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News / Business / Clark County Business

Despite moratorium, worries about Skamania County ‘adventure park’ persist

Opponents of possible recreational facility urge county to fix zoning code; Group: Rescind ordinance allowing conditional uses

By Doug Flanagan, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: March 23, 2024, 6:10am

CAMAS — A group of Skamania County residents say they fear the county’s moratorium on recreational applications won’t be enough to keep a proposed adventure park from being built.

“I think a lot of people thought that because of the moratorium … (the project) had just gone away,” said Keith Brown, treasurer for Preserving Washougal and West End Rural Character, a nonprofit that formed to oppose the adventure park.

The Skamania County Board of Commissioners adopted the recreational facilities moratorium in October. The move came following outcry from the West End community over Washougal resident Derek Hoyte’s efforts to construct an adventure park featuring a “mountain coaster,” zip-line course, net park and event venue on a 150-acre plot of land at 4101 Canyon Creek Road. Hoyte purchased the property in 2022.

After the county’s decision, Hoyte said the neighbors’ feedback had made him reconsider his adventure-park plans. He said he is “still in the early stages” of deciding what he wants to do with his property.

“My plans for the property are still in ‘draft mode,’ and no buildings of any kind have been built on the property as of yet,” Hoyte said in November. “I have no specific timetable in mind on when I might choose to make an application for a building or a land-use permit on the subject property.”

However, those opposing Hoyte’s development plans say the project is still a threat to the community.

“You watch what people do, not what they say. His track record is very clear. If he can put that in over there, he will,” Brown said.

This isn’t the first time Hoyte has tried to build a recreational draw in Washington — and he’s run into land-use troubles before.

He was briefly jailed in 2009 after Skamania County officials discovered he was operating six zip lines without permits on 83 acres of land he owned in the National Scenic Area, according to a 2010 report by The Columbian.

In 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office sued Hoyte in federal court in Tacoma, claiming the U.S. Forest Service confirmed reports that Hoyte had reinstalled zip lines on the property and was constructing a suspension bridge without permission.

The PWWERC group asked Skamania County Community Development Director David Waymire to review the county’s definitions of “recreational facilities” and “recreational activities” in its zoning code. The group urged Skamania County to align its recreational facilities zoning code with the West End Community Comprehensive Subarea Plan.

On March 5, Waymire proposed new large-scale recreational facility land-use terms and definitions; new supplementary development land-use standards for recreational facilities; and amendments to implement the new land-use terms.

“We’re hoping that this makes sense as a good path to move forward. We think it is,” Waymire said during the Skamania County Planning Commission’s March 5 meeting.

New codes

Currently, Skamania County defines an outdoor recreation facility as one encompassing a range of activities such as physical exercise, general well-being, spiritual renewal and education including camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, rock climbing, cycling, windsurfing and outdoor team sports.

Waymire’s proposal adds that “this designation shall not include any large-scale applications that are generally, but not limited to, applications that may have a significant traffic impact; potentially increased noise levels, sustained or not, that would likely be impactful to the regular use of the area; or projects that cover a geographic footprint of more than 5 acres of land or attempts to connect parcels with recreational.”

Waymire’s proposal also creates a definition for larger recreational facilities.

PWWERC’s March 3 meeting attracted about 80 people, including two county commissioners.

The group’s members say they are not necessarily trying to stop the adventure park project but want to make sure anything built complies with the West End Comprehensive Community Sub-Area Plan adopted by Skamania County in 2007.

“West Skamania County will continue to be a predominantly rural environment with large open tracts of field and forest lands, with residential and limited small scale commercial development,” according to the plan.

But Sarah Perry, the nonprofit group’s secretary, said Skamania County adopted zoning changes in 2021 that conflicted with the West End plan.

“Ordinance 21-04 added a lot of conditional uses under zoning areas that specifically affect residents,” Perry said. “Before those ordinances were passed, outdoor recreational facilities were not allowed at all in the zoning areas, and now they’re conditionally allowed. This created a loophole for that adventure-park proposal.

“Rescinding 21-04 would essentially put it back the way it was and remove the conditional uses from those zoning areas.”

Waymire said the group hopes county officials will approve his proposal.

“Then the moratorium would be lifted and the proposed changes would go into effect,” he said. “I can’t say how long this process may take since it will take the support of the two boards.”

Moratorium ‘taking away property rights’

Not all Skamania County residents approved of the moratorium commissioners enacted in October.

Skamania County resident Mitch Patton told The Post-Record he believes the county’s moratorium imposes on property owners’ rights.

“The biggest frustration that I have is that the 2007 comprehensive plan is up for review in 2025. That’s less than nine months away,” Patton said. “You have less than 1 percent of the community protesting, and you’re going to rewrite the whole comp plan? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Patton said he believes county officials should allow Hoyte to move forward with his project.

Patton said he owns about 200 acres of property in Skamania County that he would eventually like to develop.

“Twenty years ago, you couldn’t bring commercial out here. There was nobody here,” Patton said. “But now people are here, and we need doctors’ offices, optical places, urgent care for kids, maybe a play gym, maybe a little pizza bar. I have 200 acres here, and I’m going to push hard to rezone them into commercial, industrial, multifamily housing and affordable housing.”

PWWERC members say they recognize the moratorium “has created some hardships” for some residents.

“It’s unfortunate that the moratorium may impact some people in that way, but it’s temporary, and it’s a finite amount of time that is ultimately going to be for the greater good,” Perry said. “We want to make sure people understand that we’re certainly not against developers, and we’re not against development. What we do want is development that’s appropriate for the area, appropriate for the residential community that doesn’t cause adverse impacts to the neighbors around the development.”

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