Two Clark County councilors staked out positions Wednesday that could make it tougher for the county to pull together a $66.5 million road package near the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.
Since late 2018, the county has been crunching numbers and coming up with options for lifting “urban holding.” That planning restriction has blocked more than 2,000 acres from developing near the Northeast 179th Street corridor without funding for roads and other infrastructure.
Developers have plans to build 1,155 single-family homes, 326 apartments and 99 townhouses in the area. They argue that road improvements allowing residential development to proceed will open the door for future commercial and industrial development.
All five county councilors want to see urban holding lifted after more than 10 years of a de facto moratorium, but differences are coming into sharper focus.
During a work session Wednesday, Councilor Gary Medvigy questioned why property owners outside city limits should help pay for the road projects through higher property taxes.
“People out in remote areas will not get a benefit from this in 99 years, if at all,” he said. “I don’t see why we are even considering it. … We shouldn’t be taxing everyone out in the unincorporated area.”
Councilor Temple Lentz said she believes developers need to increase their contribution to achieve an 80 percent public, 20 percent private split for footing the transportation bill.
“I think this project has some worthwhile components, but this is a heavy lift,” she said.
Councilors have cooled to one option, increasing taxes on all property owners in the county. Instead, they are looking to use the county road fund, which is primarily funded by property taxes in the unincorporated area, and real estate excise taxes, which are collected when property sells.
Councilor Julie Olson and Councilor John Blom appear to be the most supportive of cobbling together the necessary public and private dollars.
Eileen Quiring, the council chair and the only councilor elected countywide, did not stake out a position Wednesday, but she previously has been cool to raising taxes.
Medvigy was by the far the most outspoken Wednesday. He pointed out that the county does not have final designs or solid construction costs for the road projects. He also raised the issue of job creation in the area.
“We don’t have commercial development planned,” he said. “We don’t have industrial development planned.”
“That’s not true,” replied Olson, who represents District 2, where the road improvements and development projects would be built.
Public Works Director Ahmad Qayoumi said 10 to 15 percent of a road project’s total cost goes into design. The county, he said, needs to have infrastructure to attract employers.
Blom agreed the road projects are needed. “That will open the door for these type of developments to come in 2020, 2021,” he said.
“It’s extremely difficult to get additional commercial until you lift the urban holding,” County Manager Shawn Henessee added. “It’s a chicken or egg question.”
After Wednesday’s work session, Lentz, who represents District 1 in west and central Vancouver, said the council is moving to identify funding “proportional” to the area that will receive the most benefit.
“Why District 1 voters should invest in this is a good question and one I have been asking,” she said.
Steve Horenstein, a Vancouver attorney representing Killian Pacific, one of the developers in the area, said afterward that the county has an obligation to fund the road improvements.
“It’s opening an area that is in urban holding that will provide a very good balance of jobs and residential,” he said.
“When you are a commercial and industrial developer … you have to be a little more patient,” he said. “Unlike residential — if you build it, they will come in this market — you can’t get commercial tenants interested in property if the path to development is unclear.”
Residential developers are stepping up and volunteering to pay more, but there is a limit on how much they can contribute before they are priced out of the market, Horenstein said.
“Both sides have budget problems,” he said.