Camas City Council has approved a 2022 Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan and listed its priorities for short- and long-range capital facilities needs.
The approval came in a 6-1 vote following a two-week public hearing that included more than three hours’ worth of council debate, public testimony and repeated clarifications from city staff as to what the document does and does not do.
The document is known as the city’s PROS Plan. It’s updated every six years and serves as a guide for managing and enhancing the city’s more than 1,000 acres of parks and open spaces, 12 miles of trails and wide range of recreational offerings.
It includes a list of capital facilities needs the city might try to develop and fund through a combination of sources such as grants, impact fees and voter-approved bonds over the next 20 years.
The capital facilities list includes cost estimates for each potential project totaling $130 million, as well as line items for high-ticket, unfunded projects such as an aquatic center. These inclusions divided the council and caused concern among residents who incorrectly equated the PROS Plan and facilities list with the city’s failed 2019 bid to fund a $78 million aquatic-community center.
“This list is not funded or an approved list of projects,” Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam reiterated during the continued public hearing on April 18. “This is a list of 20-plus-year projects either needed or wanted within our community.”
The council agreed on March 7 to approve the bulk of the 255-page plan in order to maintain the city’s eligibility to apply for the current round of state parks and recreation grants, but held off on approving the entire plan after at least one council member objected to three potentially pricey items — an aquatics facility, new or renovated community center and a sports park complex — on the list of 45 capital facilities “needs and wants.”
Councilmember Leslie Lewallen and other members of the council also worried the capital facilities list would be used to justify a substantial increase in impact fees paid by developers who build new housing in Camas to help fund new citizens’ added burden on the city’s parks system.
“Council’s been told it’s just a list, just a guiding document,” Lewallen said Monday. “But it’s not, because if it’s just to guide us why can’t we leave the dollar amount off? We’re going to use that to calculate park impact fees. To me, in my gut, that’s wrong. That impacts affordability.”
Several members of the city’s staff, including Camas’ city attorney, interim city administrator and the director of public works, said Monday that capital facilities lists are just one element that goes into calculating impact fees and that impact fees, by law, cannot find all of the city’s capital facility needs.
The city’s finance director, Cathy Huber Nickerson, also pointed out that including cost estimates on capital facilities lists is considered “best practice” for government agencies.
On Monday, the council voted 6-1, with Lewallen casting the only “nay” vote, to approve the PROS Plan in its entirety, including the capital facilities list, with the addition of a line item for a future pickleball court, estimated to cost $895,000, and the replacement of the $43 million aquatics center cost estimate — which was derived from a 2019 lowest-cost estimate for an indoor aquatics facility with two pools — with a new estimate of $19 million.