Ten economic development lessons learned from the recent Meridian Market process


The Hearing Examiner for the City of Lacey recently issued a recommendation to allow construction of the Meridian Market Gas Station project in northeast Lacey despite resident concerns. The City received hundreds of comments, with the vast majority opposing the gas station. Most of the people in the community do not oppose a market or other business on the site.

But the decision to allow a gas station, which will be owned by people who do not live in the area, will be made by others who do not live in the area.

People live in Meridian Campus because of the safe, walkable, attractive environment, not because a gas station is so close by. The area has easy access to the I-5 corridor and related services. There are at least seven existing gas stations convenient to the community; there is no local outcry for another.

The gas station would be less than 50 feet from Meridian Neighborhood Park and the City-protected William Ives trail. It would also be in the walk path to a middle school, and at a busy intersection used by both vehicles and pedestrians. Residents have legitimate health and safety concerns.

The Federal Way developers own Market Analysis acknowledged, “For the food and convenience store to work, it is essential to sell gas at this location…. the sale of gas also brings financing... “

It is disturbing that developers can get $1.5 million+ in loans to build an unneeded gas station but not a loan to build a food market.

City Council members will ultimately decide whether to allow a dubious business proposition that will impact the community for decades to come. The experience serves as a cautionary tale for every Lacey neighborhood and Homeowners Association with undeveloped parcels. Here are ten lessons learned about the economic development process.

  1. It is likely that none of the actual decision makers will have their home life impacted by the decision. None of the developers, nor City Council members, nor City Planning or Parks employees, nor School Board members, nor the hearing examiner in this case live close enough to see, hear or smell the proposed gas station.
  2. All the agencies, City employees, and the Hearing Examiner are diligent. They must follow legal guidelines and checklists designed to favor development and avoid lawsuits.
  3. Residents may not have a voice in zoning changes and land use. It is only because a gas station is a “conditional use” that residents could officially voice concerns in this case.
  4. Commercial Developers need not consult with adjacent neighbors nor established Homeowner Associations about the area’s needs or interests before submitting projects to the City.
  5. The City of Lacey must publish public notice of a proposed project, but it is only required to directly notify property owners within 300 feet of a proposed project. You will likely learn about a project by seeing a Public Notice sign or on social media.
  6. Because City Council must make a “quasi-judicial” decision on this proposal, you (as a tax-paying citizen) are prohibited from directly contacting your elected council members to discuss your concerns. All comments must be submitted via the Hearing Examiner process.
  7. City, State or Regional agencies can impose restrictions on the approval of an application. The Olympia Regional Clean Air Authority (ORCAA) does require the proposed gas station to install storage tanks that meet the current gold standard of the California Air Resources Board. Unlike California, however, the City of Lacey does not require a 300-foot setback of new gas stations from playgrounds or schools.
  8. Some Land Use Goals and Policies and Zoning Codes seem contradictory. The City’s Northeast Area Land Use Plan states that Goals and Policies “should apply to the entire Hawks Prairie business area.” And the Design Standards for Convenience Stores and Service Stations (LMC 16.37.070) state that a gas station in the designated Commercial/Business zone “cannot be built on a parcel adjacent to an intersection.”

Now you might think that a gas station on a neighborhood “Commercial” lot adjacent to a busy intersection would also be prohibited. Not so fast! Per City of Lacey zoning, a gas station at a busy intersection in a residential neighborhood, across from a City park and in the walk zone for school kids and other pedestrians, is just fine as long as the developer has deep enough pockets to meets all the conditions.

  1. Do not expect to hear from school district administration nor elected representatives with concerns about the safety of children living or walking near the project or catching a bus.
  2. Do not expect the Parks and Recreation Department to voice concern even though the project will be the only gas station in all of Lacey that is within 50 feet of a public park with playground.

As a resident whose neighborhood will be changed for decades, all you can do now is hope that diligent City Council members will visit your neighborhood before they vote.

You can hope they ask:  Would I want a gas station so close to my home? Hope they ask if the project is truly needed.

Would they want their children passing the project on their way to and from school or the playground?

Would they want their property values to be negatively impacted?

Would they be concerned about traffic, health, and environmental safety if they or their loved ones lived close to the project?

Elaine Briggs is a resident of Lacey and lives within blocks of the proposed new gas station in Hawks Prairie.

Editor's Note: The opinions in this piece are those of the writer and not the staff or board of The JOLT News Organization. If you have an opposing opinion, or even an opinion about another local topic, we encourage you to write it up and send to us for publication.