Taking Ownership In Unincorporated Communities: South Hill, Washington’s Community Plan

The following post comes courtesy of Global Site Plans' The Grid. CNU and Global Site Plans recently teamed up to syndicate Grid content, as its contingent of writers present a view on the opportunities and issues of urbanization all across the world. CNU will carry select posts from the Grid direct on the CNU Salons.



South Hill, Washington in Pierice CountyBefore the adoption of Washington State’s Growth Management Act (GMA) in 1990, unincorporated communities like South Hill were under the planning and development policies of Pierce County’s Comprehensive Land use Plan and the Pierce County Zoning code adopted in 1962. Basic Euclidian zoning districts were established that dictated the appropriate location for commercial business and residential homes. However, the Plan did not offer much protection from incompatible uses and did not recognize the unique individuality of communities. The lack of contemporary design guidelines and community involvement is evident on Meridian Avenue (SR-161), the main thoroughfare of South Hill. Rapid growth during the late 1970’s caused major traffic congestion as it became intensely developed as a continuous strip of commercial developments.

The Pierce County Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 1994 which replaced the 1962 Comprehensive Plan in its entirety. The Community Plan Element of the 1994 plan envisions a local voice in how the Comprehensive Plan and its Development Regulations will be carried out in communities. It indicates specific land use designations, appropriate densities, and modern design standards that should apply in community planning areas. Preserving and building community character, while ensuring an efficient and predictable development approval process, is a central theme.

South Hill, Washington's Community Plan Zoning MapThe The South Hill Community Plan; adopted by Pierce County on April 22, 2003, was not a requirement of the GMA, but county officials included it to give residents, businesses, property owners, architects, and Pierce County a clearer, more detailed sense of how the community wants future growth and development to occur.

The South Hill Community Plan accomplishes the following:

  • Sets distinct goals and visions for the South Hill community;
  • Provides design standards for architecture, site layout, signs, and landscaping to all development;
  • Provides tree retention or replacement standards to ensure significant vegetation is provided for each site;
  • Establishes recreation standards to ensure recreation is provided for every new residential development and that the recreation area is not just a small tot lot;
  • Requires pedestrian connections through commercial and residential areas so that citizens may travel on foot or bicycle to any destination within the community;
  • Identifies implementation actions necessary to carry the plan to full completion over the course of the next 20 years.

The Community Plan Element and even local Land Use Advisory Commissions are great policy tools to empower the voice of citizens in a community, but how do you to avoid NIMBYism?

To read the original post, written by Kennith George visit Global Site Plans


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