By Michael Whitney, January 16, 2013, Snohomish County Tribune
Heavy industrial development will continue on the waterfront at the former Kimberly-Clark Mill site after a City Council vote last week.
A development moratorium on the site called the Central Waterfront Planning Area should be lifted later this month. The 6-1 vote Wednesday, Jan. 9 was followed by rousing cheers from the audience after more than two hours of public comment and council discussion.
The decision marks a firm direction for the waterfront’s redevelopment for potentially the next few decades. What gets built on the 65-acre site now depends on who buys it. The Port of Everett is the only publicly known interested buyer.
The council had two zoning options to choose from going into the vote. Each provided a different vision for the property.
One option, supported by six council members, continues to allow heavy industrial manufacturing on the site. The other option, supported by Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher, zoned the property for light industrial uses and business parks.
The council’s vote attempted to balance two major priorities the public said it wanted on the site: jobs and public access to the waterfront. Many people spoke out during a public hearing before the vote reiterating those priorities. It was standing room only inside council chambers.
The council was reminded that only 200 feet of the site can be used for water-dependent industries.
An attempt by Councilman Paul Roberts to include a stronger-worded requirement to have public access to the entire waterfront was shot down by the council.
Most of the council, including Councilman Shannon Affholter and new Councilman Scott Murphy, said language “encouraging” public access is adequate and requiring public access could dissuade some industrial companies from coming. The zoning requires public access if it doesn’t conflict with industrial uses that put the public in danger.
Roberts was able to add language banning water bottling plants from the property. These plants take up a lot of space and provide very little jobs. Another industry prohibited from the site is oil refineries.
The site’s real estate broker, Dave Speers, said heavy industry is the only business interested in the site. There are millions of square feet of vacant business park space elsewhere in Snohomish County, Speers said.
Stonecipher said Speers’ comments tell her Kimberly-Clark’s real estate team is not looking for other uses for the property.
Stonecipher, the lone vote against the zoning ordinance, said the council needed to look at the site’s long-range future. She opposes heavy industrial manufacturing and said some of the uses the approved zoning allows for are ones other communities don’t allow.
“I’m worried my colleagues aren’t looking long-term enough,” Stonecipher told the Tribune before the vote.
Even so, the uses allowed under the new zoning won’t generate the same number or quality of jobs as the more than 700 mill jobs lost when Kimberly-Clark closed, she said.
Stonecipher points to an economic analysis of the site that suggests business parks would create the highest paying jobs.
“We won’t get the same number of jobs, we won’t get the same quality of jobs,” Stonecipher said.
The former Kimberly-Clark site is one of the few deepwater ports with rail access, making it attractive to certain manufacturers. The business park alternative would prohibit most of those companies from coming.
Some of the council members who supported zoning the site for industry disagreed.
“Everett has always been a working waterfront,” Councilman Ron Gipson said. “It would be a travesty if we don’t keep good union jobs down there.” Gipson added that the city is building public access on the riverfront development in north Lowell. “We need jobs here.”
Most of the public’s comments at the public hearing revolved around the Port of Everett’s expansion possibilities.
Supporters, including a large contingent of longshoremen, said the port needs to expand to keep it a working waterfront. “We’re squeezed out there,” longshoremen union president Ken Hudson said.
Opponents said they don’t want the publicly funded port to have the ability to buy it with their tax dollars and said port operations won’t bring jobs.
The port has the most shoreline in Everett already and doesn’t know what to do with it, some people said. The port bought hundreds of acres on the peninsula called the Riverside Business Park and last year sold part of the land at a loss.
“Ports used to be viable, ports have changed” and become more automated, Bargreen’s president Howie Bargreen said. China puts its most effective ports far away from cities, Bargreen said.
Stonecipher said a bigger port won’t generate additional jobs.
“We’ll only have more jobs if there’s more manufacturing around,” Stonecipher said, which she said is dependent on Boeing. Everett’s port isn’t big enough for mega cargo ships, she said. The cargo shipping industry is gravitating toward bigger ships, especially with the coming enlargement of the Panama Canal.
Supporters said prohibiting heavy manufacturing on the waterfront is troublesome.
“If the water use is zoned away, we’ll never get it back,” shipper Steve Holtzgard said.
Former port commissioner Dwayne Pearson called zoning the land for business parks “a waste of a major maritime operation with those restrictions.”
More than 15 people spoke at the meeting.
The vote is the culmination of almost a year’s worth of planning work and numerous meetings.
Affholter allowed to vote
A small group of government watchdogs questioned Affholter’s ability to vote on the waterfront.
The watchdogs say because Affholter’s boss at the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County is port commissioner Troy McClelland, he should have recused himself from the vote.
City attorney Jim Iles allowed Affholter to vote because his personal business is separate from his legislative work.
“I don’t work for the port,” Affholter said after the meeting.