City to limit large warehouses in the Kent Valley

Council adopts interim land-use change; hopes to attract other types of businesses

Any developer planning to build a trucking-intensive warehouse in the Kent Valley will need to put on the brakes and make a U-turn.

The Kent City Council unanimously approved on Tuesday night an interim land-use zoning ordinance to limit any new large warehouses. City leaders are looking to change the valley from less of a warehouse center and more of an aerospace center or similar industries that bring in more tax revenue and fewer trucks that quickly wear out the roads.

“I want to say thank you to the council for taking this action,” Mayor Dana Ralph said. “This preserves our ability to plan and that is key. Everything that happens in our valley has a very, very lasting impact. If you look back to when it was built out with the warehouses, it was many, many years ago, and it was a deliberate plan by councils and mayors that came before all of us.

“Giving us the ability to hit pause and plan for what our future should look like is extremely important. … It’s extremely important we take our destiny into our own hands and plan for what our future will look like, not only today and tomorrow, but 50 years from now,” Ralph said. “And it all relates back to the idea of the streamlined sales tax change and to make sure we can take care of our infrastructure and take care of our city.”

The Legislature changed Washington in 2008 from an origin-based system for local retail sales tax to a destination-based system, taking away the city’s tax revenue from its many warehouses. Kent gets about $5 million per year from the state in mitigation funds for losing that revenue, but legislators have looked at taking that mitigation away.

The council has scheduled a public hearing about the zoning change during its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, at City Hall.

The new code restricts new buildings to no more than one dock-high loading door per 40,000 square feet of gross floor area. The footprint area of new buildings is limited to 125,000 square feet. The interim zoning measure is expected to be in place for one year when staff and the council will look at any potential changes to the code.

“It’s a policy for the amount of trucking activity,” said Hayley Bonsteel, city long range planning manager, in her report to the council prior to its vote. “The dock-high doors are where trucks pull up to load or unload. The square footage of the footprint of the building is because it’s a combination of the size of these facilities and the fact they are trucking intensive.”

Bonsteel said trucks impact city streets with wear and tear.

“They have significant impact on city infrastructure,” she said. “One truck is equal to about 8,000 cars when it comes to impact on our pavement. And those costs are borne by the city much more so than perhaps they were before the change on streamlined sales tax. So it has put the city in a difficult fiscal situation to keep that infrastructure maintained.”

Council and staff would like to attract a wider-range of businesses to undeveloped land remaining along the West Valley Highway rather than recent interest shown by developers to build more warehouses in excess of 100,000 square feet and a ratio of dock-high doors at less than one per 5,000 square feet of building area, according to city documents.

City leaders also are starting a Rally the Valley campaign – to be done over the next year – to look at bringing in other types of industries, including the potential for more aerospace businesses in addition to Boeing and Blue Origin, the Jeff Bezos-owned company that plans to offer space travel.

“Rally the Valley is about maximizing the economic potential of Kent’s special valley,” Bonsteel said. “We are unlikely to prohibit entirely these kind of uses (large warehouses) … but we need to figure out how to regulate that and make policy changes based on the costs of different uses.”

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