The irrigation systems that once watered corn, potatoes and alfalfa near Pasco’s Chiawana High School have been pulled aside.
The final cutting has been baled and abandoned in place, moldering quietly on 230 acres of state-owned land south of Interstate 182 and north, roughly, of the new high school.
In November, the Washington Department of Natural Lands will sell the property in five pieces through an auction. All are zoned for residential development. At full build out, the former crop circles could yield 1,000 new homes.
The state agency authorized the sale Sept. 6, but a Pasco auctioneer has been marketing it for months.
Scott Musser of Pasco-based Musser Bros. Auctions and Real Estate is touting the DNR land as a blank canvas for developers to create something special, perhaps a planned community. The state agency manages 5.6 million acres in Washington that collectively generate $200 million for public schools.
“This is a farm in the middle of town, not just any town but the fastest growing town and county in the Northwest,” Musser said
The state has owned and leased the Pasco land for more than a century, but explosive growth in the past decade changed the economics. Once surrounded by open space, the land is surrounded by city. Farming is no longer the most profitable use.
DNR pegs the market value at $5.5 million in its current undeveloped state. It will replace the property with other income-producing real estate.
The property will be sold as bare land, devoid of major infrastructure.
The five parcels are zoned for residential development of varying density. One 38-acre section is zoned for multifamily, meaning apartments. About 150 acres are zoned for medium density residential development, meaning about 4.5 homes per acre. The final 30-acre parcel would allow about 3.5 homes per acre.
“It is a really a spectacular opportunity,” Musser said.
Musser said it’s likely that the winning buyer or buyers will tweak the zoning to accommodate parks and possibly some retail. Chapel Hill and Road 76 will connect at the center of the property, and could be a natural place for professional offices or a coffee shop.
The auction, which begins at 1 p.m. Nov. 17, comes as Tri-City home builders race to keep up with demand for housing sparked by an economy that has racked up 40 consecutive months of growth and its attractiveness to retire3es.
An average of 11.38 homes sold every day in 2015, 10 percent more than a decade ago. Over the same period, the median price rose nearly 32 percent to $204,000, according to the Tri-City Association of Realtors.
Jeff Losey, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, said builders struggle with a shortage of developable lots at a time when demand for new homes is soaring. Mid-Columbia cities and counties collectively issued 963 single family permits in the first eight months of 2016, 21 percent more than the 791 permits issued in the same period a year earlier.
“It will help our market,” he said.
The DNR land is a welcome addition but it could be years before the first resident moves in.
The land will have to be subdivided with streets and infrastructure installed. Still, home builders are scrapping for sites.
Mid-Columbia cities and counties permitted 963 single-family homes in the first eight months of 2016, a pace that’s 21 percent ahead of 2015.
Richland’s Badger Mountain South development is a notable exception, though Losey said home builders have been reluctant to embrace it because of energy efficiency requirements, mixed-use design rules and other restrictions.
The state is retaining a smaller site near the crop circles that’s zoned for commercial development. It intends to offer that property to developers under long-term land leases, an arrangement Pasco officials say is curbing development in the city’s fast-growing Road 68 area.