Tacoma Urbanist

Jul. 31, 2009 at 1:24am

Tacoma City Council's Historic Vote Takes Tacoma Toward a Future Like Portland Rather Than Federal Way


For years, Tacoma City Officials traveled to cities such as Portland to try to determine how Portland had produced such attractive walkable neighborhoods and what urban design component was so damaging to Tacoma.

Meanwhile, Tacoma was producing one strip mall after another, similar to ones in Federal Way and Lakewood:

(Photo posted by Kevin Freitas of Lakewood)

(Photo posted by RR Anderson of Lakewood)

Yet, on Tuesday, July 28th, the council took a very large step toward allowing the creation of walkable neighborhoods in Tacoma, perhaps for the first time since World War II when the destructive and onerous off-street parking requirements were adopted by the city.

Tacoma made the right choice.

Here is a good summary of the issues from a press release:

July 30, 2009

Tacoma City Council Leads the Way to Create Vibrant Communities

Cascade Land Conservancy, Futurewise, and Transportation Choices Coalition applaud their visionary decision

Tacoma, WA- After two years of hard work and hours of debate, Tuesday night the Tacoma City Council unanimously approved an updated Mixed-Use Centers (MUC) Plan. The plan will encourage livable, walkable development within Tacoma's neighborhood Centers by creating incentives for investment, improving design and encouraging well-planned growth. For a complete list of the mixed use-centers affected please see www.cityoftacoma.org.

Passing the plan was a 2009 priority for the Pierce County Sustainability Coalition, a group of organizations that support innovative policies that enhance quality of life throughout the region. Tacoma's MUC updates presented an opportunity to ensure sustainable growth in the region.

The plan does just that. It protects neighborhood character and curbs urban sprawl by focusing growth within the Centers; it encourages private economic development; it provides incentives to developers to use energy efficient building materials; and it protects local farm and forest lands through a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) option.

Passing the Tacoma Mixed-Use Centers plan is an enormous win for sustainability in Pierce County, stated Ryan Mello, Chair of the Pierce County Sustainability Coalition and Pierce County Conservation Director at Cascade Land Conservancy, the Tacoma City Council has demonstrated leadership by taking an important step forward to concentrate growth within the City and protect our working forests and farmlands.

The City of Tacoma is expected to grow by 127,000 people in the next 30 years, Stated Sara Nikolic, Urban Strategies Director of Futurewise, The City Council has decided to focus that growth in vibrant walkable communities while protecting single family neighborhoods.

People want to have the choice of walking to the grocery store, biking to school, or taking a bus to work, said Andrew Austin, Policy Associate at Transportation Choices Coalition, Yesterday's action by the City Council means land use policies will support that choice and create healthier more livable communities.


Now there is another reason to be optimistic on the future of Tacoma.

Perhaps when the economy recovers, Tacoma could build something like this:

For more good examples of urban design, see the Congress for New Urbanism.

comments [13]  |  posted under Tacoma


by L.S.Erhardt on 7/31/2009 @ 8:11am
Please stop saying "when the economy recovers". What we're going through is the recovery and return to a level of normal rather than the phoney baloney prosperity of the housing bubble days... there won't be another real estate boom in our lifetimes, or at least until most of us are dead or senile.

But this does leave an interesting perspective that I have touched on before... Our neighbors to the north overdeveloped very rapidly. They'll be working for years to fill all those offices and condos. I've been told that King County will take 7 years to fully absorb all that got built... and that's barring Boeing or M$ doing something stupid.
In our case, the boom mostly passed us by. Sure, we got some nice stuff like the Emptylanade and such, but for a city our size we got pretty much thrown under the bus.
But that's fine in the bigger picture, because it enables us to have a healthy growth once developers can get loans and feel it's safe to take a risk or two...

by Nick on 7/31/2009 @ 8:59am
I said it once, and I'll say it again...


by Erik on 7/31/2009 @ 9:09am
What we're going through is the recovery and return to a level of normal rather than the phoney baloney prosperity of the housing bubble days.

I think Kunstler would agree with you.

There are a few things happening as we speak.

Perhaps the largest private project in the city is the new grocery store going in at 25th and Yakima:

From "Morgan's Brain"

Next up is the much anticipated Metropolitan Development mixed-use project at 25th & Yakima Avenue - the one where a grocery store is being talked about.

It's amazing to see a hill transformed into a hole! Complete with natural springs! It looks like they had to shore up parts of the retaining wall because of underground springs in the area. They are fast-tracking this project and have gotten the foundation in since these photos were taken.


Perhaps this development will spur more much needed housing in the area and help some of the projects which have stalled out.

by jenyum on 7/31/2009 @ 9:41am
Is there definitely going to be a grocery store, or is it still just "being talked about?"

by L.S.Erhardt on 7/31/2009 @ 10:44am
What is, exactly, the grocery store carrying capacity of Tacoma?

Let's use the recent 203,000 number I saw for our population.
Now, for defining a "grocery store", let's leave out anything that does not have a dedicated produce, dairy and meat sections. (Sorry Thea's Market and Dobashi's). So we have:
7x Safeways
3x Fred Meyers
2x Albertons
2x grocery outlets
2x Saars
2x QFC
4X Asain supermarkets in the Lincoln area
1x Costco
2x Mexican supermarkets
1x Thriftway
1x Metropolitan Market
1x Save A Lot

So, that's 27 "major" grocery stores for 203,000 people... thus 1 store for every 7500 people. Is that a sustainable number or are we running high or low?

Also, I do wonder this as well:
From downtown we have Stadium Thriftway, Hilltop Safeway and Albertsons on 38th all within 2 miles of the new Pac Plaza. Is there need for one on 25th and Yakima and the proposed one @ the Elks?
Or will the residences above both provide for most of the needed traffic?

by jenyum on 7/31/2009 @ 11:02am
Well, one of the advantages of buying/renting a condo along the Yakima corridor would be proximity to public transportation/downtown/St Joseph's. But that advantage is definitely diminished by the need to have a car to get to basics like groceries. I would think it would be much easier to sell those units if there were a grocery store within easy walking distance, particularly one that didn't require a hike up or down the hill.

There seem to be many available units right now and the prices keep coming down. If you could get buy with a bike/scooter/the bus I wonder if the occupancy rate would go way up.

by Nick on 7/31/2009 @ 10:01pm
I could see the Hilltop Safeway moving to that mixed-use building. Their rationale for not fixing up their existing location is because the size of the property is not large enough. Perhaps we will not see an additional grocery store, but rather an improved one?

by L.S.Erhardt on 7/31/2009 @ 10:45pm
Well, if the changes to parking and zoning work out like we hope, then Safeway could just raze the current Hilltop location and build their own mixed use building.

by Marty C. on 8/1/2009 @ 9:06am
Could you adjust your numbers to include populations / stores just outside the boundaries of Tacoma?

I once heard there are over one million people in a 10 mile radius of Tacoma.

by Erik on 8/1/2009 @ 9:21am
Well, if the changes to parking and zoning work out like we hope, then Safeway could just raze the current Hilltop location and build their own mixed use building

Yes, they could.

Perhaps they will be able to add enough residents in the currently vacant lots for a store to justify investing in the area.

We will see.

I am looking forward to seeing if the new store at 25th and Yakima will increase interest in the area to fill up the empty townhouses and spur some of the development that has stalled.

by Jake on 8/1/2009 @ 11:13am
The grocery store will be 10,000 square feet. For comparison the Hilltop Safeway is 23,000 sqft. So most likely it will be more of a neighborhood market.

"Ingels won’t yet name any of the retailers that have signed letters of intent to take the ground-floor space. But he offers this teaser about the out-of-state grocer: “There’s nothing you can liken it to in this market. It will have a small produce section. … It will definitely anchor that corner. It’s a cool concept."

Years ago Forza Coffee had the 25th & Yakima listed on their website as a future location. It isn't on their site anymore so I am not sure if they are still going in their.

I know a lot of people in the neighborhood and everyone wants a small bar (think 1022 South) to go in there.

by Nick on 8/1/2009 @ 3:06pm
@Marty C.

Judging from the most recent population data, I don't think it's likely. All of pierce county as of 2007 was found to be approximately 805,400 (per Wikipedia).

Granted, we are close to south King County, some of which likely lies within 10 miles of Tacoma, but even then I don't think there would be much difference. Could be wrong though.

by L.S.Erhardt on 8/2/2009 @ 9:49pm
Marty... I doubt there's 1 million within 10 miles. Within 50 mile radius, yes. 10 miles will give us Tacoma (203K), Federal Way (86K), Lakewood (61K), U-Place (33K) Puyallup (35K), Ruston (0.75K), Fife (5K), Fircrest (6K), Gig Harbor (6.5K), Milton (5.8K), Parkland (24.5K)and Spanaway (22K).

That gives us approximately 488,550 people living within Tacoma and 10 miles. Not bad, but it should be mentioned that Parkland and Spanaway are non-incorporated CDPs.
But as for surrounding areas and stores, that does present a problem for me. You see, I rarely leave town to grocery shop. On rare occasion, I'll hit up WinCo in Federal Way, but that's like a two to three times per year thing. Can anoyne here figure out a concrete number of grocery stores? I sure can't.