Everett aims for working waterfront at mill site

EVERETT — The City Council on Wednesday steered the former Kimberly-Clark mill site toward water-dependent industrial development in a zoning decision that banks on creating blue-collar jobs.

The 6-1 vote was cheered loudly in the packed meeting room by the audience, many of whom had testified in favor of preserving Everett’s long history of maritime industry.

The council was weighing two visions for the city’s central waterfront, an area of 90 acres dominated by what’s left of the former Kimberly-Clark mill.

“We’ll look back at this decision as a really proud moment for our community,” Mayor Ray Stephanson said afterward.

The vote involved the city’s land-use regulations and part of its comprehensive plan. It strived to balance the desire to create new job opportunities and more waterfront access for the public, while respecting the security needs of Naval Station Everett next door. Figuring out the best way to clean up more than a century’s worth of pollution, including petroleum products that have soaked into the ground, is an ongoing project.

The changes will take effect 15 days after the mayor’s signature, which is expected this week. At that point, a development moratorium in place for nearly a year will be lifted.

The option approved by the council requires water-dependent industrial uses within 200 feet of the harbor, while allowing office space and other uses that don’t require water access farther from shore.

It followed a unanimous recommendation that Everett’s planning commission made in October.

The lone vote against the council majority came from Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher, who said she believed zoning the area for office parks and light industry promised to create more jobs with higher wages. Her conclusion was based on information presented in a city consultant’s economic analysis.

While heavy industry may look appealing now, Stonecipher said, it may not be the smartest bet for the city over the long term.

“We don’t know what’s possible in five years, what’s possible in 10 years,” she said.

The rules that passed limit building heights to 50 feet, with exceptions for manufacturing equipment. They encourage giving the public access to the waterfront unless it conflicts with business operations, particularly for safety reasons.

The council added water-bottling facilities to a list of prohibited industries at the site. Other unwelcome activities under the new rules are fish processing, composting, petroleum refineries, coal export terminals and adult-oriented entertainment.

Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark Corp. closed its Everett mill in April, eliminating 700 jobs.

Demolition of mill buildings has been under way since summer.

“We are on schedule for demolition to be substantially complete by the end of March and on track with (the state Department of) Ecology to remediate the upland portion of our property during the coming months,” Kimberly-Clark senior counsel Howard Sharfstein said during the public comment portion of the hearing.

Kimberly-Clark has reported talking to several prospective buyers about the mill property. The company hasn’t shared specifics because of non-disclosure agreements, but the Port of Everett is on record as being among the interested parties.

Businesses are mainly attracted to the site’s deep-water access, Sharfstein said.

A senior vice president from Kidder Mathews, the commercial real estate firm that’s marketing the property, drove home the value of the deep-water harbor, which offers a 25-foot draft. An enormous amount of space — some 3.8 million square feet — sits unused in tech parks in the Everett, Bothell, and Woodinville areas, David Speers said.

Twenty people testified during Wednesday’s hearing, most in favor of encouraging businesses that would provide blue-collar job opportunities to replace the ones that disappeared along with Everett’s paper and pulp industry.

The Boeing Co. and other aerospace manufacturers need a healthy port and water access to thrive here, said Jason Redrup, a representative for the International Association of Machinists and board member with the Snohomish County Labor Council.

Ken Hudson from the longshoreman and warehouse union ILWU Local 32 said, “We need to have a working waterfront.”

Port operations are squeezed into a small area and would benefit from more land, Hudson said.

Maritime uses wouldn’t interfere with the site’s biggest neighbor, the U.S. Navy.

“Deep port operations are fully compatible with U.S. Navy operations,” said retired Navy Capt. Dan Squires, former commander of Naval Station Everett. “Security is paramount.”

Other people who spoke during the hearing cautioned elected leaders to be wary of the port taking over the land, given its spotty record of economic development.

Annie Lyman of Everett, a regular at City Council meetings, said to her a sale to the port looked like a forgone conclusion.

“I think you’re paving the way for that to happen,” Lyman said.

If the port were to buy the mill property, all of that land would fall off the tax rolls. Kimberly-Clark’s property-tax bill has hovered around $790,000 in recent years.

Under port ownership, taxpayers also would be on the hook for costly environmental cleanup.

Speers, of Kidder Mathews, earlier assured council members he has been in contact with other potential buyers: “We’re not just talking to the Port of Everett.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Demolition continues

The complex that once housed Kimberly-Clark’s bustling Everett paper mill is falling to the wrecking ball.

Next up: the red-brick 1930s digester building, one of a few large structures remaining.

It’s slated to come down as early as Saturday afternoon, according to Everett and Kimberly-Clark Corp.

The demolition timetable depends on weather, Everett city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said. Snow could delay the plans.

Crews intend to knock over what is left of the building using heavy equipment, rather than implode it, Reardon said. Their preparations included containing asbestos and other hazardous construction debris.

Demolition began in August, roughly four months after the mill closed. Cambria Contracting, Inc., of Lockport, N.Y., has been performing the work.

Kimberly-Clark expects demolition to finish up in the spring.

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