The Clark County Council is currently considering changes to its 20-year comprehensive growth plan, which determines what can be built in different parts of the county.
While the 20 proposed changes before the council vary in scope, one zoning change sought by a developer has drawn particular opposition from nearby residents.
“You’re changing something, and change management is a tough thing,” said Karl Johnson, chair of the Clark County Planning Commission, during a hearing last month.
Early this year, Steve Waugh and David Groth, who co-own 26 acres outside of the fast-growing city of Ridgefield, applied to the county to change a portion of their property’s zoning from rural-10 to rural-5 along with an accompanying comprehensive plan amendment.
If the amendment and the rezoning are approved by the county council on Tuesday, part of the property could be subdivided into five new lots. That would be three more than the current zoning allows, according to a county staff report.
The Clark County Planning Commission last month voted 3-1 to recommend approval of the amendment and the zoning change. Before casting their votes, the commission got an earful from residents worried about its effects on traffic and well water.
“What’s going to happen?” said Mary Wooldridge, speaking to the commission. “Are we going to have to pay if they build five houses that have lawns and animals and whatnot? Am I going to have to pay for a new well to be drilled?”
John Shaw told the commission that he’s lived across the street from the property for 49 years, and he was already dismayed by recent changes to the property. He said that a stand of trees on the property had been cut down and he could now hear the freeway and feel the wind.
He also said he was worried that new development could pollute or drain the well he relies on for water. When asked by Johnson, Shaw said that his well had run dry in previous years.
“I just don’t want to see it change any more,” he said.
Valerie Uskoski, the principal of civil engineering firm Hayward Uskoski & Associates Inc., told the commission that the rural-10 zoning that’s currently applied to the property is meant to serve as a buffer for resource and other sensitive lands. But she said that the zoning designation doesn’t serve that purpose in this particular area.
Regarding the water issue, she said that while there is a shallow aquifer that most wells in the area are tapped into, there is a second, deeper aquifer. She said that there are regulations in place to protect water quality and limit the impact of new development on the aquifer. She said that the trees have been replanted and that new development will have to go through the approval process.
“We understand where the neighbors are coming from, and we definitely hear their comments,” she said.
Both the property owners were present at the hearing and said they wanted to be good neighbors.
In the end, Ronald Barca was the only member of the commission to vote against the proposed zoning change, citing concerns about how it would affect the area’s rural character and water.
“We have the best of intentions to work it out in advance, but we don’t have a safeguard,” he said.
After the meeting
Trevor Hayward, principal planner with Hayward Uskoski & Associates Inc., told The Columbian that after the meeting the owners met with residents to further discuss their concerns. Although county staff has suggested that a cluster development could be built on the site, Hayward said that the property owners have concluded that neighbors are opposed to it and would prefer 5-acre lots.
He also said the owners will have to go through a long process before things are built.
“It sounds a lot bigger than it is because it’s a comprehensive plan amendment, but it’s a small rezone,” he said.
But Shaw said he still has concerns.
“We want some assurance that they ain’t going to screw up our water,” he said.