Spotlight on growth

Port, school district and city officials deliver the State of the Community

Scott Higgins

Jeff Snell

David Ripp

During the recent State of the Community address, local leaders shined a spotlight on how they are dealing with the challenges of current and future growth.

The fourth annual event, held Sept. 20 at Camas High School, featured presentations by Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, Port of Camas-Washougal Executive Director David Ripp and Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell.

Higgins, born and raised in Camas, has led the city of 22,000 residents since June 2011. The population is expected to balloon to 34,000 in less than 10 years.

City leaders say they are planning for that growth in a number of ways, including embarking on a two-year comprehensive planning process that recently culminated with the completion of a growth plan update dubbed, “Camas 2035.”

“Growth is mandated,” Higgins explained. “The city doesn’t get to decide, ‘we’re done.’ The city has to listen to the state laws and follow what they tell us to do in order to prepare the zoning for a growing community.”

Indicators of growth are everywhere.

Higgins said 171 dwelling unit permits have been submitted to the city this year, and planners expect to see a total of 230 by the end of 2016.

In the coming decade, residential and commercial development will be focused on land located on the north side of Lacamas Lake. With that in mind, in 2017 the city will begin construction of a $15 million sewer transmission line connecting the north side of the lake with the rest of the city.

“That line is going to run down Leadbetter Road,” Higgins said. “You are going to notice that next year. It is going to be a pretty significant project.”

The city will also soon see the onset of construction of a number of privately funded mixed-use projects that will come in all shapes and sizes.

A new three-story development on currently vacant land at Northwest Sixth Avenue and Birch Street, in downtown Camas, will include a tap room and pizza restaurant on the first floor, with residential apartments and lofts on the second and third floors.

Nearby on Birch Street off of Northeast Fifth Avenue, Higgins said a local developer’s plans are moving forward to convert Lemon-Aid Automotive into a new production brewery and gastropub restaurant in 2017.

At the opposite end of the city, the Parklands at Camas Meadows development will include industrial and commercial buildings, one of which will include residential units on the top floor. The project will also offer 42 single family lots. Other projects in the Camas Meadows area will feature single-family residences, as well as townhouses and apartments.

Ripp said the port is also experiencing the perks and pitfalls of growth.

The industrial park and Steigerwald Commerce Center in Washougal are 100 percent full.

“The port currently leases 274,600 square feet of industrial building space,” Ripp said. “For the last year we have had zero inventory. That’s a great thing. We’re full. We have a solid industrial base. But we’re receiving two to four calls a week from people looking for buildings, and we can’t bring them to the port district because we don’t have building space.”

The port’s next project, Building 18, will provide that needed inventory. The 50,000-square-foot pre-fabricated metal building will be located east of the Waste Connections transfer station, 4020 S. Grant St.

“It will be the largest building to date that the port has ever constructed,” Ripp said. “We are going to have a lot of flexibility in this building for different business demands.”

Washougal Waterfront Park and Trail recently opened to the public. A visioning and planning process is underway for the rest of the 40-acre property, which could eventually include a mix of uses such as commercial, residential and office.

Snell described growth for the Camas School District as a challenge that presents opportunities to grow beyond simply adding space and buildings.

“Our products are students,” he said. “It’s not about us building the same thing over and over again because kids need different things each year and that continues to change. We use growth as an opportunity to evolve the way we serve.”

The district’s student population has seen 10 percent growth in the last two years. There are currently 6,999 students.

A bond passed in February will fund a new elementary school, a new project-based high school, and renovation of Garfield Auditorium.

These projects are expected to accommodate the district’s growth through 2021.

“If our growth continues, we’ll have to be making some decisions around where is that growth and how do we address it,” he said. “We’ll need to make decisions as a community about what is next. Do we want another comprehensive high school? Do we want more options? Who knows what even will be going on in 2021. There is a lot that still needs to be figured out.”