Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Oct. 21, 2020

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Clark County Council agrees to rezone land south of Yacolt quarry for mining

Yacolt Mountain Quarry operator requested change in order to store excess dirt

By , Columbian political reporter

The Clark County Council took action at its Tuesday hearing on three controversial land-use decisions regarding a quarry, zoning changes in a rural area and a line on a map that could one day become a road.

The council unanimously approved a mining overlay on 107 acres of forestland south of the Yacolt Mountain Quarry. The property is owned by J.L. Storedahl & Sons, the company that currently operates the quarry. The company asked the county for the zoning change on the forestland so that it could store dirt, which would give it enough room to continue extracting rock from the mine.

J.L. Storedahl & Sons submitted a study showing the mine is a critical source of gravel and other aggregate that’s currently in high demand. The company also argued that the county is required to plan for and protect resources under the state’s land-use laws.

But the mine has long been a source of administrative wrangling at the county and has drawn complaints from neighbors about noise, dust, truck traffic and environmental effects. While the company argued that the dirt placed on the overlay would mitigate the effects of the mine, neighbors contend it would expand the pit and make problems worse.

The council was originally slated to vote on the overlay in the last week of November. Instead, they delayed taking action so that a covenant, intended to address some of the neighbors’ concerns, could be drafted.

The covenant, which runs with the land, commits J.L. Storedahl & Sons for the next 10 years to use the property for storage only, and not for extraction, rock crushing or other activities. The company still must go through a permitting process to store dirt on the land.

But the covenant wasn’t enough for neighbors in attendance.

“Regarding this expansion, basically I feel like 10 years is not long enough,” said Nick Edgar. He said that it still opened up the possibility of mining on the overlay.

Richard Leeuwenburg, another neighbor, said that local residents had formed an organization. Gary Ogier added that the group had hired an attorney who had contacted the county.

During the discussions, the council signaled they were serious about the county enforcing the terms of the permits that govern operations at the mine, which have long been a source of complaints. The council discussed forming a group to facilitate better communication between the county, mining companies and residents.

“We’ve listened; we hear you,” said Councilor Julie Olson.

Proebstel rural center

During the meeting, the county council voted to deny a request to establish a rural center in Proebstel, an unincorporated community just east of Vancouver. Areas designated as rural centers may have smaller lots and other zoning accommodations for public facilities.

In 2014, some property owners in the area signed a petition asking the then-county commission to create a Proebstel rural center. Planning staff has recommended not approving it on grounds it didn’t meet criteria under state law. Over the summer, the Clark County Planning Commission voted unanimously against the proposal. The commission was also presented with an alternative that involved rezoning four parcels from rural to commercial to better accommodate business activity.

During the council hearing, representatives from businesses said a rural center would help them keep operating without running afoul of code enforcement. Council Chair Marc Boldt noted there were rural commercial properties in Clark County before the county’s comprehensive plan went into effect.

“The entire intent for 15 years has been to get code enforcement off their back,” said Boldt, who cast the only vote in favor of the center.

Kirk VanGelder and Erin Allee, co-presidents of the Proebstel Neighborhood Association, told the council that a rural center was unnecessary because many business services could be accessed in nearby Vancouver. They also said that establishing a rural center or approving commercial rezoning would put new strains on the already inadequate roads and contribute to sprawl.

They also said that businesses in the area have been good neighbors and should be allowed to continue operating.

99th Street extension

The Clark County Council unanimously voted to update plans to connect Northeast 99th Street from about Northeast 88th Avenue west to Northeast 72nd Avenue. The connection has been on the county’s Arterial Atlas since 1996 as a way to improve east-west circulation and relieve congestion.

Earlier this year, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission advised against the original extension plan because of the safety issues involved with crossing the railroad tracks. In response, county staff settled on an option that involves extending Northeast 99th Street across Curtin Creek but then curving to the south to miss the railroad.

The Clark County Planning Commission was split, voting 3-2 in favor. Residents have expressed opposition to it.

“This land set aside for a road would be better used as a neighborhood park, a playground, which we don’t have, and almost any other use other than a major thoroughfare, which would have negative impacts,” Pamela Ragan told the county council. She said the neighborhood association has objected to it, as well.

Members of the council were sympathetic to residents’ concerns but said that the road wouldn’t be developed for decades. Responding to a question from the council about what would trigger the road, Gary Albrecht, a county planner, responded: “development.”

“We need to plan for things,” said Councilor Eileen Quiring. “We put a line on the map so it doesn’t get developed and houses don’t build on that area.”