A drive around Brush Prairie reveals it as a place with a dual persona. Horses graze in pastures across the street from tightly wound subdivisions. A weathered barn sits behind a sign advertising 39 acres as “sold.” An apartment complex flanks the Clark County Saddle Club’s outdoor arena, soon to be relocated to a more sylvan spot toward Battle Ground.
We know Clark County’s population is growing — the latest census estimate was 481,857 residents, up 14.84 percent since 2010. But growth doesn’t spread evenly. This sizable census tract, bordered by Northeast 99th Street, state Highway 503 and Northeast 172nd Avenue stretching toward Battle Ground, has grown 133.04 percent since 2010. That makes it the county’s fastest-growing.
As the 2020 census nears, looking back at where Clark County grew offers clues into its future as a place of contrasts, a place increasingly more suburban than rural.
The answer to where and how growth occurs is, in some ways, straightforward.
Oliver Orjiako, director of Clark County Community Planning, said it boils down to zoning and available land. If an area is zoned for residential development and there is developable land, that’s where the new housing will go.
That’s why Brush Prairie is booming. The area was brought into Vancouver’s urban growth boundary in 2007, and much of its former farmland is now zoned residential. It had great potential for new houses and new people, and it still does. The county recently helped the U.S. Census Bureau identify new addresses for the upcoming census; many were in this tract that includes part of Hockinson and southeast Battle Ground.
In a Columbian story published March 10, 2007, reporter Michael Andersen described future residential and commercial projects poised to change the landscape after the area was marked for inclusion in the urban growth boundary.
At the time, Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt said “big changes” were coming and new homes were needed as a pressure valve for fast-growing Vancouver.
Here’s the kicker: The county’s slowest-growing census tract lies adjacent to Brush Prairie. A small area, bordered by state Highway 503 to the west, Northeast 137th Avenue to the east, Padden Parkway to the south and 99th Street to the north, has seen just 0.21 percent population growth since 2010.
Why? Well, it’s full. Even in 2010, there was little available land in this census tract, and some of it was considered “critical,” meaning there were potential environmental concerns or geologic hazards, such as steep slopes, wetlands or habitat areas.