Puyallup Fair seeks zoning changes

Puyallup Fair & Events Center leaders have proposed a major land-use change for 219 acres of property - including 57 acres of privately owned houses and businesses - so the fair and its footprint can grow.

The fair wants the area given a new designation as “events center,” which requires amending the city’s comprehensive plan.

But on Friday, responding to an outcry from neighbors, fair leaders recommended shrinking the proposed area by 20 percent, to about 176 acres. They plan to remove the properties of homeowners who complained that expansion of the fair could hurt their property values and sense of community.

Lori Garrett remained concerned Friday that a hotel could be built close to her house.

“That ruins our neighborhood,” said Garrett, who lives two blocks from the fairgrounds. Her home falls barely outside the lines of the revised drawings released Friday.

The fair’s 12-member board of directors will consider the modified proposal Wednesday.

Fair leaders say they don’t have immediate plans to expand but are preparing for the future of the nation’s seventh-largest fair, with attendance of 1.2 million last year. This year’s event runs Sept. 10-26.

“What we want to build is a better fair, a bigger fair for the community,” said Roger Knutson, board president for the Western Washington Fair Association. “We’re not out to force the neighbors to change or do anything they don’t want to do.”


Neighbors peppered the fair’s land-use consultant, Gil Hulsmann, with questions and comments at a fair-sponsored open house last week.

Sherry Haney lives across the street from where the original designation of “events center” would end.

“We don’t know what that’s going to entail,” Haney said. “We say, ‘Don’t draw the line until we know what the zoning is going to be.’”

That’s the gist of what Puyallup city staff members want as well. They support the designation of 158 acres of existing fairgrounds and fair parking as “events center.” Most of that land is already designated as “fair.”

But city planners oppose the new “events center” designation for the entire 219 acres, which would set the stage for broader zones than the “fair” designation for nearby businesses and residential neighbors. Nearly 200 parcels not owned by the fair would be affected.

Instead, the city wants the entire site studied as a planning area. The fair would then complete a master plan, detailing what its planned uses are and its recommended zoning changes.

Planning director Tom Utterback said the city is concerned about homeowners affected by the change.

“We’re sensitive that something new is going to happen to their property,” Utterback said.

He said it’s unusual to make comprehensive plan amendments without zoning changes at the same time.

Fair leaders listened to nearly 150 neighbors who turned out for Wednesday night’s open house at the fairgrounds. Residents wanted to know what the fair’s plans are and how their zoning would be changed, affecting their properties.

Knutson and fair vice president Jerry Korum on Friday recommended removing the properties of neighbors who objected to being in the land-use area, said Kent Hojem, chief executive officer of the Puyallup Fair & Events Center. Hojem said he expects the fair’s board to approve the recommendation Wednesday afternoon prior to a Puyallup Planning Commission public hearing that night.

He said the fair is trying to react positively to neighbors’ comments and “create a plan that’s going to be as low an impact on our neighbors as possible.”

“We’re trying to be realistic and look at our most immediate needs,” Hojem said.

Hulsmann said the fair needs to know how much land will be included in the “events center” designation in order to complete a master plan and recommended zoning. He stressed that the fair isn’t trying to force homeowners to change the residential zoning of their homes.

“Their zoning doesn’t change unless they want it to change,” said Hulsmann, chief executive officer for the Abbey Road Group.

Hulsmann estimated the reduced area at 176 acres, including 138 acres of fair-owned property. A 20-acre fair parking lot also was removed from the area.

Potential zoning changes could help the fair maintain and develop its existing property, which includes commercial land and 4 acres of single-family homes, Hulsmann said. And zoning changes could create opportunities to expand, he said.

The fair is proposing a two-year process. A master plan and zoning changes would follow next year after the comprehensive plan is amended this year, Hulsmann said.

The Puyallup City Council must approve any changes, after recommendations by the Planning Commission.


The issue is clearly volatile for the fair, the city and neighboring residents, who all have intertwining interests. Homeowners often use their land for paid parking during the fair. The fair relies on their cooperation – and their tolerance of traffic and noise – as crowds descend on the city every September.

Utterback said the city supports the fairgrounds’ evolution into a year-round events center, including the spring fair.

But it’s the main 17-day fair that puts Puyallup on the national stage, bringing in big-name entertainment and throngs for rides, exhibits, scones and one last gasp of summer fun.

Hojem said the fair wants to remain relevant while maintaining good relations with neighbors.

He said the fair has lots of dreams about attractions it would like to add in the next five to 10 years. They include some type of museum, an educational farm, and perhaps an indoor performing arts center to complement the outdoor grandstand.

“Those are just dreams,” Hojem said.

But Diana Martin, whose property abuts the fairgrounds, worries about more fair development encroaching behind her house. She’s heard talk in the past of a water park, helipad and racetrack, and wonders why the fair is pushing for change now.

“Just leave our houses residential,” Martin said. “We also don’t want all the crazy stuff going in right behind us.”