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Parking code puts brakes on Richland waterfront high rise plan, but they aren’t giving up

By Wendy Culverwell, Tri-City Herald
Published: February 29, 2024, 6:00am

KENNEWICK — Richland’s vision of dense development on the Columbia River waterfront is on hold, at least for the time being.

The city council took the unusual step last week of not voting on an ordinance that would have helped usher in high rise apartment buildings, retail and recreation amenities along the waterfront.

The ordinance would have raised the maximum building height to 85 feet in the three waterfront zones, which are near Columbia Point, the Richland Wye and the Port of Benton.

The council favors the taller buildings but feared its complicated parking codes could create unintended consequences — turning the city’s most valuable river-adjacent property into a sea of parking spots to support the new development.

The council unequivocally wants the sort of development the higher building heights would enable.

Last fall, it selected a developer for its last significant land holding at Columbia Point — 23 undeveloped acres along Bradley Boulevard at the Columbia Point Golf Course.

It selected Cascadia Development Partners of Vancouver to develop the properties referred to in the dry language of municipal planning as Tracts D, E and part of Q.

David Copenhaver, president and partner for Cascadia, said the company would invest $300 million to $500 million to bring the city’s vision of an amenity-rich waterfront to reality.

After last week’s decision by the city to put off the height issue for now, Copenhaver told the Tri-City Herald in an email that its plans haven’t changed.

“We continue to have an interest in the waterfront property and will continue to work with the city in providing a quality and successful mixed-use development,” he said in an email. The city confirmed that it is still negotiating terms with Cascadia.

Parking becomes priority

The non-vote puts the spotlight on the city’s confusing, detailed and sometimes conflicting parking rules

Its own planning commission wrestled with the issue as it worked through the new height requirements.

After three meetings and a public hearing, the commission recommended the city council approve the new building heights but with a caveat that 30% or more of any parking must be in a structure rather than a surface lot.

The council heard the message but opted to address parking in a bigger, potentially time-consuming way.

It now plans a workshop to begin tackling parking codes, which are the result of decades of special exemptions to address unique situations all over town.

Councilman Kurt Maier, the council’s newest member, was elected in November after campaigning on a platform that included modernizing outdated building requirements, including its building codes.

“We need to revamp the parking code. We shouldn’t change the height until we get the parking fixed,” he said last week.

Developer workarounds

The current standards for the three waterfront zones limit builders to 35-55 feet.

The council shelved the ordinance that would have raised them, but that doesn’t preclude builders from going higher.

Developers may request specific project waivers from the city’s planning commission.

It recently granted one for the third and final building being built at the Vertisee Heights apartment complex in the 1100 block of Columbia Park Trail, which overlooks the Yakima/Columbia River Delta at Bateman Island.

World Builders LLC, the developer, got permission to go 10 feet over the 55-foot limit on the northern end of its final building, which will give it five stories with ground floor retail shops, a rooftop deck and 39 studio apartments.

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It will be constructed in a line with Vertisee’s two existing apartment buildings.

Planning Commissioner Francesca Maier, who is married to Councilman Kurt Maier, said Vertisee shows the exemption process can handle development requests. Using it gives the city some time to update the parking rules, she said.

“We are here for the long-term growth of the city,” she said. “At the waterfront, that means walkable, not half of it being parking lot.”