New Camas development taking shape

Area north of Lacamas Lake to be homes, businesses

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Developers of Clark County's largest unified building proposal in more than two decades are approaching a finish line.

Property owners of what's known as the Lacamas Northshore development, a 460-acre expanse of residential and commercial land at the northeast corner of Camas' urban growth area, will seek final zoning approval for a project that's been in the works for a decade. The city is expected to follow Tuesday's public hearing with approval of the zoning amendments. The city's planning commission already gave a nod of approval to the proposal in June.

With city approval, the 12 property owners who compose the Lacamas Northshore development group will be able to market their land in earnest.

"It's the final part of the first step, even though we've been involved in the process for 10 years," property owner John Mills said. The Mills family — John, along with Edward, Mike and Lewis — make up an Oregon-based limited liability company that owns a sizable portion of Lacamas Northshore property. Other parcels are split up among 11 other ownership groups.

The project promises to transform the historically wooded area around Lacamas Lake with a business park and homes. Developers will also set aside several acres of Lacamas Lake shoreline at Leadbetter road for trails.

Bisecting the property will be a north-south arterial road through the Johnston Dairy Farm, which has an ownership stake in about 236 acres.

Following zoning approval, Mills said the next step for his family will be determining what to do with historic houses on their property. The Pittock-Leadbetter house, for one, will continue to stand and could be used as a bed and breakfast or restaurant, Mills said. The Queen Anne style house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was a wedding gift from Henry Pittock, publisher of The Oregonian, to his son Frederick and wife Bertha Leadbetter Pittock in 1902.

At Tuesday's hearing, the city will discuss amendments to its comprehensive plan. The timing of the process is important because owners have expressed interest in moving forward with development, Mayor Scott Higgins said.

The land was annexed into the city in 2008 with the intention of helping the city reach its population target of 34,800. Schools, trails and other amenities are expected to take root around the properties as they develop, Higgins said, similar to what happened with the development of the Grass Valley neighborhood. The Camas School District built Grass Valley Elementary School in 2008 after that neighborhood took shape.

The employment potential of the property, with about 200 acres set aside for a business park, is a point of interest to the city. The property could be home to around 3,000 new jobs, said Vancouver attorney James Howsley. He represents the Lacamas Northshore property owners.

"There's a lot of interest in the site," he said, citing the property's mix of residential and commercial land.

While developers have cited building as many as 3,000 new homes, the city says the scale will be much smaller. Residential development will likely not exceed 700 new homes, Camas' Community Development Director Phil Bourquin said. The discrepancy stems from the fact that not all of the land slated for residential development is suitable for construction. Plans for mixed use development were nixed earlier in the year after the Washington State Department of Transportation said such development could interfere with planes at nearby Grove Field Airport.

Ultimately, developers say, the project would decrease sprawl by promoting different modes of transportation, including the use of trails, sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.