West Richland development hopes pinned on raceway

Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldJuly 5, 2014 

P TC Raceway

The city of West Richland has asked Benton County to allow it to add the former Tri-City Raceway off of Highway 224 to the city's urban growth area. City officials hope to attract wine production to the 94-acre site.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

West Richland is pinning its development hopes on the former Tri-City Raceway property west of town.

The dreams of an industrial wine production hub that inspires others to build hotels, restaurants and artisan food shops on neighboring properties are on hold as long as the 94-acre raceway remains outside city boundaries.

But the city and the Port of Kennewick, which owns the raceway, hope that will change this year.

The city has applied to include the raceway in the city's urban growth boundaries, which would allow city services to be extended to the property and for it to be annexed. The Benton County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the urban growth area expansion request at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

As a bedroom community of about 13,000, West Richland struggles to increase its commercial and industrial tax base.

It's the second time the city has asked to expand its urban growth area in recent years.

But this proposal is markedly different from the 2009 expansion proposal that included 747 acres, which was overturned at the state level after receiving approval from Benton County.

This time, West Richland is asking for a smaller chunk -- just the former Tri-City Raceway off Highway 224 near Keene Road that the port bought in 2008 for $1.8 million.

The raceway is in a strategic location for industrial and commercial development, close to the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area and the planned Red Mountain interchange on Interstate 82.

City officials are primarily hoping for wine production development on the raceway property, said Russ Connole, West Richland's community development director. But he sees potential for complementary businesses such as a hotels, restaurants and artisan food shops adjacent to the raceway.

Getting the property into the urban growth area is a critical decision for the future development, said Don Barnes, port commission president. It's a project that shows great promise with its proximity to Red Mountain and ongoing development along Keene Road.

While the city hopes to expand its urban growth area, officials also are working to reduce the land within the city's boundaries because of an unusual conundrum.

West Richland only has about 1,159 acres available to develop within city boundaries, Connole said.

Tiegs Ranch, formerly the Lewis & Clark Ranch, makes up more than half of the 14,223 acres within the city's boundaries. In addition to the ranch, there is also federal Bureau of Land Management-owned land that is not available for development.

"The farm is actually bigger than the city," Connole said.

While a former owner had once planned to develop the farm, the new owner plans to keep the irrigated, valuable land in farming, Connole said.

So the city intends to work with the current landowner and explore moving the bulk of the 7,670 acres out of West Richland. Connole said it's possible the owner might want some part of the property to remain in the city that is suited for development.

Red Mountain isn't just brimming with promise. It's already seeing growth.

Tim Hightower of Red Mountain's Hightower Cellars can rattle off various companies that are adding new acres of vineyards now.

Kennewick Irrigation District will start providing Yakima River water to Red Mountain this summer after an $18 million project is completed. A total of 1,785 acres will receive the newly available river water.

Some farmers are switching from wells to river water, and others plan to use a combination of both, or stick to wells, Hightower said.

Hightower said it was the grapes that brought him and his wife to Red Mountain to open Hightower Cellars in 1997. They tasted Washington wines available then for the ones they liked and started asking where the grapes were grown. The answer was Red Mountain, the state's smallest grape growing region.

There is an amazing flavor profile common to Red Mountain wines, he said.

Red Mountain has attracted international attention. Aquilini Properties, owned by a family who also owns the Vancouver Canucks, bought all 670 acres of undeveloped land KID offered up in an auction last year for $8.3 million and paid another $7.6 million for its part of KID's Yakima River water project.

And Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif., decided to open a Cabernet Sauvignon-focused winery using grapes from Red Mountain.

It's become a "premier, internationally known red wine appellation," which affects the entire area, said Heather Unwin, executive director of the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area Alliance.

"The wine that is being made from Red Mountain's fruit is attracting international attention," she said.

Right now, there are a few rental homes and limited restaurant choices nearby, Hightower said. "People are always looking for (them)," he said.

Artisan food producers who make chocolate, cheese, sauces and baked goods are complementary to wine, said Keith Pilgrim, co-owner and winemaker at Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard. Wine enthusiasts tend to share an interest in those products as well.

If successful with the urban growth area, the city plans to hunt for money to pay for improvements, including grants.

In the meantime, West Richland is working on the wine wastewater pretreatment facility to attract wine production businesses, since it's a major portion of the start-up costs of a winery.

Cascade Earth Sciences of Spokane is designing the facility, which will be built on an acre off Van Giesen Street north of the former raceway. Connole said the location will allow the plant to serve wineries in about a 500-acre area. The plant is being designed so its capacity can be easily expanded depending on demand.

The city plans to start construction in spring 2015, finishing in June 2015, Connole said. Ratepayers will share the cost of the facility.

West Richland has a low-interest $2 million public works trust fund loan that could help pay for the project. But the loan requires the project to be finished by September 2016.

-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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