Strictly Business: A chance for creative solutions

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter

Published:

 

It’s no stuffy document.

On the contrary, the draft vision plan to link Washougal’s downtown to an effort to redevelop 40 acres of waterfront property represents a booming call to create places, not sprawlburbs.

To be sure, one person’s sprawlburb is another person’s piece of quiet.

Truth be told, urban and suburban spaces each possess strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve lived and worked and played in both. They’re often interconnected, whether we want to admit it or not. And they’re capable, in fact, of complementing one another. Especially if you can move past parochial interests and, say, build a sustainable regional mass transportation system that connects urban attractions to suburban respites. Puget Sound’s all-in network of light rail, commuter trains and express buses is a good example.

And while linking a nascent waterfront project to Washougal may not be on the scale of a Puget Sound mega transportation project, it still speaks to the importance of stitching seemingly disparate places together in a way that supports commerce but that doesn’t automatically allow pollution-spewing cars, over-sized parking lots and cinder-block “architecture” to push aside generous trails and sidewalks, alternative modes of travel and soulful buildings.

But before getting into some of the vision plan’s specifics, some background is needed.

In 2012, the Port of Camas-Washougal purchased about 13 acres of the 26-acre former Hambleton parcel from Killian Pacific, the Vancouver commercial real estate developer. The port already owns 14 acres 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 — bounded on the north by Highway 14, with the Columbia River on the south — into a place to live, work and play.

The port and the city of Washougal, meanwhile, hired a team of students from Portland State University’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning program to help ensure that redevelopment of the waterfront parcel — about 1.5 miles west of Washougal’s downtown — complements and connects to the city’s core.

And that brings us to “Washougal Waterfront: A Community Connected,” the 102-page draft vision plan the PSU team presented to the port commission about two weeks ago. We’ll get to see the final, adopted plan sometime this month.

It’s an invigorating vision, informed by community input, replete with case studies and lessons learned, and packed with tools to get on with the business of creating connections and places worth lingering in.

As the draft plan puts it: “A pedestrian-oriented environment attracts and retains visitors while creating a welcoming space where people want to spend time.” The plan’s recommendations are too many to list here. Take the deep dive at www.washougalwaterfront.com.

It covers everything from building on Washougal’s proximity to the Columbia Gorge to pump up tourist dollars to forging a “Greenway Loop” that connects the waterfront site to downtown Washougal, which would promote walking, bicycling and public transportation.

The work of carrying out the vision is far from over. Volunteers are welcome. On the project’s website, people may sign up to become “champions” of bridging the waterfront and Washougal. It’s a reminder that places worthy of our affection are created actively, not passively.