Camas North Shore ‘vision’ taking shape

Planning Commission expected to hold public hearing in August

The vision for Camas’ North Shore area — an 800-acre swath of land extending from Lacamas Lake to Camas’ northern city limits long touted for its potential to house the city’s burgeoning population, provide parks and open spaces for future generations and build the city’s inventory of commercial and light-industrial lands — is beginning to take shape.

On July 21, Camas Senior Planner Sarah Fox presented the Camas Planning Commission with an overview of the North Shore Subarea Plan’s first phase. The Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on this “vision phase” at its Aug. 18 meeting.

“It’s always good to be proactive about infrastructure before development comes in,” Fox said, adding that the city has already managed to acquire about 270 acres in the North Shore area. “We’ve been talking to longtime property owners (in the North Shore) for a long time, so when all the pieces started to come into place over the past several years, it made sense to update our plans to reflect this new ownership.”

The city recently purchased hundreds of acres along Lacamas Lake from longtime property owners, including more than 140 acres of open space and 70 acres of lakefront property.

The city intends to use the land to retain natural areas in the North Shore, build a continuous, multi-use trail around the lake and develop public parks. But much of the now public land, including lakefront parcels, had previously been zoned for housing and jobs, so the city will need to rebalance its zoning inside the North Shore and in other areas, Fox said.

“We’ll need to rebalance our comprehensive plan for jobs and housing,” she told Commission members on July 21, “and really take a look at some of those numbers to make sure our city is on track for the next 20 years.”

Public weighs in on ‘vision’ for North Shore

The path toward establishing a North Shore subarea plan — a detailed land-use plan that would include specific goals and policies related to land-use, open spaces, transportation and more in the North Shore — kicked off in late 2019 with a series of public participation meetings held throughout November and December.

“We have a lot of citizen input to talk about tonight,” Fox told the Planning Commission on July 21. “And there are some themes that have emerged.”

Hundreds of Camas residents responded to the city’s online surveys on the North Shore vision, and attended forums and meetings at Discovery and Camas High schools. Many focused on keeping the North Shore, which is currently zones for a mix of housing, commercial, parks and light industrial uses, as natural as possible.

“A lot of people said they could imagine small, local shops as part of a mixed-use look in that part of town, with restaurants … and tourism based on recreation,” Fox told the Planning Commission. “Really, a destination sort of feel is what we were hearing.”

The majority of Camas residents who took part in the visioning process said they wanted to retain natural areas, keep a significant tree canopy and have public spaces and trails for pedestrians and bicyclists in the North Shore areas closest to Lacamas Lake.

They also pushed for larger commercial and industrial areas to be located away from the lake, in the area’s northernmost region or along heavily trafficked roads such as Northeast Everett Street.

Feedback showed the community wanted development in North Shore to match Camas’ small-town feel, have a thoughtful plan for infrastructure and schools, and develop in a way that would minimize traffic congestion and maximize safety for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

The draft vision Fox brought to the Planning Commission last week incorporated the community’s feedback.

No. 1 on the draft vision is a plan to preserve the North Shore’s natural beauty and preserve trees, wildlife habitat corridors and views of the treed hillsides and Lacamas Lake. Other highlights for the North Shore vision include:

Planning a network of recreational opportunities including parks, trails and playgrounds;

Clustering homes around schools and small businesses to promote a more walkable community;

Providing a variety of housing options;

Locating industrial parks and commercial centers to the north and away from Lacamas Lake to protect the environmental integrity and aesthetics of the lake;

Favoring local-serving businesses such as restaurants, cafes and grocers that might serve North Shore residents and businesses without harming the economic vitality in downtown Camas;

Planning for needed schools and infrastructure; and

Pacing development to match Camas’ small-town feel with phased and sustainable growth built into the subarea plan.

The Planning Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on this draft vision for the North Shore in August. If commissioners approve the vision, they would make a recommendation to the Camas City Council to adopt the vision statement.

That, Fox said, would conclude the first phase of the subarea planning project. Her hope is that city councilors would then approve work on the second phase of the North Shore Subarea Plan.

“A subarea plan would be wonderful for this area,” Fox recently told the Post-Record.

Without a subarea plan, private property in the North Shore now zones for commercial, light-industrial and residential uses could be developed without any North Shore-specific goals or policies.

In other words, the North Shore development would not be anything special and the community’s vision for what could be would be just an idea.

“Without (a subarea plan),” Fox said, ‘we have no teeth, just a vision.”

Small but vocal group opposes all development

When city staff and consultants started their outreach on the North Shore Subarea Plan vision process, Fox said they noticed a “small but vocal” of people who either didn’t understand what subarea planning was all about or “just don’t agree” with the process.

This “small but vocal” group seemed to be pushing for the city to halt work on the subarea plan and saying they wanted to see no development at all in the North Shore.

The problem with that, Fox pointed out, is that the area is already zoned for commercial, light-industrial and residential uses and could be developed right now without the subarea planning or community vision.

“For the ‘no build’ people, the basic concept is that the city or some other group would need to buy everyone’s land out there,” Fox said.

The city has already acquired more than 250 acres in the North Shore thanks to a combination of donated land and about $17 million worth of land purchases the city will fund through a combination of grants and bonds financed by revenue linked to growth, such as park impact fees and real estate excise taxes (taxes paid when a home sells).

If city leaders decide they do not want to move forward with a subarea plan in the North Shore, developers could still come in and build on the area’s residential, commercial and light-industrial lands.

“If (a large corporation) shows up and buys that land, they can do whatever the heck they want,” Fox said. “The rules in place now say they can build.”

Before being annexed into the city in 2007, the “North Shore” was a part of Clark County and included large-acreage lots, forested hills and farmland, including the Johnston Dairy. Initially, city leaders wanted to preserve the land for light industrial and business park uses, but property owners in the North Shore rallied together in 2010 to help rezone about 460 acres in the North Shore. In 2013, the Camas City Council agreed to rezone the area and place caps on residential zones to protect the area from becoming too densely populated.

In the spring of 2019, Camas City Council members looked at several areas for a possible subarea plan, including North Shore, Grass Valley, the Third Avenue business district and Camas’ historic downtown.

Considering the fact that the city had recently acquired hundreds of acres near Lacamas Lake as well as the historic Leadbetter House, the Council decided to move forward with the North Shore subarea plan.

Fox said subarea planning is a proactive approach not many communities are able to accomplish before development begins.

“Not many cities can do more than react to planning mandates from the state,” Fox said.

In their first-phase vision process, city staff tried to build the North Shore Vision Statement around the desires of the community members who showed up to the forums and answered online surveys in late 2019.

“The vision we were putting together was trying to capture what people said they wanted for the North Shore,” Fox said.

If city leaders decide they do not want staff to move forward with a subarea plan, the next time the city could look at the North Shore is in 2022.

“The Council could mothball it and say they’ll look at it as part of the 2022 Comprehensive Plan update,” Fox said. “In the meantime, (developers) could come in and develop on business park land and residential lands. Everything is in place (for development). Everything met the standards when the maps were adopted in 2006 and then updated in 2016.”

If the city does agree to begin the second phase of the North Shore Subarea Plan, Fox said that’s when city planners would “unleash the teams of experts” assembled by the city’s hired consultants and begin to take a deep dive into the actual policies that would help the North Shore Vision Statement come alive.

“The frustrating thing is that a subarea plan is supposed to be a very positive experience for a city,” Fox said. “To do a subarea plan is really proactive for a city. That’s the part that is a little crushing when people are saying, ‘stop the North Shore.'”

To learn more about the North Shore and the first phase of subarea planning, visit camasnorthshore.com.

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