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April 13, 2021

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Apartment plans rile Northeast Hazel Dell

Residents say 150-unit project will create traffic, safety problems in their neighborhood

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published:
5 Photos
Tom Hill looks over vacant land on March 30 that is the site of a future apartment complex in the Northeast Hazel Dell neighborhood. Residents say the project will cause major traffic headaches in the area. A small stream that feeds into Tenny Creek is seen nearby.
Tom Hill looks over vacant land on March 30 that is the site of a future apartment complex in the Northeast Hazel Dell neighborhood. Residents say the project will cause major traffic headaches in the area. A small stream that feeds into Tenny Creek is seen nearby. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

An apartment complex coming to the Northeast Hazel Dell neighborhood has drawn the ire of neighbors – an example of how Clark County’s growth can pit housing needs against livability for existing residents.

Owners of the 4.95-acre property at 2703 N.E. 99th St. plan to break ground this summer. The 150-unit, garden-style complex will include five separate three-story buildings and 256 parking spots.

Named the Alena Apartments, the complex will include units priced between $1,100 and $1,700, said Ernie Leland, co-owner of construction contractor C&L Homes.

Leland pointed to ongoing housing needs in Clark County, including in the Vancouver Urban Growth Area, where the complex will be located. County officials, like those in several other local municipalities, are in the middle of a monthslong study evaluating housing needs in the urban growth area.

“Over the next 24 months, the Alena Apartments will provide many needed jobs during the building process,” Leland said. “By increasing (the area’s) supply of apartments, we will help keep (the area’s) cost of living affordable.”

But numerous residents near the site object to the plans.

In the yearslong process of gaining approval from the county, neighbors submitted several petitions in attempts to stop the development. Petitioners say they gathered more than 3,000 signatures.

Public comments submitted to the county raised several concerns about the effects the complex will have on the neighborhood. Concerns included increased traffic and safety impacts due to the hundreds of new cars expected to come to the area.

The complex will have two access points: one at Northeast 98th Street to the west and another at 99th Street to the north. Developers estimated just over 1,000 average daily vehicle trips in and out of the site.

Original plans only included access at 98th Street, a short, dead-end street that wraps around to the site from Northeast 26th Avenue. The 99th Street entrance would have been for emergency vehicle use only.

Children in the quiet neighborhood play in the streets and sidewalks around 98th Street, evidenced by the basketball hoops and balls lying around. Neighbors say they believe the street width and sight range – hampered by a sharp bend in the road between 99th Street and the entrance – will create significant and constant traffic backups on the residential street.

Tracy Balogh, who lives near the entrance, is one of several residents who are concerned about the impact on their homes’ market values.

“We do not have the road structure. It is not safe,” Balogh said. “Having a three-story complex with all of those houses surrounding it, it’s just ridiculous.”

Drawings have since been updated, however, to include a right-in, right-out driveway on 99th Street. Leland also noted the presence of several bus stops along the busy road.

“While the growth of Clark County creates the need for additional housing and leads to additional traffic, we have attempted to mitigate the effects on our community,” Leland said.

But the update didn’t satisfy the concerns of neighbors such as Tom Hill, who has owned a house on Northeast 99th Street near the site since 1997.

Hill noted that he already sees traffic during commute hours on 99th Street, which leads to Interstate 5 less than a mile to the west. He said that the right-turn-only lane out of that entrance, which leads drivers to the east, will only cause more confusion.

“It could take over 45 minutes just to get out of the parking lot,” Hill said.

County staff, along with land use hearing examiners, have found that the developer’s plans have met all of the county’s code requirements. The review included a visit from county staff to the site.

The project has received final approval from the county ahead of construction.

“Although the neighboring residents’ concerns are duly noted and understandable, the proposal has been reviewed for, and found to address county code by review staff,” a staff report reads.

Meanwhile, neighbors remain worried about the neighborhood’s future.

“It concerns all of us. We’ve done what we can,” Hill said. “I just don’t want to see this neighborhood go downhill.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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