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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County Council continues planning for next 20 years of population growth

The council will meet to discuss where new housing, jobs and population growth should go

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 13, 2024, 6:04am

The Clark County Council this month will continue the lengthy process of planning for the next two decades of population growth. The council will meet to discuss where new housing, jobs and population growth should go.

The first meeting is a work session scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday. The second meeting, at 10 a.m. April 23, is the continuation of the county council’s March 5 public hearing. Both meetings will convene in the sixth-floor meeting room at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

In May, the county council formally adopted a population forecast to be used in its 20-year growth management plan. Now, that population growth — as well as related housing and jobs growth — must be allocated to the cities.

The cities can then develop their own plans to accommodate the projected growth, said Jose Alvarez, program manager for the county’s Community Planning department.

Building industry video explains planning process

The Building Industry Association on April 4 released an animated explainer video to help residents understand Clark County’s complex process of planning under the state’s Growth Management Act.

The 3-minute video discusses the origin of growth management and planning and the challenges the county is facing in the current update. The county, and all other jurisdictions, must complete their comprehensive plan updates by the end of 2025.

The video is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7HpWnY5LrA.

“The comprehensive plan update process is complex and difficult to digest, even for industry professionals and policymakers who are following it closely,” BIA Government Affairs Director Noelle Lovern said in an April 4 news release.

Lovern said new legislation passed in 2023 added more complexity, including allocating housing needs by income ranges, as well as a new climate component.

State law challenges community planners to accommodate the space needed for capital facilities, utilities, transportation, housing and employment within urban growth boundaries. Creating or updating the 20-year growth plan often takes years to complete.

“There are few processes that will have the broad impact that the 2025 Comprehensive Plan Update will have for our community,” Lovern said in the news release.

--Shari Phiel

There are two methods for the housing allocation under consideration. The first distributes the growth in housing units evenly among the cities based on their relative size. The second distributes the growth in housing units so that at the end of the 20-year period in 2045, housing stock by price is more balanced among the cities, Alvarez said.

Claire Lust, community development director for Ridgefield, said the city is more supportive of the second option but will support a hybrid method.

For the cities already providing housing to lower income levels, Alvarez said the second method will lessen the amount of low-income housing they will be required to provide. Conversely, cities that haven’t been providing low-income housing will be required to provide a greater amount in the future.

Although the state Department of Commerce provided the two allocation methods under consideration, the county is not required to choose either. Alvarez said the county council could choose to combine elements of the two methods to create a different option.

Bryan Snodgrass, a principal planner with Vancouver’s Community Development division, said the city, like Ridgefield, is recommending a hybrid version of the two methods.

In an April 12 email, Snodgrass said a joint letter was sent to the county March 19 supporting a compromise “that partially recognizes existing housing and what communities have done to date, while also providing all jurisdictions with more realistic targets.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Bryan Kast, community development director for the city of La Center. Kast said at a joint meeting between the planning commission and city council in February that both groups found the second method preferable.

“It provided more ‘middle’ housing, compared to (the first method), which had more housing allocated to the extreme low and high ends of the income spectrum,” Kast said. “We are happy with the approach to develop a hybrid allocation method … that works for all the cities.”

For information about the county meetings, including links to join online, go to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.