business owners object to rezoning push
AUBURN — Business owners are expected to fill the
City Council chambers tonight to protest what they view as an
unnecessary assault on industrial businesses by city
Mayor Pete Lewis
proposes to rezone at least 96 parcels of land, including 15
industrial businesses, from industrial to a commercial zone as part
of amending the city's Comprehensive
Charlie Harris, chief executive officer of the nonprofit
Skills Inc., in north Auburn, calls the city's proposed
rezoning a "steam roller," and he and a number of other industrial
owners are fighting back. His six acres on 30th Street
Northeast and I Street Northeast would go
from light industrial to commercial
A former mayor of Normandy Park, he said he knows how
government should work and this isn't it.
A full-page ad
Saturday in the Journal paid for by a group of manufacturers asks:
"Hey, City of Auburn! Do you want manufacturing
The ad includes a hot line number
(888-277-7974) for residents seeking more
Letters of protest have come in to the city
from a number of businesses including Auburn 18 Distribution Center
at 521 Eighth St. S.W.; the recycling center of Waste Management of
Washington, at 701 Second St.; and Joseph S. Simmons Construction
Inc., which owns four buildings on A Street Southeast at 11th Street
Rezoning doesn't sound like an attack, but
owners say becoming a commercial zone makes their industrial
businesses an illegal land use, a "nonconforming use" that is
subject to restrictions.
They argue that
becoming a nonconforming use will make getting financing more
difficult, make it more difficult to find tenants and devalue their
properties if forced to sell them for commercial
"You are absolutely at the whim of the city," Harris
said. "If they don't like you, you are in trouble. I can't leave
Skills in that position."
He said the city
doesn't like Skills Inc. because as a nonprofit it doesn't pay
property tax, even though it provides $5 million a year in wages to
150 handicapped and disabled workers.
Harris and others have
hired Brian Derdowski, a former King County councilman and now a
public affairs consultant, to organize their
Derdowski calls Lewis' effort "social
engineering to raise taxes … by chasing out undesirable businesses
that employ people and pay good family wage
Further stirring the pot, he said, is what appear to be
side deals with some industrial owners to exempt them from the
rezones. Utility Vault on A Street Southwest, a wrecking
yard south of Utility Vault, and 18 acres owned by Segale Properties
have been taken off the rezoning table.
Other smaller owners
are trying to work their own deals, Derdowski
Lewis and city planners defend the proposed changes,
saying they are part of a process of amending the city's
Comprehensive Plan and then actually rezoning parcels to reflect
There are 233 parcels scattered about the
city affected by the changes. According to city staff, some date
back to amendments approved in 2005.
Lewis said the plan
changes and rezoning are a tool for meeting the city's long-term
2016 vision that calls for more commercial areas full of retail
stores, restaurants and service businesses. He said the city has
21.7 percent of its land in industrial use; the proposal would
reduce it to about 18.5 percent. Seattle, he pointed out, has only
13 percent industrial land.
What the city is
trying to do is discourage industrial uses in the future in a number
of commercial-leaning areas: I Street Northeast in North Auburn
north of 30th Street Northeast; A Street Southeast across from the
Burlington Northern yard, West Main Street, Emerald Downs and south
of the Environmental Park.
Lewis said making an
industrial business a nonconforming use does carry some
restrictions, but it still allows the existing business to stay
there as long as it wants. It can even be sold to someone else to
operate it as a similar business. Becoming a commercial zone usually
will increase the value of property.
What it prevents,
Lewis said, is selling the property for another unrelated industrial
use and perpetuating manufacturing in an area that is becoming
As for a nonconforming use designation
affecting business loans or financing, Lewis, himself a former
banker, said that was "nonsense."
Amber Carter, director of tax and fiscal
policy for the Association of Washington Businesses, said a
nonconforming use designation does have consequences for
"It makes it very difficult to maintain
current property value for future development," she said. "You are
limited in the types of development you can
She said the changes planned in Auburn will
hurt businesses like Skills Inc., and many others in the
Jack Danner, who owns Danner Corp., an aerospace
manufacturing company that has been in Auburn 28 years, said he is not happy with a
rezone to commercial.
"I feel this kind of
came out of nowhere," he said. "Nobody called me, nobody wrote me a
letter. A friend called to alert me."
He said he talked with
the mayor, who "assured me that it wasn't going to happen." He said
the city agreed to put together a master agreement to allow his
business to expand and be sold sometime in the
Danner said he is mystified why his six acres off
Southwest located between two schools and
backed against the White River at
the bottom of Lakeland Hills would ever be considered commercial. He
said his biggest worry is whether property taxes will go up under
the new zoning.
Danner's property, however, is still on the
list. He said he can't make the meeting tonight, but added, "They
are going to do what they are going to
In October, the Auburn Planning Commission recommended
against rezoning a number of the industrial properties including
Skills Inc. Last week, however, the council's Planning and
Development Committee approved them.
Lewis said the
planning commission heard only one side of the
"I don't think the planning commission had a sense of
the vision that went into this," said City Planning Director Michael
Harris said business owners would like to
have another public hearing before the council, but the mayor has
refused to do that. At tonight's council meeting, they plan to speak
during the public comment period.
Two years ago, Harris
said the city tried to change Skills Inc. to commercial zoning and
failed on a 4-3 vote following a public hearing before the City
He doesn't expect the council to vote against
the changes this time.
"The mayor has his
ducks all lined up," he said.
Mike Archbold can be
reached at email@example.com
or at 253-872-6647.
Rezoning on agenda
Business owners and other interested parties can speak
on Auburn's rezoning proposals during
the public comment period of the City Council meeting. The meeting
starts at 7:30 tonight at City Hall, 25 W. Main
modified: November 20. 2006 12:00AM