Washougal gets ahead of the curve on growth

As Clark County’s long-running wrangling over the Growth Management Act has demonstrated, preparing for future expansion can be a difficult task for governments at the local level. But Washougal appears to be taking a well-reasoned approach in plotting for the city’s growth.

The Washougal City Council recently approved a comprehensive plan for its Northwest Urban Growth Area that will convert 66 acres of industrial and 14 acres of public facilities-designated land into low-density residential areas. Lot sizes will range from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet, allowing for single-family residential, adult family homes, cottage housing, duplexes, manufactured homes and townhouses. Developments will be required to connect to the city’s public water and sewer systems.

The rules will apply only to the portion of the growth area that is within the city limits, but they will provide guidelines for working with the county on development in unincorporated areas.

As county officials are aware, growth can be a contentious issue. Clark County’s plan for adhering to the state’s growth-management laws has been years in the making and is facing challenges from citizen groups. One of the major questions surrounding that plan is the extent of subdividing that will be allowed on rural lots.

Therein lies the most important issue regarding growth management: The subdividing of large lots and the resultant sprawl can provide much-needed housing density, but it also creates a need for adequate infrastructure such as roads and utilities. Growth on the edge of the urban area can impact traffic on arterials for miles around.

Washougal’s population is about 15,000 — three times as much as a quarter-century ago. That growth will continue as the area remains attractive to those desiring a small-town atmosphere, and those seeking proximity to an urban area without actually living in one.

Because of that, acknowledging that growth is inevitable and planning for it is more prudent than trying to prevent it — even if some would prefer to preserve the area’s rural heritage. Washougal’s adopted proposal includes provisions for sidewalks and a multi-use trail system, recognizing that continuing the city’s high quality of life requires planning.

Through deft management, Washougal and other cities in Clark County can mitigate some of the growing pains that come along with an expanding population.