Mayor says moratorium would be ‘catastrophic’

Oct. 14, 2016

A moratorium that residents have been seeking for the former Weyerhaeuser campus would be financially “catastrophic” to the city, Mayor Jim Ferrell told residents gathered for Thursday night’s town hall meeting.

“It would take us down a rabbit hole, we have no idea where we would go on the other side. And we would be in constant litigation,” the mayor said, responding to a question from a member of Save Weyerhaeuser Campus.

The Mayor said the property’s zoning has been in place for 22 years, under the concomitant agreement the city and Weyerhaeuser signed when the company annexed to the city in 1994. So new owner IRG could bring legal action for “breach of contract, collateral estoppel, justified reliance,” Mayor Ferrell said in response to a resident’s question.

“We do not want IRG to get their money back from you, the taxpayers, in a $10 million, $20 million judgement … because somehow or another they justifiably relied on this zoning decision,” the mayor said. “And now they’re gonna get their investment back. And then on the backside, they sell the property anyway.”

For weeks, residents have been asking the Federal Way City Council to enact a moratorium on future development permits on the property so that a master development plan for the campus can be drafted.

Mayor Ferrell said the 1994 agreement does not call for a master plan.

“If we follow a logic tree, there is only one reason to call a moratorium, and that is to in whole or in part set aside the concomitant agreement,” he said. “And that will open up the city, in my opinion, to massive liability.”

Litigation with IRG could cost the city “millions and millions of dollars,” and the city wouldn’t be covered by insurance, he said. That could mean impacts to things like police services and human services, he said.

Also at the Oct. 13 Town Hall meeting, the mayor said that a 721,000-square-foot warehouse proposed for the north part of the former Weyerhaeuser campus “won’t work” because the city plans to extend South 324th Street east across Interstate 5 and through the campus. The road, including a new freeway interchange, was included in an amendment to the city’s master plan in June 2015, Ferrell said. IRG, new owner of the campus property, is now trying to figure out what to do about the road, the mayor added.

As for the Preferred Freezer/Orca Bay Seafoods proposal under review by the city, if that project doesn’t go through, IRG says it has “maybe eight or nine other companies standing in line behind this project,” said Brian Wilson, the mayor’s chief of staff.