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News / Business / Clark County Business

Port of Camas-Washougal annexation plans for Grove Field rile residents

Officials want 12 airport properties to join city of Camas

By Doug Flanagan, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: June 15, 2024, 6:10am
2 Photos
Fern Prairie residents listen to Port of Camas-Washougal CEO David Ripp, left, speak about the port&rsquo;s request to annex its Grove Field properties into Clark County&rsquo;s urban growth boundary during an open house on June 5.
Fern Prairie residents listen to Port of Camas-Washougal CEO David Ripp, left, speak about the port’s request to annex its Grove Field properties into Clark County’s urban growth boundary during an open house on June 5. (Photos by Doug Flanagan/Camas-Washougal Post-Record) Photo Gallery

The Port of Camas-Washougal delivered a message to Fern Prairie residents earlier this month: The port has to plan for the future, and development is part of that future.

The port plans to annex 12 of its properties at Grove Field airport into the city of Camas in order to attract revenue-generating businesses.

The message wasn’t well received by community members, who voiced concerns about how development could disrupt their lives.

Nonetheless, port leaders emerged from the June 5 open house resolute to develop the property, preferably with the residents’ blessing.

“They said, ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 or 15 or 20 years from now, we don’t want to see anything.’ Well, we have to plan. You can’t just put your head in a hole and not do it,” port CEO David Ripp said after the meeting. “We’re trying to plan and move forward. We are a public agency, and we’re going to listen to our constituents and plan something that meets everyone’s needs.”

As part of the Growth Management Act update required by the state, the port submitted a site-specific request to move 12 of its 13 Grove Field properties from the Rural-5 zone area into the Camas Urban Growth Area and zone the properties North Shore Mixed Development.

If the county approves the request, the city of Camas could annex the Grove Field properties into the city limits, a move that’s been long desired by port leaders, who say they can’t develop the properties without access to city services.

Grove Field houses about 120 aircraft and includes 79 public hangars, 14 aircraft tie-downs and a self-service fueling facility, as well as 18 private hangars on land leased from the port and several private hangars on surrounding properties.

‘We have to create jobs’

The port hopes to ultimately annex 12 of the properties (all except a parcel east of state Highway 500, in the flight path of the runway) into the city to create opportunities for property development and job growth, according to Ripp.

“We have to create jobs and commerce — that’s just what ports do,” he said.

But the roughly 30 residents at the meeting have other priorities. They said development at Grove Field would create unwanted traffic and noise, raise property taxes and disrupt the natural beauty of the area.

Residents worried that property taxes would go up because appraisals in the city of Camas would be higher than in the county, even through the tax rate would be lower.

“We don’t want more traffic. We don’t want commercial buildings out there, because it’s an urban residential area,” Fern Prairie resident Jim Keller said. “We want the airport to continue to exist, but we want to be able to continue to exist and be safe. The issue is simply we have to figure out how to work with the port, meeting their needs and our needs.”

Those at the meeting collectively groaned in dismay at Commissioner John Spencer’s suggestion that new buildings would “create a buffer, both sound and visual,” between the residents and the airport.

“You’re trying to protect the airport with businesses around it, but what makes you think that we want those businesses protecting us?” one resident asked Spencer. “We don’t want all that in-and-out.”

Annexation of the 12 properties into the urban growth boundary would “not affect property owned by others” in the short term, according to a fact sheet handed out at the meeting.

“In the long term, if the port property is annexed into the city of Camas and it develops as planned, the surrounding property will have port-owned development as neighbors,” the fact sheet states. “Properties outside the UGB will remain the same and will be on wells and septic systems. For any significant changes to occur on other properties, they would have to be brought into the UGB at a later date.”

Clark County councilors will make their decision on the port’s request in 2025.

“This isn’t happening overnight, so there’s plenty of time to talk to the commission and discuss it and ask questions (and provide) comments and concerns,” Ripp said.

‘Generally supportive’

Clark County and the city of Camas are “generally supportive” of the port’s request. The county will hold workshops this summer and fall with its planning commission and council to review site-specific requests, according to the fact sheet.

Camas has its own “public participation plan and series of meetings to consider changes to its comprehensive plan.

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When asked what types of businesses the port is planning to bring to Grove Field, Ripp said that while he couldn’t get into specifics, light industrial and/or commercial manufacturing companies that either build or produce products and sell them on site or are airport-specific could be good fits.

“The port is really interested in growth, but well-planned growth,” Commissioner Larry Keister said. “Our mission is economic development for the community. The reason that we have this meeting and other meetings like this is to get your input as to what it is you would like to see and what it is you don’t want to see. No decisions have been made as to what’s going to go in this area, but if we don’t plan for it now, it will get developed by other people.”

Keller acknowledged that the port has a right to develop its property but hopes that it will give residents a chance to voice their opinions about how it is developed.

“I think part of the problem has been, and always will be, is that the port’s mission is very clear, and it’s mandated. The port’s mission is to create commerce, and that’s what they do,” he said. “And so then the question is, ‘Do we have any input on where they create commerce?’ I think what we all have to understand is that their mandate might not align with our personal desires and wants.”