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News / Clark County News

WSUV parking lot plan draws neighbors’ ire

School notes it's on Master Plan, buffers will exceed county standards

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published: June 3, 2015, 12:00am
3 Photos
Tom Webster looks toward the Washington State University Vancouver campus from his deck in the Mount Vista neighborhood.
Tom Webster looks toward the Washington State University Vancouver campus from his deck in the Mount Vista neighborhood. He and his wife Pam Webster have objected to plans by the university to build a new parking lot on the north side of its campus, near several homes along Northeast 160th Street. Photo Gallery

From their back deck, Pam and Tom Webster can see Washington State University Vancouver a short distance away.

Between the north end of the university and their property is a grassy field. The empty space is a popular, peaceful walking area, both say. It also creates a large buffer between the neighborhood and the growing campus.

That’s about to change. But the Websters fear they’re losing more than a view.

Construction started this week on a new 250-space parking lot that will cover much of the open area and bring WSUV closer to the homes along Northeast 160th Street in the Mount Vista area. The Websters say the new parking lot, expected to be finished this fall, will bring with it pollution, noise and lower property values.

“This is going to impact the whole neighborhood,” Tom Webster said. “It’s not just our street.”

The two haven’t been quiet about those feelings. They’ve contacted the university, state legislators and the governor’s office. They put up a large banner from their fence facing the campus that reads, “250 CAR LOT HERE HURTS NEIGHBORHOOD.”

The lot is part of a $2 million project that will add more than 300 parking spaces to the WSUV campus. In addition to the new lot on the north end of the campus, crews will also expand an existing lot to add 53 spaces on the west end. Both are outside the loop road that encircles most of WSUV’s footprint today.

Parking has become increasingly tight at the campus in recent years, a trend largely driven by growing enrollment, said WSUV spokeswoman Brenda Alling. That includes students from Vancouver iTech Preparatory school and Clark College, both of which use space on the WSUV campus.

In some cases, students are simply staying on campus longer during the day, said Lynn Valenter, vice chancellor of finance and operations.

“We’ve had parking used up at a greater rate than we anticipated,” Valenter said.

The school’s outreach to the neighbors affected by the construction, however, has left much to be desired, according to the Websters.

WSUV sent a flier to nearby residents in February announcing details of the project. But it significantly overstated the distance between the north lot and the properties along 160th Street, saying it would be 130 feet. In fact, the buffer is only 86 feet — an error noticed and pointed out by Tom Webster. WSUV attributed the mistake to a contractor passing on incorrect information.

That mailer only drew a few responses, according to WSUV. Later this spring, Pam Webster went door to door asking people about the plans for a new parking lot. All of them were opposed to it, she said.

“I did more outreach on this project than (WSUV) did,” she said.

The new lot and other projects are shown on maps in the WSUV Master Plan, which was updated in 2007. The Websters, who moved to the neighborhood last year, argue that the project goes against other parts of the plan, including its stated mission that mentions “environmental responsibility.”

The Websters both said they’d like to see the school use another part of its 351-acre campus for parking that’s less impactful to neighbors.

“They are a suburban campus,” Pam Webster said. “In the suburbs, you get along with your neighbors.”

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In a letter to neighbors dated May 22, WSUV Chancellor Mel Netzhammer noted that the buffers and landscaping built into the project exceed county requirements. The school chose the north side of campus for the 250-space lot — originally envisioned as a larger structure — because it serves growth on that end, provides the best stormwater management and is cost-effective, Netzhammer wrote.

“There was a lot of thought given to this decision, and it was the best decision for our campus at this time,” he wrote.

The new lot likely won’t be finished by the time WSUV starts fall classes on Aug. 24, Valenter said. Officials hope it’s ready in time for Clark College’s fall term, which begins later in September.

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Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter