Don’t celebrate county’s new growth just yet

In Camas, Washougal and Clark County overall, growth is happening.

One need only drive down the west slope of Prune Hill and glance to the north at the number of bare hillside lots ready for construction, to see that many new homes will soon be built for new families moving in.

But in case you haven’t witnessed that stark scene in west Camas or in other locations in the community, a story published in The Columbian last week provided some new details of local growth.

In the story it was reported that in November Clark County saw an increase of 37 percent over the previous November, in the number of drivers trading in out-of-town driver’s licenses. Furthermore, from January through November of this year 13,323 new residents had exchanged out-of-town driver’s licenses in Clark County, an increase of 11.5 percent over the same period in 2012.

The reasons for the current growth spike are, not surprisingly, many of the same reasons that prompted Camas, Washougal and Clark County to see big waves of residential growth throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Low property taxes, no state income tax and good schools compared to Portland Public Schools, were usually the big three sales pitches. And for many years in Camas and more recently Washougal, a low crime rate and access to recreational outlets have been frequently mentioned as amenities, by everyone from the real estate industry to the Chamber of Commerce.

Yes, it appears Clark County has once again become a hot spot for residential growth.

But while The Columbian, in its editorial this past Sunday, gushed about how “wonderful” all the new growth is, we will maintain a more measured reaction and ask a few questions.

How about jobs? As the new wave of growth hits, will Clark County, cities and business groups like Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) and the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association (CWEDA) be able to lure new businesses to the area to prevent it from becoming even more of a bedroom community than it is now? Will Clark County see some improvement on its unemployment rate, currently the highest in the four county Portland metro area?

With the current status of the Columbia River Crossing in serious doubt and the prospect of even more motorists clogging the I-5 and I-205 bridges at rush hour, what happens to our quality of life with more cars on the road?

At a more grass roots level, how quickly will the reaction be to overcrowding of schools and recreational facilities? Most school districts wait until overcrowding actually starts to hurt before asking voters to build new schools. And overcrowded recreation facilities, like ball fields, are often given low priority by cities and school districts that scramble to stretch every dollar.

So how does Clark County deal with all this “wonderful” new growth coming in? Hopefully our officials will give priority to planning for growth in ways that keeps our area a desirable place to live. That means more good schools and recreation facilities, good roads and perhaps most importantly, new businesses that offer good paying jobs.

Until that happens, we’ll offer polite applause for the new growth coming in, but withhold the champagne and ticker tape parade until we see the end product.

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