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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County Council’s buildable lands hearing draws foes, fans

Building industry urges county to alter density calculations

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 7, 2022, 5:33pm

The Clark County Council is one step closer to adopting updates to the county’s vacant buildable lands report following a public hearing Tuesday. The hearing was a continuation of meetings held March 1 and April 19. The county has until June 30 to adopt the revised report to meet the state legislative deadline.

The buildable lands report, and related vacant buildable lands model, is the county’s planning tool for evaluating residential, commercial and industrial land needs within the urban growth area and whether there is enough land available to meet the needs of projected growth.

Community Planning staff have been working to update the report, including new population numbers from the 2020 Census, ahead of updates to the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan in 2025.

According to the report, the county has sufficient supply of vacant land to meet the county’s residential and economic growth through 2035.

But many developers, real estate professionals and representatives from the building industry speaking at the hearing disagreed. They said the report is wrong and urged the council to return to using estimated density targets rather than relying on achieved densities.

Justin Wood, of the Clark County Association of Realtors, said a recent study by EcoNorthwest, a Seattle-based economic consulting firm, shows the state has a vast deficit of available housing.

“Our community must ensure we have ample buildable land to build much-needed new housing. Without this, the cost of housing will continue to increase,” Wood said, adding the Building Industry Association of Clark County’s planning coalition “does not agree with the county’s assertion that we have 1,446 acres of surplus buildable residential land based on achieved density.”

Tim Schauer, a Vancouver-based land development specialist, said the council needs to revise the report’s assumptions for critical and noncritical, mapped commercial and industrial lands, as well.

While those assumptions may have been valid in the past, Schauer said, “they are no longer reasonable, no longer realistic and frankly out of sync with our community’s values.”

Schauer said continuing with the existing assumptions will limit the ability to recruit employers and jobs to the region.

Camas Mayor Steve Hogan also testified at the hearing. Hogan said Camas has just 362 acres of land zoned for manufacturing or industrial use, but after removing critical areas and wetlands, only 144 usable acres were left. Hogan said the report shows more than 5,700 jobs could be created on the 362 acres, but the real number is closer to 2,100.

Hogan said the city has tried to recruit manufacturing and industrial businesses to the area, but businesses that toured the property said it wouldn’t suit their purposes.

“There are a lot of people advocating for housing, but jobs are what give people good incomes to buy those houses,” Hogan said.

Speaking for “the invisible stakeholders,” the companies that will someday relocate to Clark County and existing companies that want to grow and expand, Jennifer Baker from the Columbia River Economic Development Council said the council needs to give job creation greater priority.

“I invite you to ask yourselves to what extent are you confident that the employment land inventory will convert to realize the number and types of jobs that create a stable economy and tax basis for reinvesting in our economy,” Baker said.

The buildable lands report also drew some supporters.

Vancouver resident Teresa Hardy said the council should reject erroneous claims made by the building industry.

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“We urge the county to only submit a buildable lands report that is based upon and supported by solid data, as required by statute,” Hardy said.

David McDonald said the requests from the building industry are directed at policy decisions, not how the buildable lands report is created.

“The vacant buildable lands report is supposed to be about data, and specifically about what has happened on the ground. Not what you want to happen on the ground, but what is happening,” McDonald said.

Councilor Richard Rylander Jr., who made a motion to reconsider the council’s May 18 vote to use achieved densities, said his main reason for voting for that change was because he thought it was required by state statute. Rylander said he has learned differently since then.

Rylander and Chair Karen Bowerman voted in favor of the motion, while Councilors Julie Olson, Temple Lentz and Gary Medvigy voted against.

Planning staff will bring a revised buildable lands report and proposed resolution before the council June 21 for adoption, unless further changes are needed.