Shovel-ready sites in short supply

CREDC spearheads efforts to ensure developable parcels

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2012 OUTLOOK

• The maze of regulations will continue to create challenges for developing sites for business use.

• The Columbia River Economic Development Council will work to implement goals aimed at smoothing and speeding up this process.

• The CREDC aims to lead a local discussion about lands for jobs and economic development.

As communities across the country ramp up their efforts to attract businesses that will provide badly needed jobs for their residents, efforts to create an inventory of “shovel-ready” sites — sites that are ready for development — are in high gear.

Locally, the Columbia River Economic Development Council has been spearheading efforts to find ways to ensure that sufficient inventories of local shovel-ready sites and developable land are available for new job creation. The key finding so far? Only 13 sites of 20 acres or more could be developed reasonably soon.

More than 18 months ago, the CREDC established its Lands for Jobs Committee, which I chair. This group of 20 public- and private-sector volunteers with expertise in economic and land development has been working to figure out how our community can meet its current and future needs for employment lands.

Why does CREDC believe this is necessary? Out of the 19 times the CREDC has been contacted in the past five years by businesses looking to locate on parcels that were more than 20 acres in size, only a few were able to find a site that met their needs.

Creating sites of more than 20 acres presents daunting challenges. Urban growth boundaries, unwilling sellers, small lot patterns, inappropriate zoning, and environmental and infrastructure constraints all complicate the effort. As a land use and environmental planner, I see firsthand the challenges presented when land-use and environmental policy and regulations intersect with economic development objectives.

The layering of federal, state, and local regulations — all designed to protect our communities and environment — creates an expensive and time-consuming permitting maze. A typical public- or private-sector infrastructure project, such as building a new dock for export and import, will involve about 30 land-use and environmental permits being reviewed by 10 agencies. This process often takes two years or more, and design and permitting can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars before construction even starts. As a result, the risks of undertaking such a project — whether the proponent is a private entity or a public agency — can outweigh the rewards. How that risk can be mitigated without compromising our treasured natural resources is a question worthy of additional investigation.

With these challenges in mind, the Lands for Jobs Committee recently completed a draft analysis of available lands within Clark County. Although approximately 70 properties over 20 acres in size are zoned for employment uses, we determined that the number of shovel-ready sites is small. Of the 70 assessed, only 13, totaling approximately 570 acres, are in the shovel-ready category.

The recommendations of the Lands for Jobs Committee were recently adopted by CREDC’s board. Along with the implementation of our new strategic plan, the recommended policies will address the challenges to ensure that sufficient shovel-ready sites are available for job growth.

The policies adopted by the board include:

• Developing an ongoing update of sites and a continuing work plan for the Lands for Jobs Committee.

• Ensuring improved flexibility within the zoning and development codes.

• Expediting permitting.

• Working with all of the jurisdictions in Clark County to determine ways to fund needed infrastructure.

• Encouraging organizations such as the ports — engines of economic growth — to work together to bank land and develop lands for jobs.

By using these policies and implementing our new strategic plan, the CREDC fully intends to lead the local discussion about lands for jobs and economic development.