Is this progress?

Like many citizens of Clark County, I have become increasingly alarmed over the proposed unrestrained growth that is taking place in East Clark County.

We see a pro-growth planning process that is leading parts of our county into an environmental future we may not recognize or desire to live in. This kind of massive growth places unnecessary burdens on the people who already live here.

We hear words from our policy makers like, “oh that will be mitigated, or that infrastructure project is on a list of priorities in the future, or there is no money for proper enforcement of violations by developers.”

It isn’t that most people don’t approve of economic development and growth, but growth must be coordinated and often preceded with necessary improvements in infrastructure, so that during the construction phase of building, people’s lives are not upended with unnecessary traffic jams created by this massive growth.

Even infrastructure projects create dislocations, traffic delays etc., but the thought of updating infrastructure, “as needed,” combined with massive subdivision building, is simply a recipe for a construction nightmare that belies poor planning.

I am sorry to say that it is this kind of “infrastructure-on-demand” planning that is occurring much too often in Clark County. One example of this proposed unrestrained growth illustrates the issue perfectly.

Last week, the Camas Planning Commission approved phase 1 of the largest planned residential development in Camas history — the Green Mountain PRD. Ultimately, this 1,300 unit project, plus the 400 larger homes slated for the adjacent parcels just east of the PRD, are going to create traffic nightmares for the residents currently living in this part of East County. This build-out will affect three other jurisdictions aside from the North Camas Urban Growth Area: Vancouver, rural Clark County and state Route 500.

From reading the 33-page Camas staff report, one doesn’t get the feeling that the plan is ready for prime time. Rather, it remains “a can be met plan,” with 75 conditions of approval that must be addressed by developers, yet most of those conditions of approval do not adequately address all jurisdictions.

The most important of these conditions of approval has to do with the temporary tie-ins to the Camas sewer system (which is problematic) while a new gravity sewage system is negotiated and built; a public water system that calls for a reservoir to be built, yet no location has even been selected; plus a neighborhood traffic plan with numerous suggestions, yet nothing has been settled or budgeted, much less engineered.

What happens when the traffic jams begin is anybody’s guess, but imagine trying to widen streets and make new turning lanes as construction of the largest residential project in Camas history is underway. Remember, we are talking about adding upwards of 7,000 new people to Camas. We all witnessed the delays and headaches of the recent widening of the Friberg-Strunk road project. That project took longer than a year to complete. The proposed project could take decades.

Finally, our archaic public disclosure system must be updated to include more of our citizenry in the planning process. I am generally attuned to the planning process, but since I don’t live within 300 feet of the proposed developments (a ridiculously low threshold requirement), I was not informed in writing of these planned projects, nor did I happen to see the legal notice in the paper of record, the Camas-Washougal Post-Record. The fact that the Camas Community Development State Environmental Policy Act review issued a Determination of Non-Significance for this project is patently absurd. There is no doubt that this project will be significant in every way for this part of the county. Even the community development leader of the project, Robert Maul, admits this fact.

When development of this scale takes place, there needs to be important trade-offs to protect the environment and insure the quality of life for current residents in this part of the county. This will require more of a city/county collaborative approach. For example, the county land on the northeastern side of Green Mountain should be appropriately turned into a preserve/park as a quid pro quo to the development taking place on the southwestern side of the mountain. There has been talk of this, but nothing has been finalized. This is more of “putting the cart before the horse.”

If such unrestrained growth continues to move forward, citizens of Clark County may wake up one day and realize, this is not the kind of life they bargained for when they bought their homes.

Mark Martin is a member of the Friends of Livingston Mountain.

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