Members of Tacoma City Council voted to delay a vote on potential annexation of the Town of Ruston's portion of the $1.2 billion Point Ruston project until Feb. 24.
The decision came after an in-depth presentation by the developers on why they think annexation should happen, a plea against that move by Ruston Mayor Bruce Hopkins and two Ruston council members, and nearly an hour of public comments.
Loren Cohen, a Point Ruston developer along with his father. Mike Cohen, said Ruston already approved the master development plan, but he has not been able to obtain required permits. The experience provides a stark contrast to the project's experience with Tacoma, he said.
“We would come to city hall in Tacoma and we had an expectation that was based on reality that we could get a permit, if we met the code,” he said. “In Tacoma, while it's difficult, while it's a big task, it can get done. In Ruston, we haven't had that success yet; we can't walk in with the expectation that we can walk out with a permit. The juxtaposition is one of certainty, versus one of uncertainty.”
Ruston Mayor Hopkins said, however, that the site plans have changed since the town council approved them. Furthermore, he said, construction has been started on a few items without the proper building permits. And the town rejects the idea that developers are working under a federal exemption, allegedly making local permits unnecessary.
Ultimately, Hopkins expressed support for the project, but he said city law dictates that Point Ruston developers need to amend their plans.
“I would love to have the power to say 'yes.' That'd be the easiest thing to do for me. Saying 'no' to this, seeing what it does to me in the media, this is the last thing I want to do,” the town official said.
Tacoma's council members said they needed more time to study the issue and to see if any progress could be made in the meantime.
Councilman Ryan Mello, however, wanted an immediate vote on annexation.
On the opposing side, Councilman Joe Lonergan said any annexation steps will just draw out the process even longer. He believes there is an opportunity to bring renewed focus by Ruston and the Cohens to resolve the situation.
Lonergan added that, though there has been some frustration and embarrassment, “there is a willingness to move forward. It's been stated on public record, in a televised meeting, and now is the time that everyone knows that. (The option to negotiate has) been day-lighted.”