Camas council halts parks land sale

Community response overwhelmingly against selling publicly owned open space

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A map showing the parcel of publicly owned parks open space near Round Lake in Camas, where a former city councilor had hoped to build an 81-unit senior living development with an attached 48-bed memory care facility and underground parking garage. (Contributed photo courtesy of city of Camas)

Inundated by negative community response, Camas officials have backed away from a development plan near Round Lake that could have sold city-owned park land to a senior living developer and used the profits to fund future parks in Camas’ developing North Shore area.

Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said last week that city staff had received “numerous emails and Facebook messages” indicating a great number of Camas community members were not happy with an Oct. 16 city council decision allowing city staff to investigate the possibility of selling the 2.7-acre parcel to former City Councilman Tim Hazen for a private development project.

Hazen had hoped to purchase two adjacent properties and develop the entire 4.99-acre parcel into an 81-unit senior living center with underground parking and an attached, 48-bed memory care center.

“The city is sensitive to the will of its citizens,” Capell said. “While the city believes there was merit in having a public discussion about this proposal and vetting it through the many (required) steps … city staff have received enough feedback and understand how the community feels about the project and will immediately stop the consideration process of the proposal.”

The property in question is located off Everett Street near Lacamas Creek. An undeveloped parcel purchased by the city for $200,000 in 2002, the property provides emergency and maintenance access to the Lacamas Creek “pot holes” area.

Capell brought the issue to city councilors at the council’s Oct. 16 work session, saying that city staff had been approached by a citizen who wanted to acquire a piece of parks open space to construct a senior living facility.

Normally, this type of a developer-led land-use process involving existing, city-owned park space would need to go through the city’s parks board and planning commission before it ever came before the city council.

“We have not gone through the process we normally would have used for something like this,” Capell admitted to the councilors last week. “We’re not asking for approval, just some direction on how we might proceed.”

The urgency, Capell explained, stemmed from the fact that, if the city later decided to turn the property into surplus land and enter into an agreement with the unnamed “citizen” developer, Camas leaders would first have to have to hold a series of public meetings to change the parcel’s zoning from parks open space to something that could accommodate the proposed senior living facility. To do that, the city needed to submit a list of potential zone change properties to the state by Oct. 18.

Some councilors, including Bonnie Carter and Melissa Smith, said they worried that allowing staff to proceed with the inquiry would set a bad precedent and give developers the idea of looking to city-owned public parks spaces as suitable locations for private development.

At the city council meeting that followed the council’s work session, on Monday, Oct. 16, Hazen unexpectedly quit his council post, saying he needed to devote more time to his business interests.

On Oct. 18, Hazen, who works in senior living facility management, confirmed that he was the “unnamed citizen” interested in developing the property. He added that it was a difficult decision to give up his council seat, but that he was trying to follow the law and not have any conflict of interest.

Capell said last week that many citizens saw a conflict anyway.

“A number of the comments we received insinuated that something improper had occurred in the submission of this proposal from an assisted living group that Tim Hazen is affiliated with,” Capell said. “Council members are subject to specific limitations outlined in the Code of Ethics laws of the state of Washington. Council members are also citizens and are not denied an opportunity available to all other citizens to acquire and maintain private economic interests.”

Many community members who read The Post-Record’s coverage of the issue on Thursday, Oct. 19, commented online and on social media that they were dismayed that Hazen, the city council’s liaison to the parks and recreation commission, wanted to push the issue before taking it to parks commission or planning commission members.

Hazen said he had every intention of taking the development through all of the proper and very public channels, but wanted to make sure that his development group could proceed — by asking city council members if they were open to the idea of making the land into surplus property and changing its zoning designation from parks open space to something that would allow for mixed-use commercial use.

Capell said Hazen was “an excellent city councilor and served his constituents in an exemplary manner.”

He added that city staff wanted to thank Hazen for his service.

“I hope that he will still be willing to serve as a volunteer and leader in our community,” Capell said.