Pierce County Poised to Continue Tradition of Poor Growth Management

Derek Young
3 min readOct 27, 2020

Twenty-five years ago, Pierce County created its state-mandated Urban Growth Area. The idea was to curb runaway sprawl and plan for infrastructure and services necessary to accommodate growth. At the time, 32 percent of county residents worked outside the county. The theory was that development in those areas would help build a strong tax base to provide public services like transportation, fire, schools, parks, and library services.

Unfortunately, hope isn’t a strategy, and the promised infrastructure and services never materialized. Today about 40 percent of Pierce County residents work elsewhere. People living in the Fredrickson, Mid-County, Parkland, Spanaway, and South Hill areas have seen their roads and arterials jam during commute times.

We can no longer encourage more growth outside cities without a plan to deal with the impacts.

On Tuesday the Pierce County Council will consider a proposal from the Executive to add 94,000 people in the urban communities of Pierce County by 2050 on top of the 215,000 who already call it home.

Neither the County nor the State can afford to build enough roads fast enough to improve cross-county or regional car commutes. One solution is to allow increased density where high capacity transit is available. That’s something we’re supporting along the Pacific corridor in the Parkland/Spanaway area where Pierce Transit’s “Stream” service will begin in 2023.

Transit-Oriented Development aims to maximize residential, business, and leisure space within walking distance of public transit. This emphasis on concentrating apartments and housing around transit hubs requires a network of sidewalks and bike lanes to increase pedestrian access and reduce parking near bus stops and centers.

This change to transit development would be a dramatic adjustment in Spanaway and Parkland, where 80 percent use automobiles. Only 5 percent of current residents use public transit to get to work.

This transit-oriented lifestyle appeals to the younger generation of workers who flock to cities and metropolitan areas where they can live without having to fight gridlock every day. It also appeals to the 30 percent of the people who don’t drive cars, including seniors and people living with disabilities.

In other cities where transit-oriented development is successful, demand for this type of housing is robust. It provides a lifestyle attractive to many people, along with considerable savings.

Unfortunately, in other parts of the urban area, there is little to no access to transit. We should wait until that infrastructure is in the works before allowing upzones in those communities.

Currently, $151 million of the County’s transportation plan is unfunded, and the State has no funding to widen SR 512. If the Council upzoned all four community plans simultaneously, the County’s major east-west arterials could not handle the traffic.

We have a housing shortage in Pierce County and need to accommodate expected new growth. However, the Council still has work to do to ensure we don’t overburden already strained services.

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Derek Young

Pierce County Councilmember. Serving Gig Harbor, Fox Island, Key Peninsula, Ruston, and parts of North and West Tacoma.