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News / Life / Clark County Life

Pondering the future of Proebstel

Clark County planning commission, others urge county to reject plan for rural center

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: August 15, 2018, 6:00am
4 Photos
VanGelder, co-president of the Proebstel Neighborhood Association, stops outside the Creekside Country Market to point out how bad traffic has gotten at nearby intersections. He worries that a rezoning proposal will make things worse.
VanGelder, co-president of the Proebstel Neighborhood Association, stops outside the Creekside Country Market to point out how bad traffic has gotten at nearby intersections. He worries that a rezoning proposal will make things worse. Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

PROEBSTEL — Despite all the growth in Clark County, Proebstel, an unincorporated community just east of Vancouver, still feels pretty country. Large grass-covered lots line state Highway 500, the arterial that runs through it. There’s a “country market,” a church, a few businesses and farms offering blueberries or eggs. The area’s even named after a pioneer.

“It’s definitely a rural setting,” said Kirk VanGelder, co-president of the Proebstel Neighborhood Association, who has lived in the area for 47 years. He said neighbors are far away enough from each other but close enough to offer help if need be.

He said the area is undergoing some growing pains. He pointed to two nearby housing developments that are putting more traffic on state Highway 500, which is currently only two lanes. He said that intersections with Northeast 65th Street and Northeast 182nd Avenue are becoming more dangerous because of the traffic. Gravel trucks have become a constant presence, and Clark County has plans to open Camp Bonneville as an attraction, which will create even more traffic.

As all this nearby growth has been happening, a proposal that would remake Proebstel has been in the works for years. But as the county begins taking action to approve or deny it, many residents, citing concerns about traffic, are pushing back.

In 2014, some property owners in the area signed a petition asking the then-county commission to create a Proebstel rural center. There are six rural centers in the county. The proposed center would rezone properties along state Highway 500 to smaller lots that would allow for public facilities and services for the rural community.

“But these things are within a mile of us anyway,” said VanGelder. He and other residents are worried that plans for a rural center will just add to the area’s growing pains.

The Clark County Council is scheduled to make a decision this fall. But the concept had little support as its faced its first round of scrutiny.

‘Not really rural’

Last month, the Clark County Planning Commission held a hearing on the proposed rural center. At the beginning of the hearing, Matt Hermen, a county planner, explained that after the petition for the rural center was submitted by 20 property owners who own about 112 acres, the county began updating its comprehensive plan, a document that guides growth in the county. He also noted that the county suspended the annual review of the plan, which allows for changes to be made. Both actions delayed consideration of the petition by the county.

Although the property owners met the threshold for signatures, he said that they hadn’t met other requirements. He said that under state law and county policy, a rural center needs to have an outer boundary, such as a body of water, a street or some land contour. It also needs a pattern of small lot development, among other criteria.

“Therefore we are recommending the denial of the proposed rural center,” he said.

Hermen said that county planners also heard from residents, most of whom opposed the center. Multiple residents also turned up at the hearing to express their opposition.

During the meeting, John Breuer, who has lived in the area for decades, said he’s seen the population grow in the county’s unincorporated areas. He said there has been increased traffic in the neighborhood and that someone had rear-ended his vehicle. He also said there’s been no mitigation.

“At some point, development has to wait for some more infrastructure,” he said.

Jeanne Kojis, another resident, also complained about traffic, which she said will be made worse when Camp Bonneville opens.

“It’s not really rural out there anymore,” she said.

During the meeting, Richard Bender, a member of the planning commission, also expressed concern about traffic. He pointed out that there are businesses in the area that operate under a grandfather clause. He said he found it odd that they would want to rezone their properties to commercial, which would significantly increase their taxes. He said he’s heard from individuals who had been approached by developers.

“You could put anything in there, from a Safeway store to a new car dealership,” said Bender of the rezoning. “There are no restrictions whatsoever.”

The planning commission unanimously voted to not recommend the creation of the rural center.

Supporters

The property owners who signed the petition in support of the rural center include business owners and residents. But none of them showed up at the hearing to speak. The only individuals who spoke in favor were Susan Rasmussen and Carol Levanen, of property rights group Clark County Citizens United.

“These rural (centers) help to preserve rural economies, traditional rural lifestyles, foster rural-based employment opportunities and, hence, the rural sense of community and quality of life,” said Rasmussen, the group’s president.

Attempts to reach other property owners who signed the petition were unsuccessful, except for Roger Nelson. When reached at his home, he seemed unfamiliar with the matter. But after discussing its implications further, he said he wasn’t supportive of it.

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Columbian political reporter