Officials discuss the ‘State of the Community’

Camas mayor talks about growth, development

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins has never been shy about expressing his love for the city he was raised in — the very same one he has led since June 2011 as its top local elected official.

And he remained true to character when he spoke Sept. 23 at the second annual State of the Community address, held at the Camas High School Theatre.

“I was accused the other day of drinking the Camas Kool-Aid,” he said. “I don’t just drink it. I mix it every morning and distribute it to anyone who will listen.”

During the event — a joint endeavor with the Port of Camas-Washougal and the Camas School District — Higgins specifically addressed some of the concerns he said he has heard from citizens about the growth the city has seen, particularly during the past few years.

“We are aware that there is a lot happening right now in the community,” he said. “We see that and we hear people are starting to be a bit concerned.”

Higgins said his goal is to guide Camas on the same path it has followed during the past decade. It’s a path he labeled “smart growth,” evidenced by the city’s recent designation by Family Circle magazine as one of the best towns in the United States to raise a family.

“When we grow, we are going to grow in a way that we will preserve the things that are most valuable to us as a community,” he said. “We value the schools. We value the parks. We value the open spaces. We value the trails. What we value the most is this amazing sense of community that I think only happens in Camas, Washington. So we are going to work at keeping that. We are going to make sure that’s our focus.”

Higgins highlighted a handful of private and public investment projects now visible in Camas, and others that will begin relatively soon.

He said $81 million in new assessed value has been created in 2014 — some of that due to Fisher Investments, which will open its second building at the end of October.

“Fisher Investments is approaching (becoming) our largest single employer in the city of Camas,” Higgins said. “They will be, probably, over 1,000 jobs relatively soon.”

In addition, so far this year 162 residential building permits have been issued, in addition to 31 building pre-applications that have been submitted.

Future investment will include construction of a 42,000 square foot building for biotechnology company Alpha-Tec Systems. Its construction on Northwest Camas Meadows Drive is expected to begin “soon,” Higgins said. The new facility would initially employ 50 to 55 people, and provide space for the company to grow.

There’s also Moxie Village, a 190,000 square foot retail, office and commercial space that will be built near the recently expanded Northwest 38th Avenue, a street that is the subject of $11.4 million in public investment dollars as it is currently undergoing its second phase of improvements.

“(The 38th Avenue project) is a huge improvement to our region for transportation, and it opens up a great deal of opportunity for some commercial and sales tax business,” Higgins said. “This road helps us to be able to find a way to be able to capture some of that retail money being spent in the corridor in the city limits of Camas. That is one reason why we are so excited to see that coming.”

Other public infrastructure projects currently underway include the one taking place to improve Northwest Friberg-Strunk Street and Northeast Goodwin Road. The $4.9 million effort, led by contractor MacDonald Excavating, began in June 2014 and is expected to be complete in spring 2015.

“It will also drive job growth and exciting things on that land,” Higgins said. “It is an all jobs area. It’s all things that will bring good wages to people who want to live and work in Camas.”

Other infrastructure improvements now in the planning stages are aimed at increasing safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles on Brady Road, and also at Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street near the entrance to westbound Highway 14 where a signal will be installed.

Smaller investments in the downtown core are also on the horizon.

Higgins mentioned that within the next month Fuel Medical will open at the former site of Westlie Ford’s parts and service departments at 314 N.E. Birch, and Cake Happy bakery will open at 340 N.E. Fourth Ave.

In addition, the mayor announced that a new restaurant will move into the site at 316 N.E. Dallas St., formerly occupied by K’Syrah Catering, Wine and Bistro. By Thanksgiving, Higgins said the owners of Harvest Restaurant will open a second restaurant called Feast at 316, a craft cocktail and steak house.

“They are going to make all kinds of investments in that space,” he said. “It’s going to be great.”

Port of Camas-Washougal

Executive Director David Ripp said a great deal of the Port’s recent focus has been placed on the construction of Building 15 in its industrial park, and cleanup of and future planning for the former Hambleton Lumber site, half of which (13.25 acres) it purchased in 2012.

A 2.4 acre section of the Hambleton site will become a waterfront park with an eight-tenths of a mile walking and bicycling trail. Design and engineering work is 70 percent complete. The Port is in the process of applying for a grant that would fund half of the $2.4 million project. Construction is expected to take place in 2015.

“Our goal for this trail and park is to open up access to the river, as well as having a destination people want to come to,” Ripp said. “Eventually, in the future, this area will (include) some type of highway commercial, mixed use, office, maybe a portion for residential development along the waterfront.”

It will be a recreational site that will be accessible to citizens of both Camas and Washougal.

“We want to make it a place where people can come visit, hang out, read a book, have lunch, just a place to relax,” he continued. “We are also going to have a water access trail. It will be a non-motorized boat launch where people can bring their canoes and kayaks down.”

In the Port’s industrial park, the 120 acre Steigerwald Commerce Center has received the most attention. A $4 million project, which included $1.5 million in grant funding, produced its first building and phase 1 of a new street.

“In our industrial park, we are focused on job creation,” Ripp said.

Construction of the 22,000 square foot Building 15, 4125 S. Lincoln St., began in September 2013 and was completed in April. It is now occupied by Foods in Season, a distributor of seafood, caviar, specialty meats, mushrooms and truffles that currently has 35 full-time employees and expects to grow.

“They are a great company, a family run business,” he said. “It’s a home run for the port and a great success story for the local community.”

Camas School District

Superintendent Mike Nerland said one of the questions he is asked most frequently is how the Camas School District will deal with its ever increasing student population – particularly at Camas High School, which is rapidly nearing its capacity of 2,251 students.

The answer, he said, will be tackled as part of the district’s five-year strategic planning process that began last spring. It will continue into this fall and winter with community outreach and input.

“We don’t want to build schools or bring in portables with no plan on how we are going to use them,” he said, “The educational program has to drive what we design as far as our schools.”

The last time the Camas School District placed a bond in front of voters was in 2007 when it had 5,600 students. Today, that number has reached 6,532.

“We’ve seen a growth in student enrollment, and we’ll continue to see growth in student enrollment,” Nerland said. “So we are in the process of putting together a planning team that will be part of the overall strategic plan. That will be part of going to the community and asking them what they would like to see in new facilities.”

Possibilities could include new schools, and/or additional magnet and satellite programs.

“There are many options that we are exploring, and you’ll all be part of that discussion,” he said.