Developer eyes open space

Camas OKs unorthodox land-use process for developer hoping to build on public property

Camas City Council members this week approved the first step in an unorthodox land-use zoning process that could turn a 2.7-acre parcel of public parks open space near Round Lake into a privately owned, 125,365-square-foot, 81-unit senior living center with an underground parking garage and an attached, 48-bed memory care center.

City Administrator Pete Capell told councilors Monday night, during the council’s work session, that city staff had been “approached by a citizen who would like to acquire a piece of parks open space … to construct a senior living facility.”

Later that evening, at the city’s regular council meeting, City Councilman Tim Hazen, owner-operator of Premiere Senior Living, unexpectedly quit his council seat, and said he wanted to focus on his business obligations.

Capell later confirmed to The Post-Record that Hazen was the previously unnamed citizen who had approached city staff about selling the open space as surplus land.

Proceeds from the sale, Capell added, could be used to buy open space in the city’s quickly developing “North Shore” area.

Acquiring open space in the city’s north shore region recently made the No. 1 spot on the list of desirable projects to be funded through the countywide Conservation Futures tax fund.

Purchasing parks open space in the north shore area, which is mostly residential and light industrial land, Capell said, would be a benefit to future Camas residents.

The Conservation Futures will give the city $2.5 million to buy open space in its northern boundaries, if Camas can match with $1.5 million. The idea for selling the open space near Round Lake is that the city would use those proceeds to help meet that match.

The city acquired the property in question — a 2.7-acre parcel located off Everett Street near Round Lake — from the Moose Lodge for $200,000 in 2002 and turned the land into parks open space.

Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brent Erickson served on the city’s parks board for nearly 25 years, starting in the mid-1980s, and was a member in 2002 and remembers when then-city administrator Lloyd Halverson acquired the land.

“We were trying to get what we could and save it for future generations,” Erickson said the day after the council meeting. “Once you lose open-space property, you’ll never get it back.”

Erickson spoke at the Monday evening work session, after councilors had already decided that they would allow the process to continue.

“I’m concerned about the precedence (this) sets for the city. I hope we don’t have something opening up down the road, with developers seeing a (piece of parks property) and thinking it could be something other than open space,” Erickson told the councilors present at Monday’s work session.

Hazen, the council’s parks board liaison, did not attend the council’s work session on Monday evening. His surprise resignation came later, at the council’s regular 7 p.m. meeting.

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 on Monday. “We’re not asking for approval, just some direction on how we might proceed.”

Asked by city staff to provide some ideas to council for the Monday work session, Hazen hired the Portland architectural firm Ankrom Moisan to come up with preliminary renderings of the proposed senior living facility’s internal room layout and possible outdoor trail access points.

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 developers, Camas leaders would first 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, possibly some type of mixed-use designation.

To do that, the city needed to submit a list of properties up for possible zoning changes to the state by Wednesday.

If the council had absolutely no interest, Capell said, then the issue would be done. But if they wanted to allow the process to proceed through the city’s parks board and planning commission, they needed to give direction to city staff and allow Capell to submit the necessary paperwork to the state by the Wednesday deadline.

Some councilors had issues with the plan, including Bonnie Carter, who said she feared the city would set a bad precedent and worried that developers would see this as an opportunity to look at Camas open spaces as potential development sites instead of future park lands.

Contacted by The Post-Record on Wednesday morning, as he was rushing to make a flight, Hazen said he didn’t want to leave his council seat, but that the law required it.

“It’s unfortunate that, as a 25-year resident of Camas, a council member and (with) 30 years’ experience in senior housing, that I couldn’t do this without giving up my council position, but that’s the law and it’s part of the process,” Hazen said.

He noted that the development will still go through all of the proper land-use procedures and will be an open, public process where citizens can weigh in and councilors can decide if this is the right move for the city.

Another consideration for the property is the fact that it currently provides access to the nearby Lacamas Creek area for maintenance crews and emergency first responders.

Erickson noted that the land also is heavily used by bicyclists and hikers coming and going to and from Fallen Leaf Park, and often become overflow parking for nearby lakeside recreation areas.

Hazen has said he would provide trail and emergency access to the public and first responders, if the development is approved.

Erickson encouraged people to get involved with the issue as it moves forward through the parks board and planning commission.

“I hope that citizens of Camas come and give their opinion on this proposal and possible loss of open space,” he said. “Because I don’t think we want to go down that road.”

This story has been updated to show that the parks open space property is 2.7 acres, not 5 acres, as was stated in an earlier version of this article. To develop the entire 4.99-acre senior living facility, the developers would have needed to also purchase two adjacent, privately owned properties.