A controversial 203-home subdivision planned for the crest of Little Badger Mountain hits the Richland City Council on Tuesday.
Developer Mark Bauder secured approval from the city hearing examiner for Westcliffe Heights, a housing development on 140 acres overlooking the Tri-Cities, earlier this month.
The council will consider the plan, which has drawn criticism from neighbors, when it meets Tuesday, first in a pre-meeting session at 6:30 p.m. and then in regular session at 7 p.m. The city hall complex is at 505 Swift Blvd.
Neighbors don’t fear the new homes as much as the links it will provide to El Rancho Reata, a 750-home neighborhood on the Kennewick side of the hill. They argue the city and developer haven’t properly planned for accommodating drivers seeking a shorter route between western Kennewick and south Richland.
Homes prices at the crest start at about $500,000, with prices rising as sharply as the elevation.
The Bauder project will extend Queensgate Road over the “saddle” or top of Little Badger to the existing Westcliffe neighborhood to the north. The extension does not extend to Keene Boulevard. Neighbors fear the gap will disperse traffic onto residential streets.
Craig Whiteley of the Crested Hills Homeowners Association is leading a neighborhood campaign to convince the city council to complete the arterial at full city standards before allowing the subdivision to proceed. Area residents welcome the development but not the patchwork of new street connections between subdivisions.
“We’re not anti-development,” he said. “It really has the potential to change the migration path of many, many people in south Richland.”
Most drivers are expected to use the Queensgate Road extension. But some could detour on Morency Drive. Morency links the Falconcrest and Crested Hills neighborhoods near summit to the Gage Boulevard and Keene corridor. It rises 510 feet through a series of sharp switchbacks..
If even a small fraction of the new traffic uses Morency, it could increase traffic through the two residential neighborhoods by seven to eight times, Whiteley said.
Local streets aren’t equipped for that sort of traffic, and Morency’s steep grade coupled with difficult sight lines is a thorny issue.
A transportation consultant working for the project said the fears are unfounded.
Kittelson & Associates Inc. analyzed routing options and concluded that it does not need to extend Queensgate to Keene to serve the project.
Kittelson concluded that Queensgate as well as Leslie and Rachel will operate well under capacity. Gary McLean, the hearing examiner, highlighted the point in his exhaustive 60-part recommendation that the city council approve Bauder’s request for a preliminary plat for Westcliffe Heights.
Whiteley acknowledged the council will likely accept the examiner’s recommendation but will ask it to improve the situation by requiring that Queensgate be built to city standards rather than rural, limiting the connection to Falconcrest to emergency vehicles and holding off connecting El Rancho Reata until Queensgate is complete.
“We want the city to develop smartly, and to create infrastructure first,” he said.
Bauder submitted an application for the project in February, and the city issued a determination of nonsignificance for grading on March 7. Eighteen neighbors testified at the May 4 hearing for a plat approval before the examiner.
The Little Badger development isn’t the only controversial subject in front of the council this week.
The council will consider approving an alignment for Rachel Road that would carry the the controversial extension across the Amon Creek Natural Preserve between Steptoe Street and Leslie Road in south Richland. The city is set to choose Alignment G, which would connect Rachel Road at Leslie Road and Lorayne J Boulevard at the preserve’s southern end, adjacent to BNSF tracks.