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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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Battle Ground City Council waives fees for proposed YMCA

But Clark County Council puts brakes on $1M for project

By , Columbian staff writer

Plans for a YMCA facility in Battle Ground made progress but also took a step backward this week.

On Monday, the Battle Ground City Council approved waiving permitting fees valued at roughly $144,000. However, just two days later, the Clark County Council delayed its approval of $1 million in federal funds it previously “penciled in” for approval for the project.

The YMCA of Columbia-Willamette hopes to build a 20,000-square-foot facility in the city with a sports and fitness complex, lap and recreation pools, youth center and event space for schools and community events. The total project cost is estimated at $10 million.

Although the YMCA plans to raise most of the funds needed through grants and donations, officials have also requested funding assistance from the city and county.

Rather than waiving permitting fees, City Councilor Shane Bowman suggested the city council table its discussion for another week while staff reviewed whether the city could put forward a bond measure in February. Bowman said a bond measure had the potential to raise millions of dollars, far more than the city could offer, that would help not only the YMCA but possibly the city’s parks department.

However, staff noted funds raised through a bond put forward by the city would not be allowed to be spent on a private project and would require a public-private partnership instead.

To approve waiving the permit fees, changes to the city’s code would be needed, which gave some city councilors pause.

“I have real issues when I hear council members say, ‘Let’s change our codes and make it narrow enough that it only fits certain organizations.’ That’s cronyism to me,” Bowman said.

City Councilor Adrian Cortes said concerns about the code changes, and how that would affect other development projects, were unnecessary.

“I would like the council to make serious consideration of moving forward. This is a legacy issue. What we will decide now will hopefully make the effort of the YMCA … get that much closer to breaking ground and over the finish line,” Cortes said.

City Councilor Troy McCoy also supported moving forward with approving the fee waivers.

“We can’t out of one side of our mouth complain about kids loitering in parking lots without also giving them something to do that’s productive,” McCoy said.

Along with approving the fee waiver, city staff was also directed to review possible changes to the city code to allow other permit fees to be waived in the future.

County tables plan

On Wednesday, the county council tabled its discussion on the YMCA request until further information on using federal monies for the project could be researched.

“I’ve been thinking about the wisdom of the county matching what the city does as far as their in-kind contribution, that we would match with ARPA funds,” Chair Karen Bowerman said.

Bowerman said a matching contribution would create a better balance between the city and county, without the county overshadowing the city.

At its Aug. 31 meeting, the county council set over its discussion to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to a later meeting. At issue was whether the county can use the federal monies for the YMCA project. Several councilors also wanted Battle Ground’s city council, which was scheduled to review the fee waiver request in September, to take the lead on the project.

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The county council’s decision to hold off on approving the request frustrated Councilor Gary Medvigy. Medvigy has been a vocal advocate for the project and hoped Battle Ground’s support would be enough to garner the county’s approval.

“I thought our council was interested in finding out what the Battle Ground council thought about supporting the YMCA? That was the initial threshold question,” Medvigy said. “That answer came last night and it was a resounding ‘Yes.’ ”

As she has previously, Councilor Julie Olson voiced her opposition to providing funds for the project. Olson said when the YMCA announced it was building a facility in Ridgefield it didn’t ask the county for money and shouldn’t be asking now.

“There are ways to do this if the city and community of Battle Ground are committed to it without coming to us and asking for a million dollars,” Olson said. “I’m still not in support of this. I don’t think it’s our role.”