Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sept. 24, 2020

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County Council again delays ‘urban holding’ decision

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:

Citing a lack of time to review the information and the absence of two members, the Clark County Council again held off on moving forward with a public-private partnership that will eventually open up more than 2,200 acres north of Vancouver to development.

With Council Chair Eileen Quiring and Councilor Julie Olson absent, the council voted to delay taking action until 6 p.m. Aug. 20.

Since late last year, the county has been examining its options to fund road improvements before it can lift “urban holding” on the area near the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. Urban holding is a designation under state land-use law that blocks development from occurring until funding is in place for infrastructure upgrades to facilitate increased use.

Developers plan to build 1,155 single-family homes, 326 apartments and 99 townhouses in the area. A study commissioned by the county found the development would create thousands of jobs and housing units, along with tens of millions of dollars in ongoing tax revenue.

Before the county can lift urban holding, it needs to approve a $66.5 million funding package drawn from developer contributions, grants and county funds. The central question facing the county has been how much developers should pay and how much public funds should be used.

While a majority of the council seems to be gravitating toward an option to fund the upgrades without raising property taxes, the meeting revealed that there are still questions about how it would be implemented.

The option that appears to have the most support from the council involves the county contributing $39.9 million, with developers contributing the remaining $26.6 million in the form of surcharges and increased traffic impact fees. The county has identified five road improvement projects that would be funded with the money. The county has identified another four long-range projects that would cost $97 million.

Councilor Temple Lentz asked many questions about how the projects would be paid for if traffic impact fees didn’t pan out. She also said she was reluctant to vote for the project without more information about them. At the end of the meeting, she said she was disappointed that documents for the meeting had been posted the day before and had undergone further changes. Other councilors agreed.

“Complete materials need to be posted at least one week prior, and that’s not an unreasonable request,” said Lentz, noting the gravity of the decision.

The council also heard from the public. David McDonald, a Ridgefield resident and lawyer, questioned if the proposed infrastructure upgrades were adequate. He also questioned if developers were paying enough under the proposed plan.

Carol Levanen, of property rights group Clark County Citizens United, and Sue Marshall, board president of environmental group Friends of Clark County, also had a rare agreement when they both raised concerns about the burden on taxpayers.

The council also heard from proponents of lifting urban holdings. Allison and Jim Carlson told the council how they purchased property in the 1990s that was later placed in urban holdings. They said the designation has prevented them from selling the property.

“So it’s left us in 14 years of limbo, which has not been a pleasant situation at all,” said Allison Carlson.

Randy Printz, an attorney for Holt (one of the developers), told the council that this wasn’t an issue of growth or no growth. Instead, he pointed out that the county made the decision when it passed its comprehensive plan in the 1990s that designated the area for development.

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