Planning for Camas’ North Shore area took a giant leap forward last week after the Camas Planning Commission agreed to forward eight community-developed “vision statements,” intended to guide development in the 800-acre swath of mixed-use land extending from Lacamas Lake to the northern city limits known as North Shore, to the Camas City Council.
The Commission’s decision followed a nearly 90-minute virtual public hearing that had few public comments but much discussion among commissioners.
“It’s always good to be proactive about infrastructure before development comes in,” Camas Senior Planner Sarah Fox told the Planning Commission in July, adding that the city has already managed to acquire about 270 acres in the North Shore area.
On Tuesday, Aug. 18, the Planning Commission held a public hearing to discuss the draft vision statement — the result of more than seven months’ worth of community input collected by city staff during town halls, via online surveys, and at meetings held at local schools and tables set up at the weekly Camas Farmer’s Market.
“We had seven months of outreach and conducted in-depth interviews with stakeholders about their visions for the North Shore,” Fox told the commissioners on Aug. 18. “We had great turnout throughout this entire project.”
The result was a vision statement with eight major priorities. At the top of the list: the community’s desire to preserve the North Shore’s natural beauty; plan a network of green spaces and recreational opportunities; and combine residential, parks and commercial uses for a more walkable community.
Other priorities include providing a variety of housing options; locating industrial parks and commercial centers away from Lacamas Lake, toward the northern end of the North Shore; favoring businesses that serve local residents; planning for needed schools and infrastructure; and maintaining Camas’ “small-town feel” in the North Shore.
The issue of subarea planning in the city’s North Shore has popped up several times during recent Camas City Council meetings, with a small-but-vocal group urging the city to avoid any development in the area despite the fact that the city annexed the North Shore land more than 15 years ago and property owners there could develop their parcels under existing city code.
But the Aug. 18 public hearing before the Planning Commission drew few public comments.
Camas resident Lynn Johnston was the only community member to speak at the Aug. 18 hearing.
“My family owns most of the employment land in the North Shore area,” Johnston said. “We began the process for developing this property 15 years ago. In 2008, these large parcels were considered to be a prize … and employment in the North Shore seemed to be a priority.”
Johnston said his family’s land remained “underutilized” over the past decade, so he felt encouraged in 2019, when Camas City Council members said they wanted to begin subarea planning in the North Shore.
Having now seen what the community values having in the area, Johnston said he is open to making adjustments that would better align with the community’s vision for the North Shore.
“Most of the (points in the vision statement) would hinder a large employment center,” Johnston said. “Clearly, priorities have shifted over time.”
Johnston said he generally agrees with most of the priorities in the draft North Shore vision statement and wants to see the area be something the community can take pride in.
“(North Shore) is poised to be a shining example of what community visioning can achieve,” he said.
Maintaining a ‘small-town feel’
Johnston suggested a few changes to the draft vision statements, and planning commissioners took his suggestions to heart during the Aug. 18 hearing.
In the No. 1 vision statement, which reflects the community’s desire to maintain much of the North Shore’s natural beauty, for example, Johnston asked commissioners to strike the phrase “preserve wildlife habitat corridors.”
The phrase “has broad meaning and could have unintended consequences for buildable land,” Johnston argued.
Fox said the city “has gone to great lengths” to create a green corridor along Lacamas Lake in the North Shore, purchasing hundreds of acres of land the city intends to use to build a trail that will someday encircle the lake and to create parks and open spaces in the North Shore. She said much of the city-owned land would likely be prime acreage for wildlife to pass through the area without needing to cross through urban developments.
Johnston’s biggest bone of contention was with the last bullet point in the draft vision statement, which instructed city leaders to “pace development to maintain Camas small-town feel” and “sustain the city’s quality of life through phased and sustainable growth that contributes to community character.”
Johnston said he believed the planning commissioners should strike the entire line.
“What does this mean?” Johnston asked of the No. 8 vision statement. “The item is vague and could be interpreted in many different ways. It will likely take 30 years for North Shore to fully build out. We need to find a balance between protecting the elements that are most important without ‘handcuffing’ future development.”
Several commissioners said they opposed striking the last vision statement.
Maintaining a “small-town feel” in the North Shore “was a really large priority for everybody sitting in those meetings,” Commissioner Geoerl Niles said of the seven-month community visioning process. He added that the idea of maintaining the community’s “small-town feel” in the North Shore did not mean city leaders would intentionally be slowing down development in the area.
“Developers would go through the same process they’ve always gone through,” Niles said.
Rather, some of the commissioners said they thought the No. 8 point on the vision statement spoke more to what the city would not build into the North Shore’s infrastructure in order to maintain a small-town feel.
“If we want to have the feeling of (a small town), we cannot have an arterial (highway) going into that area,” Commissioner Mahsa Eshghi said.
“The small-town feel, for me, means not building a freeway or shopping mall that would draw from the whole area,” added Troy Hull, vice chairman of the planning commission. “To me, it isn’t telling a land owner what they can do with their property. To me, it’s really pointing toward the city and our investment in infrastructure and how we do that. I like the line. I’d rather not strike it.”
Commissioner Warren Montgomery added that the idea of “small-town feel” would vary greatly in the community.
“One person’s idea of ‘small-town feel’ is not the same as another person’s impression,” Montgomery said.
He added that, having come from a New York community with a population over 300,000, he would still think of Camas as a “small town” even after it adds another 10,000 people to its population base. Likewise, Montgomery said, he has spoken to many longtime Camas residents who feel their city, which has nearly doubled in size over the past decade, is already losing its small-town feel.
“Trying to get a handle on what people view as (small-town feel) will go a long way toward visualizing the area,” Montgomery said. “You’re not going to make everyone happy, but saying you understand the desire to have some of that small-town charm goes a long way.”
In the end, the commissioners agreed to strike “pace development” from the No. 8 vision statement and replace it with “strive.” The statement moving to the city council for its consideration now reads: “Strive to maintain Camas small-town feel.”
Commissioners discuss affordable housing
One other area that came up for discussion at the Aug. 18 public hearing centered around a phrase that could add more affordable housing to Camas’ residential inventory.
Commissioner Eshghi questioned the No. 4 point on the draft vision statement, which reads: “Provide a variety of housing options. Plan for diverse housing types that are affordable to households of varying incomes, sizes and life stages.”
Eshghi questioned if North Shore was the right area for affordable housing in Camas.
“I, myself, don’t think it’s the best location for affordable housing,” she said.
Fox explained that the community visioning had brought up a desire for more housing options in Camas and in the North Shore area.
She added that, over the past eight years, more than 70 percent of the new homes built in Camas have been larger than 2,000 square feet and multistory.
“Looking to the future and the future population, (the city will) need a variety of housing types to suit our older population and younger people looking for starter homes,” Fox said.
Montgomery said he had the same questions as Eshghi about the inclusion of “affordable housing” in the No. 4 vision statement, but believed the issue would become more clear in the second phase of the subarea planning.
Now that the planning commission has forwarded the draft North Shore vision statement to the city council, city planners are waiting to see if council members agree to fund the second phase of the subarea plan.
“The charge of the next phase is to make sure each one of these vision statements has some goals and policies — some marching orders,” Fox said.
The public will have another opportunity to weigh in on the North Shore vision statements when the city council holds a public hearing on the matter later this year.
For more information about the North Shore and first phase of the city’s subarea planning process, visit camasnorthshore.com.