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Dec. 3, 2022

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Plans for Woodland subdivision halted after Cowlitz County rejects zoning changes

Cowlitz County Councilors deny request that would have allow smaller plots

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Developer plans to build a subdivision in the Woodland Bottoms were halted Tuesday when Cowlitz County commissioners denied a proposal to change the area’s comprehensive plan designation to allow for smaller plots.

Aho Construction, represented by AKS Engineering and Forestry, applied to amend the county’s comprehensive plan to change 203 acres south of Horseshoe Lake from “smallholding” to “suburban” to permit smaller minimum lot sizes. The developer first proposed the change in December 2020, with the intent of applying for a subdivision in that area.

Public comments during the hearings and environmental review voiced concerns about effects on traffic, the environment and existing infrastructure. Earlier this summer, the Cowlitz County Planning Commission recommended denial of the amendment.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Arne Mortensen said the requested change, like other land use proposals, becomes a “contest” of whose property rights prevail over others.

“In this and other instances, I think the proposals … we get ahead of ourselves,” Mortensen said.

Smallholding to suburban

The area proposed for redesignation is unzoned and 1,100 feet south of Woodland city limits, said George Winn, senior planner, during his presentation Tuesday.

The current smallholding designation limits minimum lot sizes to 5 acres. The comprehensive plan goals for smallholding land are to provide areas for small farms or similar uses, Winn said.

The suburban land use designation would allow a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet or about one-third of an acre, Winn said.

Aho Construction submitted conceptual plans of a 245-lot subdivision for the area. The subdivision would have been considered in a separate review and hearing.

In mid-May, the Cowlitz County Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of the proposal, stating the application doesn’t meet some of the comprehensive plan’s goals for suburban areas.

The county commissioners were not bound by the planning commission’s recommendation, and Tuesday’s public hearing was for the three-member board to independently decide on the proposal.

Comprehensive plan goals

On Tuesday, Maren Calvert, attorney representing the applicants, described how the developer believes the proposal meets the goals of the county’s comprehensive plan.

The change to allow denser housing development would connect the city and the existing scattered residential areas in a more orderly fashion than leaving it as is, Calvert said.

Calvert acknowledged concerns about traffic backups around Interstate 5’s exit 21 were appropriate, but not required to be addressed in their proposal to build. The county’s comprehensive plan requires developers to consider infrastructure and services inside the area they are considering building on, not outside it, she said.

The designation change would also allow needed housing to be built in an area with limited options, Calvert said.

“The county would be best served by taking this 202-acre parcel and creating a space where growth is going anyway, that’s near the city that has the infrastructure and services it might need for somewhere in between 15,000-square-feet to 2-acre lots,” she said.

Public comments Tuesday echoed concerns from earlier hearings and comment periods.

Mark Smith, planning commission chair, said the houses would be expensive and not solve the difficulty in finding local affordable housing. Development as outlined would affect the community’s quality of life, he said.

A handful of Woodland residents voiced concerns the development would have on traffic.

Erica Rodman, planning commission member and Woodland resident, said existing development in the works will already affect traffic at both I-5 exits.

“The overwhelming response from the community is they want the Woodland Bottoms to stay the Woodland Bottoms, and be an area that fosters that small hobby farm feel,” she said. “A 15,000-square-feet designation, I don’t believe, echoes the feeling or the sentiments of the area.”

Travis Goddard, city of Woodland development director, said the designation change would conflict with the city’s ability to plan for the area under the Growth Management Act, which is required by Clark County. He said the Woodland City Council asked him Monday to prepare an application to expand the city’s urban growth boundary and create a master plan for the Woodland Bottoms.

While the city isn’t against development in the area, if the proposed area was developed under county plans, it would be more difficult to connect utilities like water and sewer to city infrastructure later on and might not fit with the city’s long-term plans, Goddard said.

Talks about changing the urban growth boundary were cut short by Chief Civil Deputy Doug Jensen because of legal concerns.

Commissioner Dennis Weber said he found himself “attracted to the offer” Woodland made as long as county staff collaborates in the process. He said the comprehensive plan amendment is not the right step to take at this time.

Mortensen said the proposed change “puts the cart before the horse” and does not have citizen support.

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