RIDGEFIELD — Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow spoke to the citizenry Feb. 7, highlighting a theme of “Growth, Inspiration and Opportunity” for the city in 2017.
Onslow gave a “State of the City” address to community members and city and county officials, focusing on how Ridgefield would be this year in terms of those three key points.
When it came to growth, Onslow said Ridgefield was “one of the fastest growing cities in the state for the past seven or eight years.”
“We are directly in the path of progress, right in between Seattle and Portland,” Onslow said. “Our growth brings us new opportunities, improved infrastructure, better health, safety and public services.”
Onslow also framed his speech around some of what students in two Union Ridge Elementary School classes, Ellen Ferrin’s first-grade and Stephanie Frasier’s third-grade classes, had asked about what they would like to see in the city.One of the first responses he mentioned was to build a house — something most who have spent time in the city knows is realistic. Last year 320 homes were built in the city, he said, listing Teal Crest, Ridgecrest, Cloverhill, Hillhurst Highlands, Pioneer Place and Cedar Creek neighborhoods currently in development. When complete those neighborhoods would result in 800 new lots available for building in the “very near future.”
A grocery store was another request, with Onslow’s responding that the city was working “extremely hard” in finding a store with the right fit in the coming year.
One student had asked about a bakery, with Onslow remarking that “small businesses are the lifeblood of our community.” He mentioned members of the Ridgefield Business Association and the Ridgefield Main Street program, the latter recently receiving accreditation as an official Main Street community, making it one of only 34 such communities in the state.
Another place the students would like to see was “a place for doctors.”
“Well, ‘poof,’” Onslow said as an image of a Vancouver Clinic building appeared behind him.
A facility of the medical group is planned to start construction this year.
Although none of the students asked about more wine, Onslow did talk about the importance of the wine industry in the area, including Gouger Cellars, Bethany Vineyards, Three Brothers Vineyard and Winery, Stavalaura, Lucy’s Garden, Confluence and Koi Pond as some of Ridgefield’s vintners.
Onslow also mentioned Windy Hills Winery opening up with a new event center. He said owner David Kelly “would be an anchor of the wine community in Ridgefield.”
For the city’s own wine pursuits, an all-volunteer force helped to plant grapes in the center of the Pioneer Street roundabouts, Onslow said, claiming it was the “first vineyards to be planted on a state highway.” He added the name of the wine produced would be “Ridgefield Roundabout Red” at the suggestion of his wife, Sandy Schill.
Onslow introduced dozens of residents, city workers or officials, asking the crowd to say “hello” when each individual was called. Several of those introduced ended up receiving mayor’s awards for their help working with and for the city.
Council Member Don Stose was first to receive a mayor’s award, with Onslow citing his willingness to volunteer.
“This guy has got his fingers in every project in the city,” Onslow said. “If I call him and I say, ‘Don, I would really like to work on the roundabouts planting grapes,’ his comment, or answer, is always ‘yes’ he never says ‘no.’”
Introduced and awarded was Jerry Bush, a Ridgefield Planning Commission member since 2006. Onslow listed some of what had been accomplished in his tenure, such as requiring developers to dedicate a quarter of their development to parks and trails, following city design standards and requiring homeowners associations. Next up would be green building codes.
Ridgefield Community Development Director Jeff Niten received a mayor’s award for his work since joining the city in 2015 in a “time of unprecedented growth” in the city with more permitting than the city had ever seen before.
Julieta Romero, an accountant for the city’s finance department “has stepped up numerous times to train new employees,” Onslow said in announcing her selection for the mayor’s award, adding Romero was “extremely dedicated to her work.”
Onslow’s wife Schill also got a mayor’s award, in part to her help spearheading the city’s annual Fourth of July, Oktoberfest and Mayor’s Ball events.
Ridgefield Parks Board Chair Marie Bouvier got an award, based on her dedication to the board. Last year the board developed park and trail standards, a dog park, standards for the city’s community garden and specific input on the planned Gee Creek Trail.
Onslow had a challenge for the parks board to develop the Martin property west of Abrams Park into a nature park adjacent to the Gee Creek Trail. It was one of two challenges, with the Ridgefield Art Association also asked to design artwork to put on the Pioneer Street overpass over Interstate 5.
“We are planning for the funds, but we need the art,” Onslow said to Art Association members gathered. “So you’ve got your challenge in front of all these people.”
One student request was for a bigger library, which has been a recent push in the city. Onslow said the Ridgefield Community Library, along with the Fort Vancouver Regional Library district, was able to raise $1 million for a new library, in part to the dedication of Kathy Winters and Tevis Laspa.
“I just love this city, and the people who work for it are just absolutely fabulous, and our council is absolutely top-notch,” Onslow said before mentioning how even with rapid growth, having citizens and city employees willing to put in the effort can help make the city still feel like a community.
“I believe in the positive, and to go the extra mile it’s never crowded, so we need to go the extra mile,” Onslow said.
Battle Ground Mayor Phillip Johnson was one of the many non-Ridgefielders in attendance. Ridgefield’s housing permitting was a point of interest for Johnson, as Battle Ground City Manager Jeff Swanson mentioned that the city of Battle Ground had around 400 housing permits a year, whereas Ridgefield — roughly a third of the size of Battle Ground by population — was not far behind.
“That’s impressive,” Johnson said.
Johnson ended up as the butt of a joke when Onslow referenced that Ridgefield School District was ranked smartest in the state (via Zippia.com).
“When it came out that we were ranked smartest in the state … Phil called me and said, ‘what the heck? Were you out of town when they took that survey?’” Onslow said.
Johnson didn’t let Onslow get away unscathed, being sure to comment on the smaller municipality’s size when offering praise of the State of the City.
“For such a small city, a little village, they’ll be fine,” Johnson joked.