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The South Hill Community Plan

by Carl Vest

As the current economic climate continues it is sometimes forgotten that almost ten years ago a volunteer group of South Hill citizens worked very hard to put together a plan for regulating development on the Hill.  The design, which cost about $300,000, was passed into law by the Pierce County Council in 2003.  It was titled the South Hill Community Plan and is still the controlling regulation for development in this part of Pierce County.

It took almost four years to write the strategy.  Moreover, it was not a document created by a few people sitting in isolation.  More exactly, there were many-many public sessions where the entire community was asked to contribute ideas and assist volunteers in producing an approach that would satisfy the needs of all future residents.

Why did South Hill need a scheme to regulate development?  The roots go back into the 1980s, when the Hill was experiencing uncontrolled growth.  It is reported that throughout the State at that time the situation on Pierce County’s South Hill was being used as a poster child of what not to do.  Also during that period many local communities were starting to plan and they were justifying it by saying they didn’t want to end up like South Hill.  The pressure increased further after the state passed the Growth Management Act in 1990.  To comply with the requirements in that law Pierce County then decided to delegate to some communities the authority to work out designs for their local neighborhoods.  The thought being that all the results could then be integrated into a master blueprint for the entire County.

The development of local community plans was delegated to volunteer citizen groups, appointed by the County Council and supported by the County’s Planning and Land Use (PALS) organization.  The South Hill panel consisted of fifteen people, drawn from all parts of the community.

When the County adopted the South Hill ideas there was for the first time a regulation in force that established zoning and land usage in a rational way.  Development standards regarding curbing, sidewalks, lighting, signage, control of storm water, and the like, became a part of the overall requirements for developing both commercial and residential projects.  Historic preservation was also recognized and authorized to stop the destruction of heritage places and buildings. 

Finally, looking at long range requirements, two important citizen oversight bodies were also created.  First, to insure that any future land-use proposal fit into the established scheme, a South Hill Land Use Advisory Committee was established.  Commonly known as SHAC (South Hill Advisory Committee) this group still exists and meets regularly to review proposed developments.  The second authorization set up a Thun Field Advisory Committee.  The airport was considered to be of such importance to South Hill that there should be close coordination between the people using it and the community in general  This board is also still in place and meets quarterly.  Both of these groups are staffed with local citizen volunteers.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.