West Richland residents protest rezoning proposal near Austin Drive

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldJuly 22, 2013 

Hardware Rezone Opposition

Ed Coyne of West Richland sits on the porch of his home at 108 Austin Dr., where he's lived since 2000, with signs he recently used in protest on Van Giesen Street during a city council meeting. Coyne and other residents in the neighborhood are opposing rezoning of nearby property to permit construction of a harware store.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

West Richland's proposal earlier this year to rezone three lots at the southeast corner of West Van Giesen Street and Bombing Range Road from residential to commercial has stirred a tempest of protests from residents in the area.

Increased traffic and congestion, as well as increased property taxes, concern the residents along Austin Drive, which bisects the three lots. They also are worried about commercial development affecting their quality of life.

Many of the homes sit on one- and two-acre lots, allowing residents to keep horses, cattle, goats and chickens.

"We have a relaxed rural lifestyle; that's why we moved here," said Dan Richey, who has lived in West Richland for more than 25 years.

The city council voted to make the zoning change July 16, but it won't take effect for 60 days, said Nicole Stickney, interim planning and economic manager for West Richland. Any land-use decisions have to be approved by the State Department of Commerce.

Richey and other interested parties have formed a group called West Richland Residents For Smart Growth, which intends to appeal the city's decision.

"We plan to contact the state Growth Management Board and do a land use appeal through the state," Richey said. "The Management Board has 180 days to rule on it. It's not a fast process."

The group is approaching the appeal carefully and hopes it will not come to the point of involving lawyers, Richey said.

"We want to keep costs low because most of the people in the affected area don't have deep pockets," he said. "And that's another reason we're opposed -- with the zoning change, our property taxes go up by a factor of two or three."

Richey called the rezoning "an ill considered idea" at the July 16 meeting. Many of his neighbors -- including Ed Coyne, who lives adjacent to one of the three lots -- agree.

Access to any commercial development on the three lots would be via Austin Drive off Bombing Range Road, one of the busiest streets in West Richland.

The intersection of Bombing Range and Van Giesen sees 2,000 cars a day, Coyne said. In the late afternoon, when people are heading home from work, traffic backups already make it difficult to enter or exit Austin.

Commercial development at the corner is a real possibility.

Charlie Grigg, co-owner of Griggs Department Store in Pasco and several Ace Hardware stores in the Tri-Cities, owns two of the three lots and wants to build an Ace Hardware at the corner.

Grigg told the city council in June that he understands the residents' concerns. His plan is to build a 12,000- to 15,000- square-foot building with an adjacent parking lot.

Grigg already has discussed with the city staff using part of his second lot to reroute Austin Drive so it would intersect with Bombing Range several hundred feet further south from the traffic lights at Van Giesen Street.

Coyne believes the volume of traffic would still require a new traffic light at Austin and Bombing Range, creating "an additional choke point," he said.

"It's already hard to make a left turn from Austin onto Bombing Range. It would only get worse. And there's talk of putting in a fast-food restaurant on one of the lots. That's going to increase traffic substantially," Coyne said.

Austin Drive residents are also concerned about extra traffic down their street, which is narrow and lacks street lights, a center stripe, sidewalks or curbing.

For months they've attended planning committee meetings, met with city staff and written letters opposing the change.

The city council heard additional protests during the July 26 meeting, but voted unanimously for the change.

West Richland Mayor Donna Noski told the Herald the city's staff and council have been very open about the process and gave the public opportunities for input.

Staff has also worked to address the residents' concern, she said, hiring JUB Engineers to do a traffic analysis of the site.

"Council didn't have to do it at this stage but asked the city staff to scope out the possibilities, what would need to be in place if eventually it was developed as commercial," Noski said.

According to the study, if Austin Drive were rerouted to intersect with Bombing Range Road several hundred feet further south, the impact to residents would be mitigated substantially.

Grigg told the council only two large trucks would make deliveries twice a week to the store, and two smaller trucks would make deliveries four times a week.

Noski doubts people trying to avoid traffic on Bombing Range will be likely to choose Austin -- which winds past homes and small farms -- as a route to the store, she said.

"Semi trucks driving down Austin just won't happen," she said.

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