The Clark County Council has scheduled a date to adopt a master plan for the 78th Street Heritage Farm, though some of the most hot-button questions about the farm might not be answered until the end of the year.
Councilors voted 4-1 during a work session Wednesday to schedule a vote for March 10 to approve the plan. The process to update the master plan, which was last revised in 2010, began in August 2018.
Founded in the 1870s, the farm features historic buildings, wetlands and wells, and houses the WSU Clark County Extension office, community gardens and other gardens. It hosts 22 programs and projects, as well as numerous organizations including the Clark County Food Bank, Master Gardener Foundation and Partners in Careers’ veterans farming program.
County officials have been reviewing ways to make the farm more financially independent. The county contributed $564,575 to the farm in 2018.
The prolonged process, which was expected to wrap up by June, has created significant concern about the county’s intentions with the farm.
“I think there’s no harm. It’ll calm the waters,” Councilor Gary Medvigy said of adopting a master plan. “It’ll continue the progress forward and all the good work that’s being done.”
Using substantial public input, the Heritage Farm Advisory Committee developed several recommendations, most notably to re-direct an interpretive trail around the site. While the previous master plan had the trail running through the site, the thought in the new plan is to prevent it from interrupting farm work and other uses.
The county parks department has also proposed moving some of its operations to the property.
On Wednesday, county staff presented a number of loose options to either increase revenue or decrease expenses. County officials said that a more specific business plan for the farm would follow the master plan.
The short-term ideas included programming space for events, offices and leases; increased social media and online marketing; and new fees and charges for services and rentals. Long-term strategies might include helping the Friends of the Farm Foundation build a financial portfolio, using public-private partnerships to construct significant capital improvements and creating a “farm-friendly” flex space for indoor agricultural events, farm-to-table demonstrations and wine or food shops.
Additionally, staff mentioned that cuts to extension, facility and farm support services could ease expenditures from the county’s general fund. Such cuts have not, however, been formally discussed by the council, Councilor Temple Lentz said.
“The council majority is not going in that direction,” Lentz said.
Council Chair Eileen Quiring, the sole “no” vote Wednesday, said in a text that she doesn’t “believe the plan is ready to adopt, since we are waiting for a business plan and other input to whittle down the various suggestions that came from the public.”
After the master plan is adopted, county staff would continue to narrow the options — and seek additional public input — for specific cost-saving or revenue-generating measures, Public Works Director Ahmad Qayoumi said. A more specific plan would likely be proposed toward the end of the year.
“We have, what appears to me, no shortage of ideas,” Lentz said. “That would be my request, that we ensure that (the master plan) is a guiding document and that there will be checkpoints along the way as it is worked on to be implemented.”