OPINION: Concerns about Camas’ growth are nothing new

As evidenced at a recent legislative town hall and in online conversations posted during the November 2019 general election, issues surrounding Camas’ projected growth — including questions about where (and if) that growth should occur — have become a hot topic for longtime locals and newcomers alike.

Some are asking Camas officials to somehow pump the brakes on state-mandated growth, while others are pushing for better planning so Camas won’t become a sprawling community devoid of a true town center.

A few people have suggested city leaders halt development plans in the city’s “North Shore” area, despite the fact that plans for the North Shore have been in the works since the city approved an annexation of 1,171 acres north of the lake in 2008 — and the fact that the city has already funded and built a $12 million, 11-mile sewer pipeline construction project that will serve the area north of Lacamas Lake, which is expected to become a mix of residential, commercial and light industrial development to accommodate the city’s increasing population.

Still others have wondered why the city isn’t pursuing development plans for the downtown Georgia-Pacific (G-P) paper mill site (see a related guest column on page A4 of this week’s Post-Record). As a bit of background on that subject, the city has held monthly meetings with G-P representatives since the mill announced it would shutter its pulp mill and one of two paper lines in 2018. Since then, the city has negotiated the takeover of 190 acres formerly owned by G-P — including the mill ditch and Lacamas Creek dams that create Lacamas and Round lakes — and was, throughout early 2019, attempting to take possession of GP’s Camas Business Center at Northwest Seventh Avenue and Northwest Drake Street near downtown Camas. In May 2019, mill representatives told city leaders they had no plans to close down the existing paper line, shutting down discussions about future development of the main mill site.

For Camas residents who weren’t too interested in local politics until the divisive “pool bond” came up in late 2019, or for those who are new to the community, it may seem like these concerns over Camas’ growth and planning are brand new.

However, as important as these issues are, they are nothing that hasn’t popped up in Camas before.

In fact, very similar questions about Camas’ explosive growth came up in 2013, after city leaders approved the agreement to develop the 460-acre North Shore and changed zoning in the former farming area to include 314 acres for an industrial business park development, 100 acres for multifamily housing, 40 acres for single-family housing and nearly 57 acres for community commercial spaces.

In articles published in the Post-Record during that time, several community members worried the North Shore development, located at least three miles from downtown Camas, would be too far from the heart of the city and would have a negative impact on the Grove Field airport, rural green spaces, traffic and the city’s existing utilities.

“A better use for the (North Shore area) could be offering recreational opportunities or some sort of community supported agriculture where residents invest in the local farms in exchange for a share in the produce,” one Camas resident told city leaders before they OK’d the development agreement in 2013.

Likewise, many community leaders have expressed hopes that the paper mill site will someday become a centerpiece of downtown Camas with uses that are more mixed-use than industrial.

In his 2018 bid to be Camas’ mayor for a second time, the recently deceased Dean Dossett, mayor of Camas from 1992 to 2002, brought the issue of the mill property up to the current crop of city councilors and said the city needed to develop a comprehensive plan for the site “if it is vacated.”

We agree with Dossett. City leaders cannot ignore the mill site, which looms large on more than 600 acres at the edge of Camas, but they also cannot daydream about what might happen on the mill site while more than 150 workers are still at the site every day, working G-P’s profitable toilet paper line. But coming up with a comprehensive plan for the site, one that could help community members envision the possibilities for Camas’ entire downtown, would be prudent.

And for new community members who missed the initial planning behind the North Shore agreement but still want to be involved in the very beginning stages of a future Camas development, taking part in the comprehensive plan process regarding the mill site and Camas’ future downtown could very well be the perfect solution.

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