Port, city give OK to waterfront development plan

Author: Doug Flanagan, Post Record: March 25, 2021

After Larry Keister asked his fellow Port of Camas-Washougal commissioners to approve the agency’s master lease agreement with Portland-based RKm Development during their March 17 virtual meeting, a few seconds of tense silence hung in the air.

“I will second (the motion), although I have to say it feels like we need more pomp and circumstance around this,” commissioner Cassi Marshall said. “This feels like a really big deal.”

“I could go get a party popper,” commissioner John Spencer replied.

“We could at least have music or something,” Marshall said with a laugh.

The commissioners have good reason to feel like the completion of the agreement, which was unanimously approved, represents a significant milestone for the project, which will construct a “lively, walkable place with community gathering and character spaces, commercial, retail, mixed-use and residential uses” on the Port’s waterfront property.

“I am so excited to approve this,” Spencer said. “It’s as thorough as can be and sets us up for great things to come.”

“For me personally, this has been almost a 10-year process of (working on) the vision that started with commissioners Mark Lampton, Bill Macrae-Smith and Bill Ward to provide a revenue source for the Port and for the city,” Keister added. “This is going to be, in my opinion, a positive benefit for east Clark County. I’m very excited that we will be able to move forward with this project.”

Port leaders have been working on the agreement since April 16, 2019, when the agency announced that it selected RKm Development to develop the property.

“The Port’s decision to work with (RKm) is based in part on the developer’s experience with catalytic, large-scale, multi-phased mixed-use developments in the Portland region,” the agreement states. “The Port recognizes that developments of this nature are complex, and further recognizes that (RKm) has demonstrated a strong track record of financing, building and operating this type of development.”

The Port entered into a memorandum of understanding with RKm Development on April 27, 2020.

“I’m very excited to see this big hurdle crossed and RKm continue to lead on design work and construction (begin) late next summer,” Port chief executive officer David Ripp said during the March 17 meeting.

City councilors vote 7-1 to approve agreement

Washougal city council members approved a development agreement with the Port by a 7-1 vote during their March 22 virtual meeting.

The agreement “provides the framework, processes and standards for the development of the property in order to achieve the vision of the Port and its waterfront master plan,” according to the document.

“I think this has been a great process so far,” councilwoman Alex Yost said. “It’s awesome when the city and the Port can get on board with the members of the community. I know there’s going to be concerns along the way, and hopefully staff and the developers can continue to communicate. There’s been a ton of work that’s gone into this on all levels. This is a long-term project, and we’re just barely beginning to scrape the surface of the potential down there on the waterfront.”

“I’m blown away by what we have on the table now. This is wonderful,” councilman Paul Greenlee added. “I can’t imagine anything that would have come forward that I am as thrilled about.”

Councilwoman Michelle Wagner cast the lone “nay” vote, referring to her previous objections to the agreement’s proposed maximum building height of 80 feet. The city’s building codes allow for structures to top out at 75 feet.

“I think that I might speak for a lot of people that were not expecting seven-story buildings on the waterfront,” Wagner said during the city’s March 8 virtual workshop session. “A great majority of our city looks down on the waterfront. The Best Western there is, what, maybe four stories high? The thought of six stories was significant enough in itself, then we’re talking about amending the code height for an additional seventh story. We all love high ceilings, sure. I definitely want high ceilings in a beautiful lobby or commercial area. But I’m wondering what’s necessitating that extra floor.”

“The extra 5 feet helps,” Matt Brown, the project’s lead architect, replied. “We could do these same buildings without the 5 feet, but I think we’re going to diminish the quality of the spaces throughout all of the floors by having to take out that extra foot on each level.”

Brian Vanneman of the Portland-based Leland Consulting Group told Wagner that the buildings closest to the waterfront “will be 30 feet (high) or less.”

Port director of planning and development Miller said that the proposed maximum height is “about providing as much flexibility as we possibly can for the development and taking advantage of opportunities.”

“We don’t have the market for an 80-foot-tall structure or a seven-story building (right now, but) we do see the potential for that market interest in the future,” Miller said during the March 8 workshop session. “One of those buildings could show itself in phase two after we get phase one under way. There could be large office users that want to locate their headquarters on the waterfront, and they may say they want seven floors, just like Fisher Investments (in Camas). I think that’s important because those large office users equate to family wage jobs. Any opportunity that we can get as an opportunity to (provide) those jobs is important.”