It’s not easy to define progress in Edgewood, let alone measure it. That’s due in large measure to the fact that there’s no consensus on which direction Edgewood ought to be going.

“None of us wants to see growth at the cost of a quality place to live,” says Councilmember Elaine Lewis. She insists she isn’t against progress. Neither are allies Mayor John Powers and Councilmember Sandy Schultz. She admits, however, that they have crafted and supported ordinances and policies designed to keep the quality in.

Lance Docken, owner of Edgewood DataBar Inc. and a retiring member of the City Council, calls them anti-business.

“They are not for quality growth,” he says. “They want to completely shut down any commercial development in Edgewood.”

Antagonism between pro-growth and self-styled slow-growth factions has been simmering since before Edgewood was incorporated as a city in February 1996.

“The battle cry was, ‘Do we want to be another South Hill?’ ” Lewis says of the incorporation campaign. The reference was to the dense commercial development along Puyallup’s south edge. The answer from voters was a resounding no.

Since then, the debate over just how much development ought to be allowed in Edgewood and where it should be allowed to take place has, for the most part, been civil—publicly, anyway. An initiative aimed at reducing the tax paid by car owners in the state could change all that. If I-695 is approved by state taxpayers, Edgewood could see at least 30 percent and some say as high as 40 percent of its revenue disappear.

“Up until now,” says Docken of the so-called slow-growth faction, “they’ve pretty much dismissed the need for new business. If I-695 passes just where is the city going to make up the loss of revenue from?”

I-695 would eliminate the source of equalization funds paid out by the state to cities whose sales tax revenue fall below the statewide average. Equalization funds amount to 30 percent of the City’s total revenue. If approved, Docken says, I-695 wouldn’t take effect for a year, but its impact would be obvious immediately.

“For cities that receive the money the loss would be devastating,” Lewis concedes. But, she adds, the Legislature would find a way for cities to make up the lost revenue.

“The state would have to find a way to replace those funds,” she says.

That sort of attitude is nothing new, says Docken, but it is discouraging. Any new building has to meet strict codes, including regulations on roof pitch and a clause mandating 50 percent of the property’s value be invested in landscaping.

“Can you imagine any large store wanting to add thousands of dollars in costs to their plans?” Docken asks.

Lewis dismisses the requirements as growth planning.

“I imagine there were many outcries when Leavenworth started implementing their changes, too,” she says of ordinances designed to encourage development following a Bavarian theme that has made Leavenworth a winter tourist attraction. “Without these restrictions, we would not be doing our job.”

Docken isn’t alone in suggesting that the quality of the job the slow-growth faction is doing is reflected in its handling of efforts to build a new junior high school in the community.

Taxpayers in the Puyallup School District, which includes most of Edgewood, approved a bond issue in March 1997 to finance several projects, including replacement of Edgemont Junior High, a severely outdated facility. But not so severely outdated that many Edgemont residents thought it couldn’t be used as a community center.

Why not just deed the property over to the City, they asked.

No dice, the School District replied after studying the site options.

Though the School Board met with Edgewood officials in October 1998 and explained that it had no alternative but to build the new school on the site of the old one, Lewis is among those who refuse to concede defeat.

“I’m not saying that there is or isn’t a chance to gain control of the old school,” she says. “You just never know what might happen.”

Puyallup School Superintendent Dick Sovde, himself an Edgewood resident, says he knows.

“The School Board has decided to build on the site,” Sovde says. “The existing structure will be razed.”

Sovde isn’t the only one whose tone sometimes suggests an element of frustration with City leaders. Bill O’Ravaz, owner of Edgewood Flower Farm and a member of the City’s Planning Committee, says Edgewood is using the fact that it has yet to complete a comprehensive plan as an excuse to do nothing.

“Edgewood has used the comprehensive plan as a scapegoat to avoid deciding issues,” contends O’Ravaz, who says he’d like to see issues met head on instead of avoided.

“Delaying decisions until the comp plan is done has hurt the City,” he says. But time is running out on such delaying tactics, he says. Edgewood’s comprehensive plan must be submitted to the county in February 2000, he says, adding that he believes the deadline will remove a major obstacle to progress in Edgewood.

Mixed messages further undermine the City’s credibility with critics. Despite refusing to waive strict ordinances designed to limit development in the City, it waived a prohibition against temporary buildings for a temporary City Hall.

“Just what are we saying to the residents here?” O’Ravaz wonders.

Not surprisingly, O’Ravaz and Lewis also are on opposite sides of the sewer moratorium, which the city has approved every three months since the City was incorporated.

Despite a recent decision by the City Council to take part in a unified Pierce County Study, Lewis says she believes the City should consider various options before agreeing to hook up to the County system.

“We need to look at Sumner, Fife and even Puyallup before just blindly following the county,” she says.

“We need to get the infrastructure built,” replies O’Ravaz.

It’s no secret that for some residents of Edgewood, the term business has a dirty connotation, O’Ravaz says.

“The City believes it can survive on property tax revenue and equalization funds and can afford to exclude business,” he says, “but if sales tax revenue is ever needed to make up other lost revenue sources, Edgewood may be in trouble.”

In the long run, he says, the current strategy will prove costly to the City. Business will choose not to gamble on Edgewood, O’Ravaz warns.

The City’s 1999 anticipated share of sales tax revenue generated within its boundaries is a mere $182,000, a pittance compared to the state average and what might eventually be needed to sustain the community.

Some business owners say that despite the anti-business sentiment among some City Council members, it’s business they turn to when they hope to fill Edgewood’s coffers. They point to a proposed business license requirement that recently was defeated by a narrow City Council vote. The defeat did little to warm the business community’s hearts.

Like Docken, most see the proposal as the first volley in a battle that eventually will be waged over whether there should be a Business & Occupation Tax in Edgewood. They are convinced the City will try to exact a steep price from businesses willing to stay, Doken says.

Even Lewis realizes growth is inevitable—and that some efforts to control it are beyond the City’s control.

Tim McKamey, principal of Edgemont Junior High School, likens the split he has witnessed to the difference between those who care and those who care too much for an Edgewood they will never see again.

“We need to distill the history of Edgewood and find a way to communicate it to the next generation,” he says. He believes the new school does just that by incorporating a “Sight and Sound” museum and a building design that reflects the old school..

By Brent Snyder, Business Examiner staff