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Vancouver, Camas, county effort could net public parks in underserved areas

New cooperation between Vancouver, Clark County and Camas could help bring more parks to neighborhoods along Vancouver’s city limits with new park overlay service areas designed to aid residents who have to travel the farthest to the nearest public park.

Vancouver’s goal is to have a public park within a half-mile of every resident. A map from the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation shows areas falling short of that aim.

“We’ve had some concentration of underserved areas along the boundary of the city,” said Eric Holmes, Vancouver’s city manager. The new areas, he said, would “increase flexibility and opportunity to use existing park impact fees, and plan future collections with more flexibility to meet system needs.”

The flexibility includes the ability for Vancouver to spend park impact fees in those four regions — including areas outside of city limits, provided that the projects have the potential to serve city residents.

The idea is to free up more options for park locations. Land within the city is at a premium, Holmes said, and opening up county spaces for park development could help close some of those gaps for residents living on the periphery.

“We’re growing, and growing fairly rapidly. We’re seeing an increase in residential density that’s putting pressure on — not only demand for park services — but also on the availability of land, because of market pressures consuming it for private development purposes,” Holmes said. “It’s limiting our options to meet the needs.”

In a unanimous vote earlier this month, the Vancouver City Council agreed to move forward with changes to the city’s municipal code and Park Impact Fee structure.

Some councilors pointed out that it doesn’t really matter to a park’s visitors who has formal jurisdiction. If it’s a nice location, people will use it.

Vancouver City Councilor Erik Paulsen said that when he and his family lived on the eastern fringe of the city, they would usually go to Grass Valley Park in Camas.

“I don’t think that people who live on the fringes of our city generally know where the city limits are, or care whether the park that they’re using is within or out of city limits. They just want to know that there’s one that’s nearby that they can take advantage of,” Paulsen said.

“I speak from personal experience when I say, if there’s a park that’s nearby, you don’t really care what city it’s in or what jurisdiction it’s served by,” he said.

How’s Vancouver doing?

The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that promotes public parks, maps each of the nation’s parks and how far people would need to walk to reach an outdoor green space. In Vancouver, 29.7 percent of residents are more than 10 minutes away by foot from the nearest park.

From a proximity standpoint, Vancouver is in pretty good shape — the national average for people who need to walk more than 10 minutes to the nearest park is 46 percent.

But from a land-use perspective, the city is well behind the rest of the country. Six percent of land in Vancouver is dedicated to park and recreational use. The Trust for Public Land Reports that the national median is 15 percent.

A Stronger Vancouver, a comprehensive plan for the next decade including 35 new capital projects, includes proposals to build nine new neighborhood parks around the city. Five of those parks would be near the city’s boundary, and two more would be in the northeastern corner of Vancouver where residents are also underserved.

What are park impact fees?

When developers build new single-family or multifamily homes, they’re required to pay a park impact fee to the city to offset the additional strain each new home puts on public spaces.

Vancouver’s rates were set in 2016, when the city divvied itself up vertically into three park districts.

Depending on the location, the park impact fee for a new single-family home is between $2,142 and $2,243. Each unit in a multifamily development will cost between $1,565 and $1,639.

The city of Vancouver and Clark County had previously managed the region’s park impact fees jointly for nearly 20 years.

The partnership dissolved in 2014, during a tumultuous period in the relationship between city and county government in which County Councilor David Madore elected to split from the Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation department to create its own organization.

The Cross-Boundary Service Area Agreement could mark a step toward rebuilding that relationship.

“If you recall, the city used to be in a partnership with the county to run parks,” said City Councilor Laurie Lebowsky. “I hope, long term, that we can look at broader agreements.”


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