Camas OKs parks & rec ‘wish list’

City council votes 6-1 in favor of 20-year capital facilities list; lowers aquatic center cost estimate from $43M to $19M

After closing a two-week public hearing that included more than three hours’ worth of council debate, public testimony and repeated clarifications from city staff, the Camas City Council voted 6-1 this week to formally approve the city’s 2022 Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan and its prioritized list of short- and long-range capital facilities needs.

Updated every six years, the PROS Plan is the city’s guide for managing and enhancing Camas’ more than 1,000 acres of parks and open spaces, 12 miles of trails and wide range of recreational offerings.

Like other Camas planning documents, the PROS Plan includes a list of capital facilities needs the city might try to develop and fund through a combination of sources such as grants, impact fees and voter-approved bonds over the next 20 years.

The capital facilities list also includes cost estimates for each potential project totaling $130 million, as well as line items for high-ticket, unfunded projects such as an aquatic center. These inclusions divided the council and caused concern among residents who incorrectly equated the PROS Plan and facilities list with the city’s failed 2019 bid to fund a $78 million aquatic-community center.

“This list is not funded or an approved list of projects,” Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam reiterated during the continued public hearing on April 18. “This is a list of 20-plus-year projects either needed or wanted within our community.”

Parks commissioners speak in favor of PROS Plan

Three members of the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission — Commission Chair Steve Lorenz, David Dewey and the city’s former interim mayor, Ellen Burton — spoke in favor of the PROS Plan during the April 18 public hearing.

“The capital facilities plan is a list of potential wants the community has selected,” Lorenz explained. “It is not a directive. It is not all-inclusive, nor is it an actual budget. The accompanying numbers were grounded in research by us as a commission and by parks staff. They give us a starting point for rich discussions with the community about what particular attributes the community might want. This is not an ask for ($130 million).”

Lorenz added that, in the more than 20 years he has been on the Parks Commission, the city has included a community center on its capital facilities list. “We have not funded it, and we may not in the next 20 years,” Lorenz said.

Burton said passing the Parks Commission-approved plan would be a good way for councilmembers to “validate that they’re actually listening to the community.”

“This is a plan we will consistently review and improve upon,” Burton said. “It is a guidepost for the next six years. We heard loudly that (Camasonians) value parks and open space.”

“Step above politics and look at the requirements of the state,” Burton urged the city council members. “It’s a plan. A comprehensive plan.”

Dewey said he was one of those who voted against the $78 million aquatics-community center bond in 2019, but still acknowledged that the community needs to have a conversation about its desire for a pool or aquatics center.

“(The Parks and Recreation Commission) deemed an aquatics center as a low priority in the PROS Plan capital facilities list,” Dewey noted on Monday night. “The PROS Plan includes some long-range planning on the capital facilities list — a wishlist we prioritize for conversations over the next 20 years. None are intended to be approved by Council in this meeting. … As is typical of long-range planning, there are prices attached. They are intended to be placeholders for what we know today.”

Councilmember urges removal of price estimates on plan’s capital facilities list

The Council agreed on March 7 to approve the bulk of the 255-page PROS Plan in order to maintain the city’s eligibility to apply for the current round of state parks and recreation grants, but held off on approving the entire plan after at least one council member objected to three potentially pricey items — an aquatics facility, new or renovated community center and a sports park complex — on the list of 45 capital facilities “needs and wants.”

“I’m good with the PROS Plan if we’re clear that it does not include those three projects,” Lewallen said during the Council’s March 7 meeting.

Lewallen and other members of the Council also worried the capital facilities list, which included an estimated $130 million in future parks and recreation needs, would be used to justify a substantial increase in impact fees paid by developers who build new housing in Camas to help fund new citizens’ added burden on the city’s parks system.

Lewallen suggested the Council vote to remove the estimated costs of the projects listed on the PROS Plan’s capital facilities list and “remand” the entire plan back to the Parks and Recreation Commission for further discussion.

“Council’s been told it’s just a list, just a guiding document,” Lewalllen said Monday. “But it’s not, because if it’s just to guide us why can’t we leave the dollar amount off? We’re going to use that to calculate park impact fees. To me, in my gut, that’s wrong. That impacts affordability.”

Several members of the city’s staff, including Camas’ city attorney, interim city administrator and the director of public works, pointed out Monday that capital facilities lists are just one element that goes into calculating impact fees and that impact fees, by law, cannot find all of the city’s capital facility needs.

The city’s finance director, Cathy Huber Nickerson, also pointed out that including cost estimates on capital facilities lists is considered “best practice” for government agencies.

“I’m trying to encourage (department heads) to have those figures in there so we can project out,” Huber Nickerson said Monday, adding that the city’s fire, transportation and other capital facilities needs lists also include cost estimates for potential projects. “That way, we can program out what it is we can afford.”

Steve Wall, the city’s public works director, explained on Monday that city council members will have an opportunity later this year to revamp the city’s park impact fees and could opt to include elements of the PROS Plan’s capital facilities list in those impact fee (PIF) calculations.

“To be really clear … in order for us to include a number in park impact fees, a project has to be in our plan. To use the money, it has to be in our park impact fee calculation,” Wall said. “But, just because it’s in the plan, doesn’t mean it has to be included in the PIF.”

Other city council members agreed the PROS Plan should include all of the potential projects OK’d by the Parks Commission and should retain cost estimates.

“Money, to me, represents transparency,” Councilmember Bonnie Carter said Monday. “Our due diligence is to inform the public what we’re considering. … This is what we heard you wanted, these are the numbers. When we go through impact fee reviews, it’s not solely (based) on the capital facilities list. We balance a lot of other data points when we make recommendations to set those fees.”

Council reduces aquatics center cost estimate, adds pickleball court to facilities list

Councilmember Don Chaney — who was on the Council with Carter, Mayor Steve Hogan and Councilmember Greg Anderson in 2019 when 90 percent of Camas voters shot down a $78 million bond proposal for a new aquatics-community center and revamped sports fields — said he understood why some community members may have balked when they saw an aquatics center and community center listed on the PROS Plan’s capital facilities list, but that he also felt it was prudent for city council members to show the potential costs associated with the types of parks and recreation projects many in the community have said they’d like to see in Camas.

“There are four of us sitting up here that authorized Prop 2 (the aquatics-community center bond proposal). We’ve tormented ourselves over that,” Chaney said, adding that city officials in 2019 heard outcry for a public pool, but “messed it up” by approving a bond measure most voters considered too expensive to fund solely with taxpayer dollars.

Chaney said he had met with Councilmember Lewallen earlier this month and agreed then that the Council should remove the cost estimates from the PROS Plan’s capital facilities list, but had since changed his mind.

“I’ve listened and now I think, if we don’t put numbers on it, we may paint ourselves into a corner,” Chaney said. “We intend to do impact fees in the fall. I want to do this the right way. We have newcomers coming into our community. I want the newcomers to pay their fair share, whether it be impact fees or whatever.”

“With respect to the pools, I think they should be on the list so people can see it, know we hear them, and put a number on it — maybe it’s less than $43 million,” Chaney said.

Chaney also pushed the Council earlier this month to consider adding a pickleball court on the capital facilities list, since that amenity was something that got high marks in the PROS Plan’s public outreach.

On Monday, the Council voted 6-1, with Lewallen casting the only “nay” vote, to approve the PROS Plan in its entirety, including the capital facilities list, with the addition of a line item for a future pickleball court, estimated to cost $895,000, and the replacement of the $43 million aquatics center cost estimate — which was derived from a 2019 lowest-cost estimate for an indoor aquatics facility with two pools — with a new estimate of $19 million.