Washougal considers ‘preferred’ option for town center project

City planning outdoor community space near downtown City Hall, future library

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Engineering and landscape architecture firms presented three designs for the city of Washougal's Town Center Revitalization Project, including a preferred option (pictured) and two alternatives, to the Washougal City Council Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Contributed graphic courtesy city of Washougal)

Washougal City Council members are leaning toward one design option for the city of Washouggal’s future Town Center Revitalization Project, but said they will require more detailed information before making a final decision.

On Nov. 20, representatives from the engineering and landscape architecture firms the City hired to design the project revealed their initial diagrams and estimated timeline to the Washougal City Council.

“We’re really excited about jump-starting this and getting this project going,” Washougal Mayor David Stuebe said. “Our community is really excited about this. This is going to be huge for us, and we want to do it right. … (But the discussions are) premature right now. We’ve got a lot of questions.”

City officials introduced their plans for the project in May 2022, telling Council members that an enhanced civic center will provide vital enhancements to the quality of life in Washougal and promote economic growth.

According to the City, the project will result in the creation of enhanced outdoor community space, an off-leash dog park, a pocket park with potential splash pad/water feature, and improved and expanded public parking near the Fort Vancouver Regional Library’s new library facility, the Washougal Community Center and City Hall.

“We feel like there’s been a desire to create a community destination place in the town center district that has inviting, inclusive spaces; is flexible for different types of gatherings and events; will promote economic development and growth; bring back the desired dog park; expand the community center into the outdoors; (build) a new splash pad/pocket park; and fulfill the MOU (memorandum of understanding) requirement for the future library,” Jeremy Fick, a civil engineer for Vancouver-based Robertson Fick Engineering PC, said during the Council’s May 20 workshop.

“We are still at the very beginning stages, (but) we are happy to be here and happy to be part of the process to make such a unique, special project come to fruition,” Fick added.

Fick and Nate Otani, a principal designer for Shapiro-Didway, a Portland-based landscape architecture firm, showed three “intentionally high-level” design options to Council during the Nov. 20 workshop, and told Council members they hoped to gather the Council’s feedback.

“We want to (show you) the ‘bubbles’ of where everything could be, and then once we start really drilling down into what (the final plan) looks like, we definitely will come back to the Council and make sure that everybody is good with it,” said Michelle Wright, the City’s public works business administrator. “I think we’re on the right track, and we want to work with all our partners to make sure (the plans) make sense.”

The designer’s “preferred” option includes between 115 and 135 parking spaces. Alternate “A” includes between 125 and 145 parking spaces, while Alternate “B” includes slightly less parking, with 60 to 80 spaces.

“We’ve broken up and dispersed the parking and brought the pedestrian and community spaces to the heart of the project just east of the community center,” Otani said of the preferred option. “One of the key things that we wanted to do was connect to Reflection Plaza. We started to identify opportunities for enhanced paving, clear wayfinding and ensuring that there’s safe crosswalks on ‘C’ Street that connect to our pedestrian core and parking, and provide safe access to the social services building. (This option) provides flexibility of use and scalability as well, which is going to help give longevity to the project.”

Council members said Nov. 20, that they generally favored the “preferred” option for the way it balances parking and amenity spaces, but questioned if some aspects of the alternative designs could be brought into it and mentioned parking and emergency vehicle access as some of their top priorities for the new layout.

“I’m fully in favor of trying to utilize all this space very well,” Washougal City Councilwoman Molly Coston said. “Personally, I (have) a preference of people over pets, although I am fully supportive of a dog park.”

Coston said she also supports additional parking, and said she believes the city will need more, not less, parking spaces in 10 years.

“I don’t think we’ll be a driverless car community quite yet at that point,” Coston said. “I just think we need a lot more robust discussion so that we have a better understanding of what the options are and try to maximize some of the uses of a relatively small space. The whole thing is a small footprint.”

The project will prioritize community assets, site conditions, programmatic elements and functions, program adjacencies, space and scale, pedestrian circulation and access, vehicular circulation, access points, parking, safety and accessibility, infrastructure, building connections and access, deliveries, future uses and growth, as well as costs, according to Fick and Otani.

“The key component here is to slow down (traffic on) ‘C’ Street, make connectivity to the south pedestrian spine through the center of the property, get the outdoor uses in the core of the property immediately contiguous to each other so that they interact and engage, spread the parking to the periphery, vacate half of ‘D’ street, (allow) fire department access and turn-around, and retain some parking on the north side of the community center,” City Manager David Scott said. “The amount of parking in the base model is a good ballpark (figure).”

The project is in the “pre-design phase,” according to Fick, who added that his firm and the City recently conducted a community engagement effort that included an online survey and virtual open-house.

“After this (phase), the design will continue on through about the summer of next year, and then it will go through some permitting phases in bidding, and that will set us up for construction in 2025,” he said “From a site development perspective, it’s a pretty tight timeline, but we have dialed in our detailed schedule with all the major milestones, and we are gearing up to start our schematic design in December.”

The project will be mostly funded by a Department of Commerce Grant; American Rescue Plan Act funds; donations; real estate excise taxes; and park impact fees.