After somewhat heated debate, Ruston Town Council approved the Point Ruston master development plan in a 3-2 vote during its Sept. 2 meeting.
Councilmember Wayne Stebner expressed concern over language calling for the entire mixed-use development to be served by the same utility providers that the section in Tacoma will be served by. He thinks Ruston should provide electricity within its boundaries.
“This is a lot of money leaving the town coffers,” he said. “This is going to be a big hit financially to lose this money.”
Councilmember Jim Hedrick inquired whether Bennett Street will be vacated permanently.
Bradley Huson, who is serving as mayor pro-tem on an interim basis since Bob Everding resigned as mayor last month, told him $250,000 is being held in escrow to pay for reconnecting the street. “Where Bennett Street will reconnect is a discussion we will need to have with Point Ruston.”
Huson, Hedrick and Jane Hunt voted to approve the plan; Dan Albertson and Stebner voted against.
Albertson voiced concern with building heights both on the Tacoma side, which would be between 35 and 70 feet, and in Ruston, where they could be between 35 and 60 feet tall. Albertson said such heights are out of scope in Ruston, where the only building of any considerable height is The Commencement, a condominium tower under construction.
Albertson said the council is rushing the process. He said they did the same with the plan for Stack Hill, a residential development also on the former Asarco smelter site. The town is being sued over that, he noted. “Sometimes when you rush to do something you shoot yourself in the foot.”
Hunt said Albertson should not be discussing Stack Hill, as the ordinance was not on that project.
“This is not the way business should be conducted by a council,” Albertson remarked. “We are voting on things people do not understand.”
Hunt said her one concern is giving up the utility. “Otherwise I think this is a fabulous plan.”
Huson said he, Albertson, the town’s former attorney, and Michael Transue, who was mayor at the time, were selected as liaisons to the developer and the city.
Huson said Albertson discontinued his involvement in this when Councilmember Jane Hall was appointed to fill an opening.
“If he has questions about it, he obviously has a very short memory,” Huson said about Albertson.
He then read part of a letter from Silver Cloud Inns, which plans to build a hotel on the Ruston side. The letter, dated Aug. 22, is signed by CEO James Korbein. He stated that if the town government delayed or rejected the master plan, the company “would be forced to shift our plans in regard to Point Ruston in another direction.”
Huson interpreted this as meaning south, across the border with Tacoma, which would cost Ruston the tax revenue from the hotel and affiliated retail businesses.
Kevin Mosier, chair of Ruston Planning Commission, said commission members had the plan for a month to review prior to the first public hearing. “To say any part of it was rushed on our part is incorrect,” he remarked. Mosier said Point Ruston will have the necessary variety of taller and shorter buildings. “It is going to be a good mix,” he remarked.
Hedrick described it as “a historic night” prior to the vote. “This is why I ran for council.”
Hedrick said he and his colleagues had agreed on this timeline for the plan.
Referring to the letter from Silver Cloud, he said, “If they go to Tacoma, folks, we are gone,” referring to the town’s future. “Then we will be stuck with 85-foot high condos when we get annexed by Tacoma.”
Albertson expressed doubt that tax revenue from Point Ruston will start rolling in early enough to essentially keep the town from going broke. “The extent to which people think this will save Ruston as a town I do not think is realistic.”
After the vote, several residents thanked the council for approving the plan during public comment. One asked Albertson and Stebner to resign, claiming they are standing in the way of progress.
“At this point, the council’s approval rating might be above Congress soon,” Hedrick quipped.
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