Agency gets OK to farm in Pasco for 2 more years

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldOctober 7, 2013 

virgie robinson pasco school city council park kurtzman

Children at Virgie Robinson Elementary School enjoy recess at the edge of school property on Monday as seen from bordering Kurtzman Park in Pasco. The Pasco City Council is debating whether to add more fencing at schools that neighbor city parks to limit access to schools during school hours.

KAI-HUEI YAU — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The city of Pasco will allow a state agency to continue farming on valuable land in west Pasco, but only for two more years. The move could help bring the area closer to a large residential and commercial development.

The Pasco City Council approved an agreement that will allow the Washington Department of Natural Resources to continue leasing 25 acres. The agreement expires July 1, 2015.

The acreage, located at 7500 Argent Road, is part of 412 acres the department owns at the southwest corner of the Interstate 182-Road 68 interchange, but it needed a special permit from the city to farm in an area zoned "residential transition." The property, comprised largely of two crop circles, is in an area that's among the most in demand for development in the city.

The city only allowed DNR to continue farming on the 25 residential-zoned acres south of the crop circles through July 2015 because DNR is under directions in this year's state budget to start making more of the area it owns available for development, City Manager Gary Crutchfield said.

"They can farm it while they figure out what to do, but in two years we'll probably say, 'no more,' " he said.

The city would like to see the area developed so it can collect property taxes, Crutchfield said.

The city's conceptual land use map of the DNR property, put together last year, shows the city making the area available for 707 residential lots, plus 528 multi-family units and nearly 600,000 square feet of commercial space. Crutchfield said developers will ultimately work with the city to determine what goes there.

DNR is likely to start selling the area for development in phases, said Rick White, the city's community and economic development director.

DNR already leases some of its other property in the Road 68 area to businesses such as Lowe's and a Maverik convenience store.

The Franklin County Assessor's office values the DNR land southwest of the interchange at more than $5.1 million.

Also Monday:

-- The council approved fencing off parks around James McGee, Virgie Robinson and Maya Angelou elementary schools. The Pasco School District asked for the changes in the wake of events like last year's school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The fenced-in areas will be closed to the public during school hours.

-- The council discussed extending its moratorium on marijuana-related businesses until September 2014. Mayor Matt Watkins said the city wants to see what happens in the upcoming legislative session before allowing marijuana sales. But he said the council could end the moratorium before that if clarity on the issue is found.

"We've been walking very cautiously," Watkins said. "Let's say Seattle and Pasco are not the same organizations."

The council approved a six-month moratorium last month.

-- Rick Terway, Pasco's administration and community services director, announced that a planned spray park at Kurtzman Park in east Pasco is ready to go out for bid. The city closed swimming pools at Kurtzman and Richardson parks.

Crutchfield acknowledged that kids won't get much use out of it this year.

"We will let it run for a couple hours, then it will freeze, and we'll have a skating rink," he told the council.

-- The council put off a final vote on local improvement districts in the Kurtzman Park neighborhood until its Nov. 4 meeting.

-- The council approved a plan to close the library at 1320 W. Hopkins St. for renovations between Nov. 28 and Jan. 2. The city is expected to pay up to $15,000 out of its general fund for a new sign outside the library, as well as exterior paint. Mid-Columbia Libraries is paying $100,000 to improve the library.

The new west Pasco branch library will extend its hours during the closure.

-- The council approved replacing a vacant three-quarter time position with a new full-time customer service job in the finance division. Crutchfield said the change is needed because of an increase in the number of animal and business licenses. The city plans to create a fourth customer service window at City Hall. The employee will be paid around $30,000 a year.

-- The council approved restricting parking on both sides of Manzanita Lane for 150 feet north of A Street.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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