The difference in how the cities of Tacoma and Ruston are handling development of the huge, 97-acre Point Ruston project is all too obvious.
It can be summed up with a glance at the project’s progress to date: a lot happening on the Tacoma side — condos, apartments, café and more — not much on the Ruston side. In fact, the developer grew so frustrated with Ruston’s slow pace of permitting that he’s moved part of the project to the Tacoma side.
Given the size of Point Ruston, its effect on the appearance of the waterfront and its importance to the South Sound economy, it’s incumbent on Ruston officials to find a way to work not only with the developer but also with their counterparts in Tacoma to build safely but with dispatch.
This project cannot be allowed to fail. But that might happen if Ruston continues to hold up development on its side — which encompasses most of the project’s commercial area.
A News Tribune report Sunday shows how a city that is unfamiliar with permitting a development on the scale of Point Ruston has slowed progress on their side to a standstill.
Ruston officials are treating the developer’s original master plan like a cast-in-concrete, step-by-step document from which no deviations are tolerated. At least some of the problem seems to be a clash between Ruston officials and the developer’s gung-ho, let’s-get-this-done-yesterday attitude.
Tacoma officials, more familiar with the fact that how large developments come together doesn’t always go exactly according to plan, have been more open to partnering with the developer on timing and other aspects of construction. They’ve worked with developers like managing partner Mike Cohen before and realize that there are other ways to achieve compliance than by throwing the book at them and halting progress.
Peter Huffman, Tacoma’s Planning and Development Services director, said: "This developer, like many developers, is assertive. That’s what Ruston is seeing. In a perfect world, a developer does exactly what we ask them to do, but it doesn’t work that way."
Tacoma realizes that collaboration with developers pays dividends. That’s why it takes a "culture of yes" approach to facilitate projects that are important to the community in a way that gets compliance on key issues rather than micromanage them with a heavy regulatory hand.
It should go without saying that this must be done in a way that safeguards the public and protects the environment.
To avoid the prospect of Tacoma annexing the Ruston part of the development, Ruston officials offered to enter a permitting partnership with Tacoma. That’s progress, but only if it means true cooperation, not slowing permitting down to Ruston’s speed.
Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax has a point when he says that conflict resolution needs to be part of the mix. Ruston’s concerns — such as ones about the developer’s promised public amenities — must be addressed, but things need to start happening on its side of the project.