Washougal's waterfront vision

Port of C-W, city, PSU students team on plan to link parcel, downtown

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 
photoClick to enlarge

The Port of Camas-Washougal's plan to transform 40 acres of waterfront property into a pleasant mix of recreational amenities and residential, commercial and office buildings is no rush job.

On the contrary, since beginning to work on the project in earnest in the summer of 2011, the port has gathered extensive public input on what the former industrial site should look and feel like. It has teamed up with several partners — including the city of Washougal and a Vancouver-based commercial real estate developer — in hopes of eventually breaking ground on a project. A market study, a draft of which is due for review by the end of this month, is expected to show potential development scenarios. And the port, meanwhile, aims to secure state funding for a new park and trail.

Now, public planning for the site is entering a new phase with an ambitious mission: to ensure that redevelopment of the waterfront property doesn't occur in isolation, that the site — about 1.7 miles away from Washougal's downtown — complements and connects to that city's core instead of subtracting from it.

To that end, the port has teamed up with the city of Washougal and Portland State University to generate a community vision for the waterfront parcel that not only augments the city's downtown but also creates a local and regional identity for Washougal. The planning effort is led by a team of students from PSU's Master of Urban and Regional Planning program.

Suffice it to say, it's no small effort. The agreement signed by PSU, the port and the city outlines the problem to be overcome and the opportunity to be seized: "The waterfront is disconnected and detached from downtown Washougal and there are concerns that redevelopment will detract from downtown. There is existing momentum towards developing a strong community identity and vision."

The project will unfold over several months, involving community events, surveys, opportunities for public input and progress reports. It's expected to culminate in early June with a final community vision plan that will guide development of the waterfront site and, according to the project's work plan, "lead to a more connected, accessible and vibrant Washougal."

Victor Caesar, communications coordinator for the PSU team, said the group wants "to be visionary and inspire the community" but to do so in way that's based on research and evidence. "In short," he said in an email to The Columbian last week, "our hopes and dreams for the final product are something that is a clear recognition and integration of what the community wants to see on the site while also grounding it with real life, tangible recommendations that the port and city can use moving forward."

'Fresh set of eyes'

The port and city are providing the PSU team with a budget of up to $5,000 (the port is kicking in $3,500, the city, $1,500) for materials, supplies, meeting space, travel and other costs associated with the project, dubbed "Washougal Waterfront: A Community Connected."

The port and the city will provide the PSU team with relevant information, including past public input efforts, strategic plans, market analyses, maps and neighborhood data.

The PSU team, operating under the name Convergence Community Planning, will tackle an array of responsibilities. Those include:

• Researching and producing an "existing conditions" report that will include a summary of Washougal's current physical, social, cultural and economic conditions, as well as planning efforts by both the city and the port. The idea is to identify the challenges and opportunities of the waterfront site and the community.

• Producing a case study and best practices report pinpointing successful recreational trail and waterfront redevelopment projects in small towns.

• Designing and carrying out a "stakeholder engagement process," including reviewing and analyzing feedback from past public-input processes, planning and leading engagement events and activities — and integrating all of the community feedback into the final product.

• Producing a community vision plan, which integrates existing conditions, case studies and public input.

The project's work plan establishes numerous potential stakeholders. They include: Killian Pacific, the commercial real estate and investment company that is partnering with the port to redevelop the waterfront parcel; Washougal-based Lone Wolf Development Corp., which has publicly voiced skepticism that the waterfront plan would align with Washougal's downtown projects, including ones built by Lone Wolf; the U.S. National Park Service; Parkersville National Historic Site Advisory Committee; Friends of the Columbia Gorge; the Columbia River Economic Development Council; city of Camas; the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association; and local businesses and neighborhood associations.

Tapping PSU to engage the community so comprehensively — and in ways the port and city haven't necessarily contemplated -- will help draw people into the planning process who might not otherwise feel their input counts, according to Mitch Kneipp, Washougal's community development director.

It's also about putting "a fresh set of eyes" on the waterfront project and how it relates to Washougal's downtown development activity, Kneipp said. There "could be something that none of us have seen before," he added. "Only time will really tell."

A thoughtful approach

The work of the PSU students to link the waterfront project's future to that of downtown Washougal's is part of a larger effort by east Clark County government and business leaders to encourage thoughtful economic development.

An important piece of that effort came in July 2011, when the Port of Camas-Washougal secured a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Ecology to accomplish several tasks, including crafting a plan to clean up contaminants at the waterfront parcel — the site of the former Hambleton sawmill — producing strategies for redeveloping the site, restoring natural habitat in the area and providing public access to the waterfront.

Since then, the port has collected plenty of public input, including by way of community meetings and surveys. At one public workshop, for example, area residents said they didn't want big-box stores at the waterfront site. They also said they wanted to see the property become a destination point woven into the existing downtowns, streetscapes and trails of Washougal and Camas.

In November 2012, the port purchased about 13 acres of the 26-acre former Hambleton parcel from Killian Pacific. That $6 million acquisition added to the 14 acres the port already owns immediately east of the former lumber mill site. Killian Pacific retained the other 13-acre half of the former mill parcel.

Together, the company and the port hope to redevelop the entire 40-acre waterfront site into a place to live, work, play.

As part of that overall plan, the port wants to build a waterfront trail and park. Both projects would cost an estimated $2 million. The port has budgeted $1 million toward completing them. It hopes to secure another $1 million from the state Recreation and Conservation Office.

If all goes as planned, construction of the park and trail could be underway by summer 2015. The new waterfront trail could one day connect Marina Park to the Washougal levee and points east. The proposed 3.44-acre park would be built next to and south of the waterfront trail.

Meanwhile, the board of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development

Association is expected on March 27 to review a draft market analysis of the waterfront site's potential development alternatives. Paul Dennis, president and CEO of CWEDA, said the analysis will turn up "different use options" and speak to "what is feasible from a market standpoint."

That analysis will help inform the PSU students' work, Dennis said.

Dennis said he doesn't think rejuvenating the waterfront property will make it a direct competitor to either Washougal's or Camas' downtown business districts. Each site has its own opportunities and challenges, he said. At 40 acres, the waterfront site has "limited acreage," Dennis added. "You can chew that up pretty quick."

Downtown Camas has "a number of well-established medium to upper-income neighborhoods surrounding it," Dennis said. "It's tight-knit." By contrast, Washougal's downtown -- while it has seen several new tenants move into newly constructed buildings along Main Street — would benefit from more people living near the core, Dennis said.

At some point, he added, you need a "housing strategy that begins to develop a more localized consumer base for those businesses."

Although the PSU team's effort focuses on linking the waterfront site to Washougal's downtown, said David Ripp, executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal, Camas will be heard, too.

"We'll touch upon that," he said, "and have Camas tied in as well."