Update of the Key Peninsula Community Plan nearly complete

Sara Thompson

In 2008, following a four-year process, a group of 15 Key Peninsula citizens completed a community plan, a document describing the Key Peninsula and providing a guide for future development. It is available online at co.pierce.wa.us/DocumentCenter/View/4040.

Pierce County is now reviewing its comprehensive plan and the shoreline management plan. What will that mean for the Key Peninsula?


The Washington State Legislature passed the Growth Management Act in the 1990s. The act outlined planning goals to guide the development of comprehensive plans for each county. The goals included urban growth, reduction of sprawl, transportation, affordable housing, economic development, natural resource industries, open space and recreation, environment, public services, historic preservation and shoreline.

In 1995, Pierce County passed its comprehensive plan and has reviewed it every eight years since then, as required by the state. The plan guides county decisions related to growth and development in unincorporated Pierce County. The plan is due for review, and now, at 20 years and with newer census data available since the last update, the county is taking action.

Impact of Comprehensive Plan Revision on the Community Plans

Because the various community plans (there are 10 in addition to Key Peninsula) had many commonalities, county staff wanted to simplify procedures. In addition, some community issues such as zoning regulations, agricultural resource lands and design standards are now addressed in county programs or regulations.

Between April and September 2014, county staff met with the individual land use advisory commissions to work on the community plan consolidation.

The staff worked with the Key Peninsula Land Use Advisory Commission (KPAC) to highlight sections of the community plan that might be shifted to the comprehensive plan —sections that were common to the community plans and those that were regulatory in nature. The groups also identified sections that KPAC wanted to keep intact —reflecting unique aspects of the community plan —while moving the more general policies to the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan.

Impact on the Key Peninsula

Jeff Mann, senior planner with Pierce County Planning and Land Services, and other staff met with KPAC and concerned citizens. He described the reaction to the county process early on as “mixed”but also felt that ultimately the reception was supportive.

Members of KPAC and those who worked on the current plan have some concerns. Don Swensen noted, for example, that although ground water is common to all community plans, the concerns in Graham are very different from the concerns on the Key Peninsula, where the shoreline plays a dominant role.

He and others fear that simply presenting all regulatory issues in the county document, separate from the community plan, will remove the context for those very regulations. His hope is that the community plan, where people struggled over every word to assure that the plan reflected the unique characteristics of the Key Peninsula, will remain intact and that it can simply have cross-references to the pertinent sections in the county plan.

A few changes may be of particular interest to those on the Key Peninsula.

Some properties will be redesignated as agricultural resource lands. These are plots greater than five acres and with good soil, and would be preserved for agricultural use including agritourism. Affected landowners have been informed.

Detached accessory housing units (self-contained residential buildings) are now included in housing density. Most of the Key Peninsula is designated as rural residential 10. A maximum of two residences is permitted as long as 50 percent of the lot is designated as open space. Current detached units will be grandfathered in, and attached units do not add to housing density.

The new comprehensive plan encourages schools serving rural locations to be located in neighboring towns but recognizes the need for schools to care for students where they live. If additional capacity were needed in the community, expanding current sites would be preferred over building new facilities.

On March 11, staff from the county presented the new plan to KPAC and community members. A follow-up meeting for questions and comments took place the following week.

Staff will incorporate comments and take the document to the Pierce County Planning Commission for review and recommendations.

The public meeting of the planning commission for rural area modifications will be April 28 at 6 p.m. in the public meeting room at the Pierce County Public Services Building, located at 2401 S 35th Street in Tacoma. Final recommendations will be complete on April 30 and the county council will vote on the plan in June.

For more information, visit the Pierce County website for the Realize 2030 Comprehensive Plan Update at co.pierce.wa.us/index.aspx?NID=3250.