Dick Swart mentioned that the Town of Cathlamet is interested in pursing an annexation of “Area 3.” This is outlined in the town’s comprehensive plan as one of four potential industrial areas (hence, “Area 3”) for future growth. This tract lies along the north side of S.R. 4 between Columbia Street and Main Street. It is currently owned by the school district as forest land. This is also the site that has been discussed for a business incubator facility proposed by the Lower Columbia Economic Development Council. Due to the proximity of city services and its visibility along the S.R. 4 corridor, the site has a great deal of potential for future uses.
There was discussion about how this and other parcels were identified in the comprehensive plan for future development. While comprehensive plans are based on a 20-year planning period, no one can really see what will happen that far into the future. David Vik suggested that a five year monitoring period might be a good rule of thumb for reviewing such changes and proposals, particularly if it involves looking at municipal water supplies for domestic water use due to growth in the area. For instance, the use of “six-packs” to serve a group of homes as the land develops would not form a useful part of the public water system in the long term. Skamakowa has had some housing growth, but they have constraints on water. David thinks we should focus on resource allocation and the cost of providing services.
Tom Doumit referenced his experience commuting to the Kent Valley many years ago, and witnessing the transformation of prime agricultural lands to shopping malls and office complexes. While he is in favor of people being able to maximize their profit on developing their land, he also would also hate to see the permanent loss of prime farmland in Wahkiakum County on a large scale. Tom suggested that the group explore clustering the development shown on the map for the Elochoman Valley using the rural cluster approach. He added that the “bench” of land overlooking the valley and sitting under the forest lands might be a suitable place for clustering development. This would leave a good portion of working lands intact, while allowing for the residential development that has been part of the retirement plans of some farmers in the region.
There was some discussion about whether this approach would allow for the “golden parachute” that farmers had planned for. Melissa responded that by clustering the development as Tom described, a similar number of homes could be developed in a cluster approach, leaving enough working lands to allow creation of smaller farms. Younger people who do not have the financial resources to purchase a 100-200 acre dairy farm might be interested in purchasing a 20, 40 or 80 acre parcel of land where they could cultivate some niche crop or specialty livestock that is more competitive in today’s agricultural market (as opposed to commodity products, such as dairy). Some indicated that this might not be feasible, at least not in the sense of traditional agricultural enterprises in today’s market.
Maria Larcher suggested that the land available from the cluster approach could simply also be used as a meadow/open space, or even as an equestrian facility to serve adjacent properties. She emphasized the value and marketability of lots that had a significant portion of open space permanently reserved to them. Maria also referenced some conversations she had recently with cattle ranchers in Eastern Washington. The trend she described was of small (20 or more acres) landowners retiring to the area to become “stewards of the land” and finding out that it was more trouble and work than they bargained for. Initially, cattle ranchers welcomed the change and simply leased grazing land from these new “stewards” but over time, the leases were discontinued as owners realized the work of maintaining fences, roads, etc. She suggested that open space that offers habitat for wildlife that is indigenous to the area would be very popular with people looking to buy property in the county. She named a couple of Puget Island owners who were taking this approach for their own satisfaction, as well as to improve the marketability of their land. She is also creating the conditions that encourage local wildlife on her own land.
There was some discussion about whether a development proposal could be generated to analyze how the numbers might work on this type of development in the Elochoman Valley. Tom suggested a drawing to show how the “benches” could be used to cluster development while keeping much of the working lands. Melissa added that she would like to see if she could find a local property owner and realtor to explore this with further.
Melissa added that Tom’s suggestion to look into clustered development along the bench area of the Elochoman would be entirely consistent with the policies that the group developed for Resource Lands and Critical Areas.
Maria mentioned a school district that had purchased land, and then sold it as surplus, including some of the buildings, and then ended up needing to buy more land and build more buildings once growth started going in a different direction. Maria asked how one can ensure that property doesn’t end up consumed on a piece-by—piece basis. Melissa pointed out that the rural cluster—because it is a subdivision approach, not a zoning approach—only works at the larger scale, such as when a person wants to subdivide and develop their property all at one time. Only through applying the rural cluster approach through a combination of subdivision and zoning would it have an impact over time on the parcel-by-parcel conversion of land. This is why Clallam County has established the rural cluster zoning district, in addition to the subdivision option of a rural cluster. Their districts have set densities, but allow for smaller lots whenever development is clustered, so long as an average density is achieved.
Melissa distributed a handout entitled “Potential Build-Out Scenarios by Planning Area” which gave estimated households for each planning area based on the maps that the committee has been working on. The grant total runs to about 1500 more homes, which is about double the current population of the county. At the next meeting, the group needs to consider what, if anything, it wants to do to adjust these numbers. Melissa pointed out that the amount of development along the Elochoman River Valley as shown, consumes all of the water that is allocated through the Watershed Plan (632 additional homes/wells). The group needs to consider one of several approaches:
Reduce the extent of development by eliminating some of the development areas shown on the map.
Increase the densities in these development areas to the point where they will support public water utilities at a cost-effective rate. This is generally considered to be ¼ acre lots. While this would result in far more than 632 homes, they would be served by city water, which would bypass the impact on the watershed.
Ask the Town of Cathlamet if they would be interested in using their water capacity to serve the Elochoman River Valley. Water is currently available as far as Monroe Acres.
Explore the Town’s ability and willingness to extend utilities west to Skamakowa, east along SR 4 and north along the Elochoman.
David Vik referenced the Columbia River Estates development in Cathlamet. Although many people were perplexed as to why such small lots were proposed for that subdivision, there has been strong interest in these small lots that sell for about $120,000 because the purchases are not interested in a large tract of land to maintain. They also realize that they are paying for maintenance of streets and other facilities. This would be consistent with the buyer profile for rural cluster developments, Melissa added, in that prospective buyers would gladly pay a premium price for a lot adjacent to high quality open space which they were not personally responsible to maintain.
Maria expressed her hope that the county would be “gutsy” and adopt a comprehensive plan that included some development controls as well as some innovative approaches to maintaining the rural quality of life found in Wahkiakum County. She would like to see quality of life protected from the top down, and added that many people new to the county place a high value on open space. Unfortunately, this has led to a polarization of views in the county, in her opinion. She referenced a publication written on “How to Get Along with Farmers” that she thought offered practical advice to people moving to the country.
David Vik added that the cluster approach offers protection of views while offering privacy, since many such developments don’t “double-load” streets, where houses directly face each other. He could envision rural cluster developments along Elochoman River Road. David added that the Town and the PUD are going to synchronize their water planning efforts with a new five year update that will begin next year.
Melissa reviewed some changes she had made to the Elochoman/East Cathlamet planning area map. State forest lands were not shown on the previous version. There presence required adjustments to the development areas shown on the east side of the Elochoman River, with the northernmost area near the hatchery reduced in size, and the second development area on the east side of the river expanded in size. This works out to approximately the same acreage. A slight adjustment to the location of the Bradley Truck Trails was also made.
Ruth passed around a brief article that indicated that Google has decided to purchase and develop a facility in The Dalles that is expected to bring up to 100 new jobs to the area. She asked, “why not Wahkiakum?” This is an example of an employer forgoing the conventional location decisions in favor of quality-of-life location decision for its employees.
At this point, several people left the meeting to attend a Town Planning Commission meeting that had several projects on the agenda.
4. Upcoming Meetings
The next regularly scheduled meeting is set for March 16th at 6:30 p.m. in the County Courthouse. This meeting will continue the evening’s discussion on urban/rural conflicts, and a review of final map changes in anticipation of upcoming public meetings.