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Seattle Industry is published by the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle

SI eBulletin

Difficult to Digest

Posted: November 7, 2012

Eat dirt.

That’s the advice of some who believe the human digestive system suffers from the absence of the nurturing soil that used to be so deeply embedded in our vegetables. Don’t believe it? Google “Eat Dirt.”

But even the most enthusiastic dirt diners concede that not all dirt is fit for human consumption. That recognition is at the root of an unusual regulatory issue that could cloud industrial real estate in the City of Seattle.

Here’s the background.

Day care centers are permitted in all industrial zones in Seattle. That means that if you build a new day care inside an industrial zone, you have to clean up the soil beneath it to assure it’s safe for children to crawl in - and eat. On many industrial properties in Seattle, that type of cleanliness is hard to achieve. It is also expensive.

But, what if you want to build, but are not planning to build a day care center? You might think the day-care clean-up standards wouldn’t apply, but it turns out they do under a recent administrative ruling by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The ruling concerns a two-acre site near the Spokane Street Viaduct between SODO and Georgetown. The property owner wants to tear down an old industrial building and build a new one. No day care facility is proposed or envisioned.

But DOE says the ground beneath the development site must still be cleaned up to day care (or residential) soil standards, and not industrial soil standards, because under the zoning, the new building might someday be converted to a day care center or an industrial employer might want on-site day care for their employees.

The property owner estimates this requirement will add $3 million to the project. The owner offered to resolve the issue by signing a covenant that no day care will ever operate on the site. But the state argues that city zoning leaves no leeway and since day cares are allowed in all industrial zones, the ruling may apply to any real estate proposal within the 5,000 acres of industrial land located inside the Seattle city limits.

Sound crazy? Only if you haven’t been paying attention over the past thirty years as overlapping regulations piled up on Seattle industrial land faster than sea gull droppings.

But there is a chance common sense might yet prevail.

The City of Seattle, King County, and the State of Washington are now embarking on a new initiative to promote industrial job growth by providing “regulatory flexibility” and other measures to support private and public investment in industrial properties.

As part of this initiative, the public agencies are picking Industrial Development Pilot Projects where flexibility might be applied.

The day care clean-up issue is being nominated as a pilot project by the Manufacturing Industrial Council in partnership with AMEC Environment and Infrastructure, the consulting firm that represents the property owner with the project that brought the issue to the surface.

Pilot projects will be selected by the end of the year. Seattle Industry will keep you posted. For more information, call Dave Gering at the MIC, 206-762-2470.

We blame no one for being skeptical that the new government effort will work. But the reference to seagull droppings was not accidental. Last year, DOE worked out a compromise on fecal coliform regulations for stormwater runoff after learning of the practical problems created by efforts to regulate bird droppings and other animal poop. Which shows progress is possible.

Like dirt, hope springs eternal.


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