Benton County Planning Commission makes no decision on Kennewick UGA request

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldOctober 15, 2013 

PROSSER -- The Benton County Planning Commission spent about three hours Tuesday night discussing and hearing testimony on a request to add 1,263 acres to Kennewick's urban growth area.

But the group ended the meeting in Prosser without making a decision. Commissioners asked for some more information and continued the matter to a meeting in November.

The planning commission's role is to make a recommendation about the request, which is forwarded to county commissioners, who have the final say.

Public testimony was split during Tuesday's meeting, with some speakers touting the economic benefits of the proposal and others raising concerns, including loss of farmland.

County staff recommended against the urban growth expansion, saying among other things that the city hasn't sufficiently demonstrated a need for more industrial land.

The Kennewick City Council last fall voted unanimously to ask the county for the expansion for future industrial projects.

Kennewick officials have said the land south of Interstate 82 is ideal for industry because it's flat and near major transportation routes.

The expansion would help address the city's shortage of land suitable for industrial development, they've said.

The land today is zoned for agriculture, although it's not actively being farmed. John Christensen, the majority owner, told planning commissioners that it's no longer profitable as farmland.

Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said the idea behind the expansion is to create jobs and further diversify the local economy -- a need that's gaining urgency.

"Our plan was to find some method by which we could bring in heavier industrial to this area," he told the planning commission, adding that the intention isn't to take away from agriculture "in any way shape or form."

Other proponents of the request include the Tri-City Development Council, or TRIDEC. The group's director of business recruitment told planning commissioners that the land is a unique community asset for economic development and the expansion would benefit the entire Tri-Cities.

But there are opponents, too, including the statewide land use advocacy group Futurewise, which raised concerns in a recent letter including that the proposal would "(unnecessarily) convert valuable farmland to low density urban development" and is inconsistent with state growth management law and the county comprehensive plan. A local representative of the group was among those who spoke during Tuesday's meeting.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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