancy permits” [because] “Knutson traffic would add to already severely congested intersections with long queues that would extend into the downtown area of Sumner and to the intersection of East Main and Shaw Road and beyond in Puyallup.”

With respect to environmental impacts, particularly on wetlands, the Hearing Examiner effectively agreed with the City that wetland D is a regulated wetland requiring a buffer and that “... additional investigation must occur regarding Wetland D prior to commencement of site development work…”

The Hearing Examiner also imposed further requirements on conditions related to traffic including one calling for the applicant to “prohibit the use of Shaw Road south of Pioneer Way East as a truck route.” He also responded to concerns about high intensity uses of the site by requiring applicant disclosures to verify estimated traffic generated by the project:  “The applicant shall provide … the names of initial tenants, the square footage leased, and the uses of the leased premises.”  The applicant must  provide this information to the County semi-annually on an ongoing basis, with the information to be shared with the City of Puyallup.   

Puyallup City Manager Kevin Yamamoto commented with regard to the Hearing Examiner decisions:

“The Knutson project is being reviewed and permitted by Pierce County even though the site is in the City of Puyallup’s Urban Growth Area. The result is that the County benefits from the project, but its impacts and burdens will fall heavily on the City of Puyallup.  The City is therefore pleased that the Pierce County Hearing Examiner decisions recognize that there are significant shortcomings in the County’s approvals. The City is now studying whether the changes ordered by the Pierce County Hearing Examiner are sufficient responses to the issues raised by the City and the public at large.”

 If the City decides that it is in the public interest to do so, the next step in the process would be an appeal of the Pierce County Hearing Examiner decisions to superior court.

The City also has pending in the Washington Court of Appeals a challenge to  the County’s refusal to recognize the City as “SEPA lead agency” for the project, with authority to direct  environmental review  and to ensure it is performed by qualified, unbiased  experts. That appeal is scheduled to be heard on January 15, 2019. Its outcome could effectively void the Pierce County Hearing Examiner’s decisions.

For further information, contact Brenda Fritsvold, 253-770-3370.

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