Camas OKs Green Mountain land deal

City will spend $3.8M to acquire 115 acres; will ask public for views on saving land for open spaces, parks and recreational trails

The city of Camas will soon own 115 acres of undeveloped land on the west side of Green Mountain, in an area identified as a critical link in the city’s long-term plan to preserve open spaces and build region-wide recreation trails.

On Monday, Dec. 7, Camas City Council members approved an agreement to purchase 55 acres in the Green Mountain planned residential development area off Ingle Road for $3.8 million, and to receive an additional 60-acre parcel, appraised at $15.5 million, as a donation to the city.

Camas Mayor Barry McDonnell called the donation and purchase agreement “a great opportunity” for the city and said these types of opportunities “don’t come around a lot.”

“It’s almost like a ‘too good to be true’ deal, but it is true,” McDonnell said Monday during the council’s workshop meeting.

Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall said the property owners recently approached city staff to see if Camas leaders would be interested in the proposal.

The land had been slated for Phase 3 of the Green Mountain residential housing development and was approved for 159 residential lots.

Instead, said Wall, “the addition of the land to the city’s inventory (will) help protect and conserve the Green Mountain area and make the land available for public use for future generations.”

The city’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan identifies the area as a critical link for recreation, open spaces and trails, Wall added.

“The city’s adopted (PROS plan) identifies the desire to include parks and open space around Green Mountain, including improving public access and potentially creating a viewpoint at the top of the mountain,” Wall pointed out in his staff report to the city council.

The property is located in an area surrounded by parcels owned by the state, county, school district and city, Wall said, and “will provide for long-term parks, trails and open space system links.”

To accept the donated 60 acres, the city would need to agree to also purchase the 55-acre parcel — appraised by the sellers in September at $4.6 million — for a negotiated price of $3.8 million.

The donated land agreement is set to be finalized by Dec. 31, and the city will purchase the additional 55 acres by Oct. 31, 2021.

Camas Finance Director Cathy Huber Nickerson said Monday that the city could use a variety of funding mechanisms, including dedicated revenue streams from park impact fees, dipping into the city’s fund balance, securing grants and paying off one of the city’s Legacy Lands properties early then refinancing using “historic low interest rates” to pay for the $3.8 million land purchase.

“Are we spreading ourselves too thin?” McDonnell asked Huber Nickerson.

“No, I would not believe that it would really impact us,” the finance director replied. “We have several options, at least four options, to pay for it … and none of these options would be detrimental to the city’s other projects.”

Huber Nickerson said city staff would likely approach the city council with opportunities for funding the land purchase in the summer or early fall of 2021.

Councilman Don Chaney said he was reminded of something former Camas Mayor Nan Henriksen used to say about planning for parks and open spaces as a local government official: “People won’t remember who we are, and that doesn’t matter because people will see the property out there if we’re able to pull this off (and we will) leave a legacy down the road,” Chaney said.

The councilman also addressed the revenue loss that would accompany the removal of 159 housing lots from the city’s future housing inventory.

“I’m not troubled that we’re going to lose what we thought would be an increase in housing and growth,” Chaney said. “It doesn’t bother me that we’ll lose some growth. We’re growing so fast.”

Chaney added that he would like to use grants or other funding sources that would not touch the city’s general fund or incur more debts.

“I’m hoping we can find resources we have on hand, or that grants will come in,” Chaney said. “And I hope my peers will agree (to) no indebtedness and no general fund monies.”

Councilwoman Ellen Burton added that the property might also be a good site for a future fire station — something outlined in a 2019 report on the future of the Camas-Washougal Fire Department as critical to meeting the city’s burgeoning emergency services demands.

“Is there a possibility of carving off the necessary 3 to 5 acres for a fire station there?” Burton asked at the Monday evening workshop.

Camas City Administrator Jamal Fox said Monday that the city would have a “community engagement process” to talk about Camas residents’ wishes for the property.

“I certainly support leaving much of it as green space or parks,” Burton added. “And I agree with (Chaney) about (not using) general funds … Overall, I think it’s a great opportunity.”