With a booming population, a new outdoor sports complex and a long-awaited supermarket coming soon, Ridgefield continues to change.
Depending on how the November election goes, the seven-member city council could change quite a bit, too, as three seats are contested. Matt Swindell and Dana Ziemer will face off for an open seat at Position 2, as Councilor David Taylor is not seeking re-election. Councilor Darren Wertz will seek re-election to Position 5, but faces a challenger in Rob Aichele. Sandra Day is also looking to be re-elected at Position 7, and is facing Ronald Rowan.
The Columbian sent all six candidates the same questionnaire on various issues facing Ridgefield, and all except for Rowan answered.
Earlier this year, Ridgefield completed the Ridgefield Main Avenue Access Improvements Project to make it easier to get from downtown Ridgefield to the wildlife refuge. Sometime next month, Rosauers Supermarket is expected to open. Even the frequently delayed Pioneer Street Railroad Overpass Project finally went out to bid this week. So, what should the city focus on next?
“The development of our waterfront is one of the next issues we need to tackle,” Swindell said. “We need to partner with our port to make sure we do everything we can to preserve the natural beauty of Lake River, and bring the latest in modern development to protect our environment. Together we can make it a destination point for all walks of life. We only have one waterfront and we need to make sure it is done right.”
Ziemer wants the city to continue to ensure downtown Ridgefield remains viable.
“Making downtown a destination place with unique parks and businesses people love will encourage citizens to visit downtown more often,” she said. “Cities need to have a balance between residential and commercial. Good family-wage jobs in Ridgefield are needed to keep our citizens in town and contributing to the economy of the city.”
Bringing people downtown was a commonly discussed issue this summer, when Ridgefield played host to the inaugural season for the Ridgefield Raptors of the West Coast League. The baseball team played home games at the new Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex on South Hillhurst Road, which is possible to reach without driving through downtown Ridgefield. Some downtown businesses felt like the team helped bring in business, while others didn’t notice a difference.
Ziemer wants to see some more special offers around games to help bring visitors downtown.
“I would like to see some downtown businesses host after-parties for the home games with incentives to come purchase food and drinks,” she said.
Swindell said the city and team should work more to accommodate downtown business’s hours.
“The games end after most of the businesses have closed,” he said. “Inviting the players downtown after the game to meet the fans would go a long way toward spurring business downtown.”
When asked what other major issues are facing Ridgefield, Swindell said the “rising cost of housing” should be a priority, and Ziemer said the growing population has increased “demand for commercial business to allow more residents to work as well as live in Ridgefield.”
Three times since 2015, Ridgefield has been named the fastest-growing city in the state. All that growth has led some Ridgefield old-timers to decry what has become of their once-sleepy farm town. However, city leaders have differing thoughts on how to manage growth while keeping what has brought so many to the city.
“Most of us who are longtime residents have seen the growth and chosen to be active in the community to try and protect what is, and manage growth to minimize the impacts, or at least extract as much benefit as possible for what is being lost,” Wertz said. “We will no longer see geese in Kennedy’s and Bartel’s cornfields, but there is a new state-of-the-art elementary and middle school there, where our children can grow and have access to (the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex), a world-class sports field complex. And the Kennedy and Bartel family names remains in the community. What can we do to not alienate long-time residents? We can remain respectful of place and people and treat all of our neighbors fairly.”
Aichele said many longtime residents he has spoken with have said quality of life in the city has improved as Ridgefield has grown.
“Our expanding growth is a testament of the quality of life we have in Ridgefield,” he said. “I believe that continued communication to all residents on how our growth plan is being implemented and adjusted as people continue to move here is important.”
Aichele is also concerned about affordable housing, and recently asked that the issue be put on the 2020 planning commission work plan.
“Addressing this concern will help put us on the path to possible remedies in addressing this issue which has many aspects,” he said. “We need to adopt reasonable measures that will facilitate solutions to accommodate all citizens living in Ridgefield.”
Wertz said the city recently conducted a survey asking residents what they want from the city, and is awaiting the responses. Otherwise, he said the city is working on developing needed north-south and east-west transportation corridors, constructing trails and parks and pursuing additional recreational facilities.
Day is concerned with funding and building a replacement library downtown. In 2018, Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries accepted a donation of the Ridgefield Community Center to expand the current library. The two buildings are connected.
She also thinks Ridgefield needs to be a bit more accommodating for seniors.
“I would like to see more senior housing and a focus on transportation that is accessible to the older population and their specific needs for medical care and social networks,” she said.
Day also talked up the Clark College at Boschma Farm campus, and what it means for Ridgefield’s growth.
“A growth spurt recently has been in commercial development, which many residents don’t see,” she said. “This growth contributes to the tax base and local jobs on the east side of town. Those commercial developments do not compete with downtown. Clark College at Boschma Farms is coming and that’s a change on a very positive note.”
In the voters’ pamphlet, Rowan said he is excited by the direction of the city.
“I have long worked for positive change and my family and I now feel that the time has come for me to seek elected office,” he wrote. “I would like to offer the voters a new choice on the ballot, as I want to bring fresh ideas and positive solutions to the growth and success of Ridgefield. I believe there are workable solutions available that will enhance our businesses, community growth and overall growth of our city.”