Pierce County Department of Planning and Land Services

Management: Chuck Kleeberg, director

Headquarters: Tacoma

Current projects: In Frederickson, Whirlpool is building a 930,000-square-foot warehouse and Ikea is planning a 223,000-square-foot addition to its new warehouse; also in Frederickson, Schnitzer is planning three warehouses totaling 2 million square feet and Tarragon is seeking permits for Frederickson West, another three warehouses covering 1.6 million square feet

The decline in speculative home development has hit Pierce County hard.

“We expected $14 million of revenue (this year) and now we’re saying $8 (million),” said Chuck Kleeberg, the county’s director of planning and land services. Close to 90 percent of Pierce County’s business is residential development, and one-third of that is speculative.

Between 16 percent and 20 percent of the permitting staff has been laid off since the downturn and more staff cuts may be coming, unless the Pierce County Council adopts new permitting fees.

“The worry is the new fees will reduce the number of permits that come in,” Kleeberg said.

South Hill growth

In these gloomy economic times, it’s difficult for developers to borrow money even to build apartment buildings, which are very much in demand in Pierce County. “Lenders are very nervous,” Kleeberg said.

The biggest growth he has seen this year is in South Hill, where there is a lot of available land and fairly good transportation access. Out of about 2,000 residential permits issued this year, 30 percent to 40 percent were in South Hill. Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula have also become a popular places to build homes in Pierce County.

“Friends say the new bridge has added an hour or two to their lives every day,” Kleeberg said.

The new Tacoma-Narrows bridge opened in July of 2007.

Urban-rural tension

Pierce County is becoming more urban, but not as fast as King County, where there has been significant tension between urban and rural residents.

State courts recently struck down some of King County’s permitting fees — which were directed at residents in unincorporated areas — as being illegal.

Years ago, Kleeberg was the director of King County’s permitting department, and he sees some of the same tensions in Pierce County now.

His department is attempting to diffuse those tensions by having each community develop its own community plan. The county develops separate regulations for each community based on that plan. Even tiny Ashford, near Mount Rainier, has one.

“We have them decide how they want their community to look,” Kleeberg said.

Each one of these plans — there are more than a dozen — costs about $250,000 to prepare.

“That’s one thing we’ll work on next year, to simplify those plans,” he said.

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