Washougal rejects plan to buy land

Sandy Swimming Hole parking fixes deemed too costly

By Justin Runquist, Columbian small cities reporter

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The city of Washougal almost purchased property next to the popular Sandy Swimming Hole on Monday night, but several councilors rejected the plan, deeming it too expensive.

The Sandy Swimming Hole sits just north of the Washougal River at 550 N. Shepherd Road. On sweltering summer days, it has long been one of hottest spots in Clark County for swimmers and kayakers to cool off.

But the limited parking on site also presents a safety hazard. When the temperature heats up, the parking lot quickly fills, leaving other drivers to park their vehicles on the side of the road. At many points along Shepherd Road, there's little to no shoulder for pedestrians and drivers. It's common for drivers to leave their cars jutting out into the road before heading to the water, said Rob Charles, the city's engineer.

There are also no traffic signals or crosswalks, Charles added, posing a further danger to pedestrians.

Charles and other city officials said they hoped to solve the problem by purchasing the land to create more parking spaces. The deal would have cost about $130,000, and the owner, the Riverside Seventh Day Adventist Church, was also on board with the sale.

"It just creates a really unsafe position for people not only on the passenger side, but the driver's side," Charles said. "This is hopefully a start to building a parking lot for people to use instead of parking on the road."

But four city councilors — Joyce Lindsay, Paul Greenlee, Jennifer McDaniel and Dave Shoemaker — voted against the proposition at the Monday meeting, causing it to fail. Councilors Brent Boger and Connie Jo Freeman supported the purchase, and Councilor Michelle Wagner was absent.

Several of the councilors said they liked the idea of improving safety at the swimming hole but took issue with the cost of developing the property, projected at an additional $400,000.

"That's a lot of money, in my mind, for a small usage time of maybe two to three months in the summer," Lindsay said. "Could it be better spent enhancing the parks that we already have?"

Greenlee shared Lindsay's concern while also pointing out a recent survey of several hundred residents that showed that many in the community say the city doesn't do enough to take care of its parks. The $400,000 would have come from park impact fee revenue, City Administrator David Scott said.

At this point, the city hadn't moved past the conceptual design phase for site development. In addition to more parking, some officials said they hoped to build a park element, such as a jungle gym, in the area.

The city had been in negotiations with the church over the property for several years. Both Charles and the church are still interested in making a deal, if they can find a more attractive financial proposal.