Quality of Life Our Greatest Asset

Quality of Life and Rural Separator

Many citizens are happy to live within Pierce County’s Rural Separator as evidenced by the community’s long standing support and effort in creating the land use designation. The Rural Separator also improves the quality of life of many citizens living across Pierce County by separating and buffering the urban intensities of Tacoma, Puyallup, and Fife. Even the experts agree that the Rural Separator saves public tax dollars because the area would be difficult and costly to urbanize due to the area’s soil, water, and slope conditions (see Tom Ballard Report (PDF)). For those who appreciate nature and wildlife, the Rural Separator is the headwaters of the Clear Creek and Clover Creek watersheds. It is an area of heron rookeries, beaver dams, salmon runs, fish hatcheries, commercial and small hobby farms, numerous equestrian facilities, and low to moderate intensity residential development. The Rural Separator contains two of Pierce County’s finest natural regional parks: Swan Creek Park and Orange gate Park. Excellent private and public schools are located within the community. Many people from the urban areas of Pierce County visit the Rural Separator and Summit-Waller for recreation, farm produce, and for a place to stable their horses and walk their dogs. For these reasons, the Rural Separator community of Summit-Waller is considered by many to be the jewel of Pierce County, a unique treasure appreciated by many citizens across Pierce County.

Housing Opportunities and Rural Separator

The Rural Separator is an important asset for Pierce County citizens. Under State law, land in the Puget Sound region must be developed to high density urban or to a minimum 5-acre rural. (RCW 36.70A). The Rural Separator is unique because it is the only place in Pierce County where a person can follow their American dream to divide and purchase a couple of acres of land. Not only does the Rural Separator provide an important housing option for Pierce County citizens, but it also prevents Pierce County from being excluded from this desirable and important housing market. Many business leaders are reluctant to move into a community without desirable housing opportunities and the Rural Separator is considered by many to be a unique marketing tool for the Pierce County business community. Notably, King and Snohomish Counties each have communities similar to Pierce County’s Rural Separator at Bridal Trails and Sky Valley. The Rural Separator is supported by Pierce County and has been approved by the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board.

Urban Sprawl and Rural Separator

The Rural Separator separates the Cities of Tacoma, Puyallup, and Fife with low intensity rural uses. Without the Rural Separator, Tacoma, Puyallup, Fife, and Summit-Waller would become an amalgamated mass of urban densities covering much of central Pierce County. The Rural Separator zone allows Pierce County to separate the County’s major urban intensifications with a low intensity separator in order to prevent the creation of a Los Angeles style mega-sprawl. The Rural Separator works to maintain the quality of life for many citizens across Pierce County.

The Fisheries of Rural Separator

One of Pierce County’s first salmon restoration projects was located within the Rural Separator at Swan Creek. Today, the largest private commercial fish hatchery in Pierce County is located within the Rural Separator at Clear Creek near Pioneer Way. The Puyallup Tribe’s salmon hatchery is also located within the Rural Separator at Diru Creek near Pioneer Way and which results in the release of several million chum salmon annually. One of the Puyallup Tribe’s early Salmon, Steelhead and Char Reports for the Puyallup River Watershed (2002-2003) indicates that at Swan Creek, Chinook, Coho, and Chum salmon were surveyed with Chum in relatively strong numbers. The Swan Creek Survey identifies hundreds of live and spawned-out Chum during year 2002. Similarly, the 2002 report identifies Coho and Chum salmon in Squally Creek. At Clear Creek, Chinook salmon were identified during 2002, as well as large numbers of Chum salmon. At Canyon Creek a culvert apparently delays salmon access and needs to be addressed. At Rody Creek, Chum Salmon are also able to spawn.

The numbers of salmon in area creeks demonstrate that a balance or equilibrium has been reached between the natural environment and the Summit-Waller Community. This balance or equilibrium is important, and Puyallup Tribal Fishery biologists have identified water quality and quantity as a major concern in preserving the salmon resource. Together with construction of storm water holding ponds and citizen action, the Rural Separator is widely accepted as an important tool in the preservation of these fisheries and quality of life.

The Farmlands and Rural Separator

Pierce County’s effort to preserve prime Puyallup Valley farmland has focused on the Rural Separator and valley farmland located adjacent to the Rural Separator south of the Puyallup River. Creeks originating from the Rural Separator area converge within this farmland area. The valley soil in this area represents some of the finest and most productive of any soils in Puget Sound. This area is one of the last remaining active farming communities within Pierce County and includes names such as Picha, Terry’s Berries, Fred’s Berries, Sterinos, Watson’s nursery, Valley Farms, and other commercial farms that supplies fresh produce for Safeway Stores. The prime farmlands in this area were designated Agricultural Resource Lands (ARL) so they would not be encroached upon by the adjacent municipalities of Tacoma and Puyallup. The Rural Separator is critical because it works in harmony with the adjacent valley farmland zone (ARL) and buffers and separates these critical farmland resources from urban encroachment. The Rural Separator helps maintain Pierce County’s quality of life by helping to preserve farmland.

The Natural Environment of Rural Separator

The environmental constraints of the Rural Separator are substantial and real. The Summit-Waller area is bisected south to north with numerous canyons and creeks, including Swan, Squally, Clear, Canyon, Rody, Diru, and Woodland Creeks, as well as numerous unnamed rivulets and wetland areas. The Pierce County Resource Maps document the environmental limitations of the Rural Separator and Summit-Waller within the Clear Creek Basin. The Final Draft Clear/Clarks Creek Basin Plan discusses the Current Conditions of the Summit-Waller Community and addresses environmental issues, including: topography, soils, rainfall, impervious surface impacts, population, natural and constructed drainage, stream evaluation and flow characteristics, groundwater, aquatic and riparian habitat, wetland and upland habitat, and water quality. The Clear/Clarks Creek Basin Plan demonstrates why the Summit-Waller area has historically remained rural despite its proximity between the cities of Tacoma and Puyallup. Pierce County’s designation of Summit-Waller as Rural Separator is a reflection of the area’s environmental constraints as well as the cost inefficiencies of providing urban services to the area. The consultant report prepared by Tom Ballard and Associates confirms these determinations.

Summit Water & Supply Company

The Summit Water Company supplies most of the water used by Summit-Waller residents. The Summit system is state-of-art, with a distribution system that was designed and constructed to serve lower density uses, rather than high density urban uses. According to the Summit Water Company letter attached to the Tom Ballard Report (PDF), the existing water distribution system was built to serve Rural Separator densities and would cost millions to replace or upgrade to serve urban densities. The Summit Water Company letter indicates that it relied upon Pierce County’s zoning ordinances, particularly the Rural Separator zone, when building and upgrading our water distribution system.

North Clover Creek / Collins Community and Rural Separator

The area located at the southern portion of the Rural Separator is known as the North Clover Creek/Collins Community. This area is also designated Rural Separator and is an integral part of the Rural Separator system. The same environmental issues that apply to the Summit-Waller area apply to the North Clover Creek area. The area is covered by impervious soils, expansive wetlands, and also serves as the head waters for several area creeks, including Swan and Clover Creeks. The salmon runs in creeks originating from this area have been restored with some success. In fact, Pierce County’s famous Stream Team had its beginnings in creeks originating from the North Clover Creek area. This area is broadly considered a critical part of the Rural Separator system.