Months of work to determine how to move forward with development near Northwest 179th Street have come to a close as the county council approved a $66.5 million funding package that won’t raise taxes on county residents.
During its Aug. 20 meeting, the Clark County Council voted 4-1 to approve a funding package to pay for road improvements in the area near the Northwest 179th Street at the Interstate 5 interchange that will allow the lifting of a zoning designation preventing development on 2,100 acres in the area.
Before the designation, known as urban holding, could be removed, the county had to be able to declare the needed improvements as “reasonably funded.” The projects requiring county funding included improvements on 179th Street from Delfel Road to Northeast 15th Avenue, an extension of 15th Avenue from 179th Street to 10th Avenue and work at 179th Street’s intersections at Northeast 29th and Northeast 50th avenues. Another county-funded improvement would be on Northeast 10th Avenue from Northeast 149th Street to Northeast 154th Street.
The road improvements will allow for projects by four developers in the area under urban holding to begin, an area north of Vancouver generally around the 179th/I-5 interchange. Part of the meeting’s motions included developer agreements with the four — Holt Homes, Wollam Development, Killian Pacific and Hinton Development. As part of the projects, more than 1,400 housing units would be added, according to the agreements.
The county’s share of the funding is about $39.9 million, including $16.9 million in already-approved funds and $23 million from a combination of grants and real estate excise tax revenues. The rest will be funded by development, including $12.1 million from the four developers in traffic impact fees paid in advance and other surcharges and $14.5 million from other development in the existing traffic impact fee (TIF) district.
Though raising taxes countywide was considered, the approved plan wouldn’t increase levies for county funds. Part of the funding included raising the current TIF rate. With the increase, the area would have the third-highest rate in the state at $9,300 per single-family unit, according to a Clark County Public Works’ presentation.
Clark County Deputy Civil Prosecuting Attorney Christine Cook addressed a question about having developers foot the entire bill for the improvements, which she responded would go against state law. Impact fees could make up a proportion of new development, but cannot be the sole funding source for projects, which instead require other public funds.
The removal of the urban holding overlay wouldn’t come until February 2020. Before that can happen, the council would have to approve an updated Transportation Improvement Plan, amend the county Capital Facilities Plan, officially increase the TIF rate, approve the 2020 budget and declare the projects “reasonably funded,” according to a Public Works’ presentation. Public Works Director Ahmad Qayoumi said the improvements are still years off; the county’s goal was to have the projects under construction by 2024.
Building out all the 2,100 acres in urban holding would add 4,815 housing units, $188 million in construction tax revenue and $23 million annually while directly adding 2,850 jobs, according to an economic study commissioned by the county.
Those who spoke in favor of lifting urban holding were generally developer representatives or property owners planning to develop in the area. Identity Clark County President Ron Arp said his organization was in support of moving forward with the funding package, pointing to the potential for increased tax revenue and job creation.
“This is truly becoming a public-private partnership,” Arp said, referring to the relatively high fees developers would be paying into the projects.
Killian Pacific Chief Visionary Officer Lance Killian said the area represented “the largest economic development opportunity that we have in Southwest Washington in the near term or the long term.”
Nearby residents expressed concerns over the increase of traffic on roads as well as environmental impacts on nearby wetlands. Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring noted that those impacts would be addressed in subsequent discussions as development specifics would be hashed out.
“We’re OKing what the developers are going to pay us, et cetera, not the actual plan,” Quiring said.
Councilor Temple Lentz, the sole dissenting vote on the package, had concerns over the funding structure given that outside of the projects’ part of the $66.5 million, another $97 million of projects had been identified in the area that would receive some funding from the increased TIF rate.
“We’re talking only about funding step one, but we’re tying it to the necessity of step two, which we don’t have a plan for,” Lentz said.
She also brought up the potential for economic development.
“Instead of recruiting an employer or investing in employment lands, this project devotes extensive county resources to support private housing developers and some retail,” Lentz said. Though more housing is needed in the county, the kind that would be in the developments wasn’t the type of “starter” housing that was in short supply, she added.
Councilor Julie Olson pointed out that development in the urban holding area has been part of several county comprehensive growth management plans since 2004.
“All of what we are doing tonight has been planned. We just have to do it, and councils and commissions prior to today haven’t done it,” Olson remarked.
“This is really the first step, but we’ve been working on it in earnest since January,” Councilor Gary Medvigy said, adding that developers and property owners had been “in limbo” for a decade or more.
“This isn’t going to be a fast process. It’s going to take years to build these homes and the commercial, hopefully, that will follow,” Medvigy said.