Plan developing for Ridgefield parcel

Millers' Landing property discussed by city, port

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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RIDGEFIELD — Don't expect a 44-acre expanse of riverfront property in Ridgefield to develop overnight.

Concerned about what effects a large-scale development would have on Ridgefield's roads, the city is looking for certain assurances from the Port of Ridgefield that Millers' Landing, the former home of Columbia Wood Treating, will comply with city regulations.

The port, meanwhile, is looking for some clarity before it markets the property.

What's currently proposed are seven tracts of land, on which developers could build 820,000-square-feet of mixed-use buildings, with 2,795 parking spots and a waterfront park.

At issue is whether the port should be responsible for grinding and repaving roads traveled by extra traffic near the development, as well as whether the BNSF Railway Co., whose rail tracks bisect downtown Ridgefield from Millers' Landing, wants to comment on the subdivision plans.

So far, BNSF hasn't done that.

Brent Grening, the port's executive director, called the work an early step in ensuring the project — whose full build-out is estimated to be 20 to 30 years away — meets zoning regulations along with the city's long-term plans regarding transportation and water capacity.

"No one's crystal ball is clear enough to say how it's going to work out," Grening said. "But there are certain assumptions that exist."

The top assumption is that development will take shape on the property, which recently concluded a decade's worth of environmental clean-up, at a cost of millions of dollars, to cap chemicals underground.

In the immediate future, a hearings examiner will be responsible for determining how the subdivision shapes up. He'll take public comment on the port's plan through the middle of February, enough time to make a final decision by the end of the month.

The port's proposal provides a glimpse at what the public agency would like to accomplish on the land, bound by Lake River and a busy BNSF rail line.

As planned, the mixed-use project would develop in phases, Grening said. That could include upstairs residential units, a plan the city supports.

But more work is necessary before the city knows how any sort of development will affect the city's transportation and water systems, said Public Works Director Steve Wall.

The city wants the port to be responsible for repaving roads near Millers' Landing, saying they should pay for the heavy traffic that's expected to result from the development. The port, however, disputes that.

Officials with the city said they were pleased Millers' Landing was moving forward.

"It's a good thing overall that the port is able to develop its waterfront and move forward and we're going to initiate an analysis downtown so we can increase (car trips)," Wall said.

Currently, the only ways in and out of the property are rail crossings at Division and Mill streets onto Main Avenue. The city plans to perform a transportation study of Pioneer Street, along with the downtown core, within one year of the hearings examiner's order.

Transportation promises to be a major issue for the project. The port also plans to build an overpass across the rail tracks. That will require state money, which hasn't yet been authorized.

While construction of an overpass spanning the BNSF rail line connecting downtown Ridgefield to Millers Landing is necessary to completely build out the property, it's not included in the current application. It will proceed under a separate review.

Developing an overpass would allow the city to close down its at-grade rail crossings, which is viewed as a safety measure, Grening said.

"Safety is a concern, and we will monitor that," Grening said. "Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt down here."

The public input period for the hearings examiner's decision will close Wednesday and the rebuttal period will conclude Feb. 12.