Neighbors say subdivision plans are the pits

Housing proposal for old Evergreen gravel pit irks nearby residents

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

 
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Construction company Tapani Underground has big plans for the old Evergreen gravel pit, but nearby neighborhood associations want the company to think bigger.

When it comes to lot size, that is.

Tapani is in the process of filling the 50-foot pit so it can build a 118-unit housing development. The plan includes houses on lots that range in size from 5,000 square feet to 6,445 square feet. The smallest of those lots don't fit in with the more spacious yards in the area, neighbors say.

"You're going to put in practically row houses, and it's out of place with the neighborhood," Countryside Woods Neighborhood Association Chairman Stephen Wille said. His East Vancouver neighborhood includes the Evergreen Pit, formerly the Schmid Pit. The lots near his home are about 7,000 square feet.

With 5,000-square-foot lots, Wille said, "you've got to pack (houses) in pretty tight. This is very much a commuter neighborhood, and people have kids, and kids like to play out in the yard."

The nearby First Place Neighborhood Association seconded that opinion. In a recent letter to the city of Vancouver, its said 5,000-square-foot lot sizes are "totally out of character." That neighborhood association requested a minimum lot size of at least 6,000 square feet in the new development.

Lot size was just one of a few issues that has nearby neighborhood associations buzzing with opinions about the future subdivision.

Developers are far from submitting a final plan to the city of Vancouver for approval. However, local residents' voices are key in a new development project, said Chad Eiken, the city's community and economic development director. The city will consider public comments when reviewing Tapani's final application, and it could suggest changes to the plan, Eiken said.

Tapani has been proactive in listening to neighbors' concerns and wants to be a good neighbor, Tapani project manager Aaron Halling said. At the same time, he noted that "builders will build what the city zoning allows. Tapani Underground is exceeding the minimums that are required for development by the city of Vancouver."

Lots of 5,000 square feet, which is nearly 1/8 of an acre, are the smallest allowed in that area under city zoning laws.

New park?

Another hope neighbors have for the new subdivision is that it will include a park, which is not currently part of Tapani's plan. The First Place neighborhood has its own park, which borders the pit's property.Wille said he would like to see that park expanded into the new subdivision.

Countryside Woods has a small park on its southern border that it shares with a few other neighborhoods, Wille said, but expanding First Place's park would provide better services for Countryside Woods residents living in northern parts of the neighborhood.

"The logical thing is to add to an existing park and make sure everyone can access it," Wille said. A park also would allow students to cut through residential areas on their way to school instead of walking to school along busier streets, he said.

The pit is near Evergreen High School, just southwest of Northeast 115th Avenue at 18th Street.

The First Place neighborhood's letter also requested that the new subdivision have a park, but it didn't say whether it wanted to connect its park to a new one. First Place also requested a 30-foot barrier between its neighborhood and the new subdivision, and askedthat the berm separating the neighborhood from the gravel pit be maintained.

Instead of a park, Halling said, Tapani is considering a walking trail through the new neighborhood that could connect to other neighborhoods.

"We have met with the city's parks department to get their direction," Halling said.

Developers in Vancouver are required to pay park impact fees to pay for future parks, and Tapani will end up paying roughly $275,000 in those fees, Halling estimated.They also have the option to lower their park impact fees by converting some subdivision land into a park, Vancouver-Clark Parks chief park planner Jean Akers said.

That option can be a win-win for developers, Akers said, because parks are a good selling point for prospective home buyers, and they can increase nearby property value. A park next door can be preferable to having another house, which often means "you're all going to be looking into each other's windows," she added.

Environmental impacts

Wille of Countryside Woods said his neighborhood hopes the developers use rain gardens and water basins to address polluted stormwater runoff instead of deep dry wells, "which have inherent design issues, as well as future maintenance and cost issues."

Wille, who is recently retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said deep dry wells can fill with debris and require costly maintenance a couple of decades down the road. That maintenance would be at the city's expense, he said.

"You think you could design around that now," Wille said. "You're just asking for trouble. Surely, we can do better than that."

Wille said Halling of Tapani has been receptive to neighbors' concerns, and Wille said he hopes some of his suggestions make it into the final plans. Once Tapani submits an application to the city, officials will notify residents living near the Evergreen Pit and invite them to provide more comments, Eiken said.

Other neighborhoods near the old gravel pit include Burton-Evergreen, Cimarron and North Hearthwood.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523; http://facebook.com/reportermathieu;http://twitter.com/col_politics;stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.