Formless Code? Land use blog goes to Puyallup

Here I was, lost, wandering around in Puyallup of all places and I saw this out my window.

It looked like a big real estate or farm equipment firm had decided to hold it’s company pic nic in their Office Space like parking lot. It looked pretty crowded and it was noon time. What a generous gesture from the owners of the company to hire all the infrastructure in to give employees the illusion that they were at an Italian wine bar only steps from their cubicle.

But wait a minute. That’s not an insurance agency. It’s a restaurant!

Toscano’s Cafe and Wine Bar seems to be doing quite well. The place looked completely full. There’s no housing here and no other retail. You’ve gotta drive to get here, or work in one of the buildings around it.

Now I know there are a lot of similar things in places all across our region. You can find Chili’s or Keg restaurants galore in shopping mall parking lots. But it’s a rarity to see an outdoor wine bar in the midst of a sea of parking and the big glass windows of commercial office space.

Not only that, right across the street from Toscano’s is farm land.

Here’s a couple of maps for context. The top one is a Google map and the one below it is Puyallup’s zoning map.

Toscano’s is on the upper right side of the zoning map, between a big bland spot and the light brown. The Pink color is General Commercial and the brown is High Density Multiple Family Residential.

Here’s how the code, chapter 20 of Puyallup’s municipal code, describes General Commercial:

(5) CG General Commercial Zone. The CG zone is intended to provide for retailing and other commercial services that serve the large market area surrounding the Puyallup community. Such commercial developments usually rely upon the automobile as their principal source of access. In contrast to the CB zone, some uses in the CG zone may require large tracts of land and involve outdoor display of products for sale (such as automobile sales). The CG zone is also intended to allow some uses which are quasi-light industrial in character. (Ord. 2851 § 5, 2006; Ord. 2563 § 1, 1998; Ord. 2454 § 1, 1995; Ord. 2147 Exh. A, 1987).

Ahhhhh. So crisp, so clear, and so honest. And if you’re not sure what the General Commercial zone means . . .

Whenever a use is proposed to be established for property in the C zones, the planning director shall determine the appropriate classification of the use under the classifications set forth in Table 20.30.010 of this chapter. All such determinations shall be based upon a finding that the use is consistent with the description and purpose for the respective C zones set forth under PMC 20.30.005 and that such uses are similar to and compatible with the types of use examples provided in the definition of the relevant use classification set forth in Chapter 20.15 PMC. All determinations pursuant to this section may be appealed as an interpretation review to the hearing examiner pursuant to Chapter 20.87 PMC. (Ord. 2563 § 1, 1998; Ord. 2454 § 1, 1995; Ord. 2316 § 1, 1992; Ord. 2147 Exh. A, 1987).

Not sure what you’re allowed to build in the zone, ask the planning director. Don’t like what planning director thinks, talk to the hearing examiner.

I think Seattle is pathologically incapable of such simplicity. True, Puyallup is light years behind us in terms of density and transit and all the goodies we urbanists actively promote. But is that really so true? Puyallup certainly has a different set of values under it’s code, but in a sense the values are much more honest and straight forward.

Puyallup has a light rail stop and it has a historic downtown. In some ways I think Puyallup has a much more mature perspective about land use than we do. Or perhaps they’re more in touch with the basics of land use. Mix up a wine bar with an out door patio in the parking lot? Sure, why not. Hang a left down the hall way and your in the lobby of a title company, go to the right you’re eating spaghetti and meatballs.

But such a formless code might just be too scary for us in Seattle. Where’s the limits on height? What about parking? What about housing? What if someone makes a bunch of money at our expense? Cats and dogs, living together, mass hysteria!

I think as consider changing the code around light rail stations we should just have some smart guys sit down with a piece of blank paper and let them write a simple paragraph about what we want to see around light rail, let the Director interpret and implement that, and then, if you’re still not happy, tell it to the judge.

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One Response to Formless Code? Land use blog goes to Puyallup

  1. Better put highrises on that farm land to get diners out of their cars. They will certainly wat to live there. I see rapid transit in their future as well.

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