A dust-up over Windust Meadows

Citizens form action group to oppose the residential development project

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A group of Camas residents are hoping to inspire changes to a proposed development that has the potential to bring nearly 200 homes to a currently forested area.

Recently, the citizens formed an “action group” and circulated an online petition focusing on their opposition to plans that call for the 49 acres to become a planned residential development.

The proposed Windust Meadows PRD would be located off of Northeast 38th Avenue, south of Camas High School.

Developer Primelan Properties of Tigard, Ore., proposes to build 199 homes in two phases. Lot sizes would range from 12,879 square feet to 2,100 square feet. The site will also include nearly 9 acres of wetlands and 2 acres of open space.

The property, located north of the 312-acre Lacamas Park, is currently undeveloped. The vegetation includes Douglas fir and Oregon white oak trees. According to city documents, 28 of the 35 white oaks must be retained.

“I believe it’s essential to find solutions to preserve our distinctive Camas landscape and topography,” said Camas resident Monica Coston, in an email to the Post-Record. “The area they want to ‘develop’ is not only a priority habitat, it’s also a place where people from this area (and beyond) recreate and enjoy the natural beauty of our environment.”

The property is currently owned by the Camas School District. According to Superintendent Mike Nerland, when purchased in 1997 the land was intended as the site for a high school. Later, a more desirable location was secured and the district declared the property surplus in 2005, and again in 2014, with the intention to sell.

Although Primelan’s preliminary master plan and preliminary plat received approval from the City Council in 2006, the developer still does not own the property.

“Primelan never did close on the property, so the district does still have ownership,” Nerland said. “Negotiations with Primelan ended in 2006 when they failed to close.”

During last night’s School Board meeting, Nerland explained that if the property is purchased, the district intends to use the proceeds to buy parcels to accommodate future schools in other parts of the city.

“The property may or may not sell. Who knows?” he said. “If it doesn’t sell, it’s still surplus. The opportunity for someone to buy it would still be there. The district will use the proceeds to purchase additional property where we would be able to site other schools better suited geographically around the community.”

A handful of citizens spoke during the public comment portion of the School Board meeting, all expressing concerns about the impacts of Windust Meadows on the community.

Todd Colwell said he moved to Camas in 2008, primarily because of the city’s economy, school system and open space. He said he would like to see the completion of a new habitat survey, to replace the one that was originally conducted by a consultant hired by the developer in 2004.

“As you know, a lot of things have changed over that time,” he said. “This habitat has changed, and as such I really think we need to have a new habitat study performed, before this land is developed.”

Zaida MacDonald, the originator of the petition that now has 450 signatures, wants the environment preserved, and natural resources protected.

“It is difficult to understand how this plan that was approved in 2006 still works in 2015,” she said. “I encourage you to do what you can to modify the plan to preserve some of the things that people like about Camas.”

Diane Irwin said the proposed development puts some of the great things about Camas in jeopardy.

“This is a part of Camas, that once developed, we cannot get back,” she said. “This is a 10-year-old plan. It is not up to the standards for maintaining the beauty of our city. We need to protect this habitat and not chop it down and fill in the frog ponds.”

Alexa White pointed out the potential impacts of removing trees from the site.

“The forest sits up on the hill, and if you clear cut all of the forest I am really concerned that the land is going to erode down,” she said. “What is going to happen when you tear into this entire tree line? Is it going to come down onto our neighbors and to other areas of green space and start destroying the Lacamas trails?”

School Board Member Connie Hennessey indicated that the School District does not have influence on what is done with the property once it is sold. That, she said, is in the hands of the city and the purchaser.

“Once the land is sold, as the seller we’re not in control of what they do with it,” she said.

According to City of Camas Senior Planner Sarah Fox, the preliminary plat approval for the PRD is valid until June 29, 2016. To receive the required final plat approval from the City Council, the developer must submit site construction plans, and provide certain improvements to satisfy the criteria and conditions established with the preliminary plat decision. There will not be another hearing on the design of the project unless the preliminary plat decision expires, she said.

During an interview at City Hall on Monday, Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said he has met with members of the action group and could empathize with some of their concerns. But, he said, as it stands there are few options to legally modify in any major way the current approved PRD plan.

“Change is hard,” Higgins said. “It’s perspective. I understand that for some it’s hard to see. I don’t love it either.”

He pointed to the city’s comprehensive plan, its guide for growth and development, which reflects the rules and goals set for land use and population density that have been dictated by the state’s Growth Management Act.

“You have to put this big jigsaw map together,” Higgins explained. “You can’t change the state rules that guide the cities. All you can do is deal with the rules and tailor them to fit your community the best you can.”

Projections call for Camas to grow to 35,000 residents by 2035. Some have worried that the city will lose the unique character and charm, for which it has become known.

According to Higgins, there are ways that Camas can continue to have a small town feel and community pride, even as it grows.

Among them are maintaining one primary high school, promoting the historic downtown area’s festivals, events and gatherings that bring citizens together; and providing recreational opportunities.

“It will be something we have to work at, to feel that way — to feel connected,” Higgins said. “The fact is we will grow, but we want to do it smarter and better than anyone else. I think so far we have done that. You have to understand what you can change, and what you can’t change.”

Camas resident Bill Waring, a member of the Lacamas Trails Association, said he still hopes there is a possibility of preserving more of the natural areas within the proposed Windust Meadows development.

“Is there some sort of compromise that we can come to, so that we don’t lose it all?” he asked. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone. And as a longtime member of this community, it’s just not a resource I want to see go away.”