Chambers Creek Properties plan wins national recognition

An ambitious plan to transform 930 acres of land in Pierce County from a working gravel mine with a regional wastewater treatment plant and urban canyon into a premier public recreation facility has been selected as the winner of the American Planning Association’s 2004 Current Topic Award – Parks & Public Land.

This award is yet another for the Chambers Creek Properties Master Site Plan, a cooperative effort between the cities of University Place and Lakewood and Pierce County that seeks not only to open up the land to public use, but also to return biological productivity using treated waste products as nutrients.

This national award is given to a plan that demonstrates a balanced and equitable use of public lands, broad community support, transferability of lessons and methods, significance of the planning role, and likelihood of long-term impact.

The transformation of this devastated site has already begun with completion of 1.5 miles of trails, an award-winning Environmental Services Building and multipurpose playfields.

Planned developments include revenue generating uses to provide long-term operating funds for 10 miles of trails, beach access, two public piers, a boat launch, ball fields, a golf course, arboretum, native plant production nursery and open space.

In August 1997, the Chambers Creek Properties Master Site Plan was approved by the Pierce County Council and shortly afterward by the City Councils for University Place and Lakewood.

“We’ve been implementing it ever since,” said project manager Joe Scorcio, special assistant to the director of Pierce County Public Works & Utilities, who lauded the multi-jurisdictional approach that has helped to successfully implement the plan.

With an estimated $70 million in improvements proposed, a conservative timeline of 50 years was established, although Scorcio said the plan is ahead of schedule and the timeline is actually closer to 25 years.

A designer for the golf course is in the process of being selected, Scorcio stated, with construction set to begin next year. As for the native plant production nursery, with such a large area to cover – the site is bigger than Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, he pointed out – a vendor or vendors is being sought to provide plants specifically bred to use in the rehabilitation of mined-out areas like the Chambers Creek Properties.

Also critical to the project’s success has been the involvement of the public, with a Citizen Committee and hundreds of area residents assisting in the formation of the Chambers Creek Properties Master Site Plan.

Continuing the public’s involvement is the Chambers Creek Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in 2000 to facilitate and accelerate the implementation of the project. It is the official clearinghouse for donated funds and projects for the plan.

“A lot of people just volunteer,” said Valarie Zeeck, president of the Chambers Creek Foundation.

People are especially anxious to donate their time, energy and money, she said, when they view the spectacular property, which includes two miles of Puget Sound shoreline and traverses nearly three miles of creek and canyon within University Place, Lakewood and unincorporated Pierce County.
“It’s such a great project,” she said. “It’s such a great property.”

The project credo is “Reclaiming our Resources,” and each action is aimed at supporting the sustainable approach to reclamation and development of public lands.

A good example is the award-winning Environmental Services Building, a “green” structure which makes use of recycled and non-toxic materials, as well as natural air and light circulation. The building and surrounding grounds received the 2003 Silver Award in recognition of engineering excellence from the American Council of Engineering Companies.

This is just one of several awards the Chambers Creek Site has already won, including recognition by the City-County Communications and Marketing Association and National Association of County Information Officers.
The American Planning Association each year honors a handful of communities or individuals for demonstrating excellence and raising the standard for good community planning. Recipients of the 2004 National Planning Awards will be honored at the 2004 National Planning Conference in Washington, D.C., on April 24 -28.