The Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board voted against Sumner's Orton Junction project on July 9, citing concern over the loss of the area's agricultural resource land.
If upheld, the decision could halt plans for Sumner's extensive mixed-use development, which would add an additional 182 acres to the city's Urban Growth Area (UGA) that would include a YMCA, housing and shopping in the area generally south of SR 410, bordered on the east by Elhi Hill.
The Sumner City Council and Pierce County Council , after much debate and testimony from the community. was filed against the project by Futurewise and Friends of Pierce County. Bonney Lake also appealed the project in March after an agreement with Sumner for more sewer capacity.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and District 1 representative Dan Roach issued the following joint statement on the GMHB decision:
"We are disappointed in the board's decision. At the county's request, Forterra (formerly Cascade Land Conservancy) helped craft an agreement that represents a model solution to the conflict between growth and preservation. It would protect hundreds of acres of fertile farmland by creating a 'green wall' to curb further growth in the valley, while also providing jobs and services. We will finish a thorough analysis of the 137-page decision before deciding our next step."
Sumner leaders believe the GMHB "has made a mistake," according to a city press release. The city plans to appeal the decision.
“We will appeal this decision because we believe it is fully consistent with the goals and requirements of the Growth Management Act,” said Community Development Director Paul Rogerson. “Orton Junction reduces Sumner’s future size by 100 acres, directly combatting sprawl; it permanently protects over 500 acres of farmland and open space; it puts complete, compact and connected development next to existing freeway interchanges where urban services are readily available; and it creates thousands of much-needed jobs.”
Within Orton Junction's Seven Principles Agreement, the development would permanently protect over 500 acres of farmland and open space, which planners argue benefits the preservation of farmland far more than what would be lost.
“This decision is attempting to jeopardize the best farmland protection package that Pierce County had ever seen,” said Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow. “Orton Junction would use private dollars, not taxes, to permanently protect over 500 acres of farmland in our valley. Instead, this decision opens that land back up to the possibility of being developed into housing. It just doesn’t make much sense.”
The city of Sumner has raised over $7 million for the Orton Junction YMCA and six acres of land has been donated for the project. BCRA Architects has already been hired to complete the design of the proposed 50,000 to 70,000 square foot facility.
"We remain committed to the Orton Junction project and bringing a Y to Sumner," said Michelle LaRue, communications spokeswoman for the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties.
LaRue said that the YMCA fully supports Sumner's appeal of the GMHB decision.
"We believe the City of Sumner Council and Pierce County Council were right in voting in favor of this project," said Bob Ecklund, YMCA president and CEO. "We will continue to work with the City of Sumner as they navigate the appeal process."
The proposed YMCA would include an art center, swimming pool, teen late night program and Friends and Servants, a program that mentors troubled youth by helping them learn farming practices.
“People need jobs now and healthy recreation right here in Pierce County,” said Enslow. “Orton Junction would use this area to grow not only produce but also strong, multi-generational families. We believe our children are worth it.”
County Councilman Roach agrees.
"This development agreement protects 500 acres of farmland, creates jobs and serves the needs of the community with the YMCA and other amenities. It is right next to a major state highway," said Roach. "All of these factors point to a reasonable, responsible approach to development in Pierce County. If this doesn’t make sense, I don’t know what does."
Click "Keep Me Posted" for the latest developments on this story. We have requested documents from the GMHB and will share them as soon as they are available.