Man Disappointed in Thurston County’s Process as Plans for Land for Distribution Center in South Thurston County Hit Snag

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The man behind an effort to rezone land and change county code on about 33 acres in south Thurston County for a distribution center says he is very disappointed in Thurston County’s process.

Ray Schuler’s goal is to prepare the land for a distribution center similar to a warehouse for Michaels, the crafts retailer, that sits on the plot of land just south of his in Lewis County.

Schuler told The Olympian Friday that Thurston County’s recent determination of significance on his project under the state Environmental Policy Act means a detailed environmental study — officially known as an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS — will be required on the proposal.

Schuler was blunt in his assessment of the situation: “We will be appealing the determination of significance and have no intention of completing a full EIS,” he said.

His proposal already has come before the Thurston County Planning Commission, an advisory body that recommended there be no changes to the land in question. Based on that recommendation, Schuler said he can’t spend what he estimates will be $50,000 to $100,000 to complete the EIS.

He said he owns 29 acres of the 33-acre parcel that is bordered by Interstate 5, the Michaels distribution center, Great Wolf Lodge and Highway 99 — an area that would appear ripe for industrial development. It also falls within a federal opportunity zone, a designation designed to spur economic development.

“This checks a lot of boxes, but it apparently didn’t check any boxes with the planning commission,” he said.

County Commission Briefing

Planning commissions typically do not make binding decisions, but the Board of Thurston County Commissioners do, and they received a briefing about the Up Castle proposal on Nov. 10.

Up Castle is the name of Schuler’s limited liability company — so named because it reflects an acquisition he and his wife made in University Place, he said. He also works for the commercial real estate company Kidder Mathews.

Schuler’s proposal seeks to rezone the south Thurston County land to rural resource industrial from rural residential resource/one dwelling unit per five acres. That proposal was added to the county’s docket of comprehensive plan amendments last spring for the 2020-21 period, according to information shared during the briefing.

In addition, Up Castle also sought to tweak the requirements of a county code.

Senior Planner Maya Teeple told the board that the parcels to be rezoned are about three miles from an I-5 interchange and do not access a county arterial, but use a local road to get to the larger road. The code would have to be changed to accommodate those uses, she said.

She added, too, that if the county code were changed, it would impact all of rural unincorporated Thurston County.

“The code changes will be a lot further reaching than the parcels the applicants have applied for,” she said.

Schuler acknowledged there has been pushback on the proposed change to the county code. County officials said 254 comments have been received about the overall proposal, with 240 of them opposed to it. Among concerns: the loss of agricultural land.

A planning commission public hearing was held in October via Zoom, and Schuler said he learned enough to alter his county code proposal so that it wouldn’t be so far reaching, and would more closely focus on the land in question. He was under the impression the October public hearing would be carried over into November, but that was not the case, he said.

Senior planner Teeple said the planning commission does not have to consider public comment after a public hearing.

“That can create a logistical nightmare for the planning commission where they are receiving endless comments that come in and a proposal never ends,” she said.

The planning commission did see Schuler’s altered county code proposal, but decided not to formally reopen and engage on it, but instead to let it go to the county board, added Joshua Cummings, community planning and economic development director for the county.

In addition to essentially saying no to the Up Castle proposal, the planning commission also recommended that the county embark on a study of the availability of industrial land countywide, including in rural and urban growth areas, and to put industrial land use and rezone requests on hold until the study is complete, according to county information.

 

Now What?

The Nov. 10 board briefing ended with the board planning to revisit the Up Castle proposal early next year, and possibly to vote on it after the completion of the EIS, which could take a year, county officials said.

But that timeline isn’t so clear with Schuler announcing he plans to appeal.

Schuler said he is not a developer, but planned to lay the groundwork for an eventual sale to a developer.

“It just made sense to take a run at this for economic development,” he said.

For more about this proposal, or to comment on the SEPA determination, go to: https://www.thurstoncountywa.gov/planning/Pages/comp-plan-upcastle-rezone.aspx.