Port of Camas-Washougal commissioners voted to table a motion to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the port and RKm Development during their Wednesday, April 15 virtual meeting.
Commissioners scheduled a special meeting for 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, to vote on the MOU at the request of Washougal residents Richard Hamby and Martha Martin, who said that members of the public weren’t given enough time to read the document, which provides details of the port’s arrangement with the Portland-based retail developer for its waterfront development project.
“I think (delaying the vote is) a really great solution,” commissioner Cassi Marshall said. “Everybody is putting their very best efforts to make this process transparent, and if we’re hearing that there’s a need from the community to have a little bit more time, I think that’s a great compromise.”
The port released the MOU document to members of the public on the morning of April 15, about eight hours before the start of the commissioner meeting.
“I understand that this isn’t binding, but it’s pretty important, so I’m disappointed to see that you have it as an action item. I think that’s really inappropriate at this point,” Hamby said. “People that aren’t lucky enough to have received the email prior to this (meeting) won’t know anything about it at all. I think when there’s things of obvious public interest, they shouldn’t be an action item at the same meeting that they’re introduced as a discussion item.”
Hamby referred to the port’s proposed $350 million mixed-use development project, which fell apart in September 2008 after a state auditor’s report concluded that the port’s commissioners signed an agreement with RiverWalk on the Columbia LLC without holding enough public discussion.
“I remember the time of RiverWalk,” Hamby said, “and following that I think the port became maybe overly conscious of not having the discussion item matching the action item in the same meeting.”
“The details haven’t been out there, but we’ve been talking about the MOU over the last several months in regard to what it means and the purpose of it,” Ripp said in response. “(As far as not being able to look at) the agreement in hand, or having a draft form? Yeah, I understand that. But I take offense when RiverWalk is brought up because we have been so transparent and so forthcoming with everything since day one of this project. I feel like, how can this be compared to what happened back in 2005?”
Later in the meeting Hamby apologized for his reference to the RiverWalk project.
“I didn’t mean to offend anyone,” he said. “Frankly, there is absolutely no comparison between today’s port and the port (of the 2000s). A big difference is that now, the port and the public work together. Back in those days, and Dave remembers, there was a lot of tension between those two groups.”
But Hamby also pointed out that the MOU didn’t “leave a place for the proposed performing arts center.” A steering committee composed of local residents has proposed that a 1,200-seat performing arts center be constructed on the southeast corner of the development.
“I believe (the committee members) hope to work cooperatively with your developer and probably make a lease agreement on the land with the port as the property owner,” Hamby said. “Frankly with this COVID stuff, that group isn’t able to function and move forward, and it’s really inappropriate for you guys to be moving forward. That whole group doesn’t even know what you’ve done here.”
Ripp told Hamby that “this agreement doesn’t lay out what’s going to be built or where things are going to be built. The binding agreements take place down the road.”
Earlier in the meeting, Ripp said that the MOU “lays out the future details of what we’re working towards on our project.”
“It prefaces our master lease agreement and how the site is going to develop,” he said. “It lays out what we’re going to do and what RKm is going to do. This agreement lays out the direction we’re headed.”
He said that more agreements — including a master lease pact — will be completed this summer or fall.
“The basis for the MOU confirms the building blocks of the future agreements that the port expects to include in the master leasing agreements,” commissioner Larry Keister said. “The reason that we’re proposing to move ahead with the MOU is that RKm is capable of doing the project as we have presented to them.
“(We like RKm’s) emphasis on our community and the fact that it’s a long-term holder of projects that it has taken over in the past. The port will still have control of everything that is actually to be developed when the master lease agreement is presented. This (agreement will reinforce) the port’s vision for the project, which will provide long-term revenue for the port and for the community.”