Camas officials celebrate a year of growth

Updates from city, school district, port point to positive signs

By Justin Runquist, Columbian Small Cities Reporter

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Construction is thriving again in Camas after stalling during the Great Recession, but Mayor Scott Higgins says some longtime residents think the city’s growing too fast.

Higgins defended the city’s growth in business and housing in his State of the Community speech Tuesday night, making his case for a prosperous future for the small city of about 20,000 residents.

“What’s happened over the last 10 years is, Camas grew, and I would say it grew smart,” he said. “We care about getting this right.”

Higgins shared the stage at Camas High School’s theater with Camas School District Superintendent Mike Nerland and Port of Camas-Washougal Executive Director David Ripp. Each took a turn highlighting some positive signs for business, housing and the city’s schools as the end of 2014 approaches.

Residential construction should ramp up in the coming year, Higgins said; more than 160 applications for permits to build new homes in Camas have been turned in this year. There are also more than 30 in the pre-application stage, he said.

Most of the growth in coming years will take root north of Lacamas Lake, where developers plan thousands of new houses. The city is beginning to plan for that area, Higgins said.

Higgins made a point to note that children in that area will go to schools in the Evergreen district.

“I think that’s important to know as we get concerned about how our community will stay and how it’ll look,” he said.

But the Camas School District is planning for growth, as well. It has added nearly 1,000 students since the city’s most recent facilities bond passed in 2007, according to a chart Nerland showed. With Camas High School fast approaching its capacity, the district must explore building another comprehensive high school soon, he said.

Higgins also pointed to business growth. In downtown, businesses that are preparing to open include a steakhouse at 316 N.E. Dallas St., the old location of K’Syrah restaurant. The owners plan to open by Thanksgiving, he said.

In the growing business district on the city’s west end, Higgins said, he anticipates Fisher Investments will finish building its second tower next month. When that happens, Fisher is likely to have more than 1,000 employees in Camas, he said.

Higgins also highlighted the city’s listing in Family Circle’s August issue as one of the 10 best towns in the U.S. for families.

“That’s not an accident,” he said. “That comes because there’s been a focus and a vision to create that kind of a community here for a very long time.”

The picture looks bright for the port, as well, Ripp said. By the end of last year, it had reached an all-time high for net annual income with $981,281.

Ripp ties the healthy finances to staying within the annual budget. This year, the port’s net income and operating revenues are up from 2013, he said.

Ripp said he also was pleased to announce that in the past two years, the port has had a 100 percent occupancy rate for its industrial space. That figure compares favorably to Vancouver and Portland, he said.