Kennewick's play to get more industrial land gained ground this week in the state Legislature.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland would allow Kennewick to apply to Benton County to expand its urban growth area boundary south of Interstate 82 without waiting for the next application cycle in 2013.
It also would remove a Growth Management Act criteria tying applications to population projects.
"This is our ability to replace Hanford jobs," said Marie Mosley, Kennewick city manager.
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The special purpose legislation would allow Kennewick to apply to expand its urban growth area for the sole purpose of attracting industrial growth and the jobs it would bring, she said.
The bill, which made it out of a Senate committee, calls for modifying the Growth Management Act in Benton County so that the city can apply to modify its urban growth area boundary more often than every five years, which is set by county regulation.
Mosley said applying every year would be an improvement, but the Growth Management Act also requires that 20-year population projections also be considered when expanding urban growth areas.
Delvin's legislation would relax the 20-year population projection rule, allowing economic need -- or jobs created by industrial development -- to trigger expanding the city's urban growth area.
Kennewick officials have been concerned for years about the city's low inventory of industrially zoned land. Delvin's bill may open the way to stake out new territory.
Without a change in the law, Kennewick's next opportunity to apply for more land in its urban growth area would be 2013.
Mayor Steve Young testified Jan. 16 in Olympia that city officials are eyeing hundreds of dryland wheat farming acres south of I-82, just west of Highway 395, for industrial development.
Young said three potential industrial developers were turned away in recent years because the city's 71 acres of industrially zoned land -- about half of which is railroad property -- was far short of the 100-acre sites the developers needed.
Young told the committee that the bill is more about creating jobs than expanding city limits.
"Our only hope for job creation is south of Interstate 82. We want this quickly to further entice businesses to come in," he testified.
The mayor said distribution centers and high-tech businesses would find the site perfect because it is where I-82 and Highway 395 meet, and water and sewer infrastructure are readily available.
Mosley said the dryland wheat acres are suitable for industrial development because they are flat. That is not a characteristic of the Southridge area, north of I-82, where residential and commercial development is occurring.
Mosley also noted that Southridge and other areas of the city have the room to accommodate whatever growth may be associated with adding an industrial area.
Greg McCormick, Kennewick planning director, testified at the Senate committee hearing that county staff have given a lukewarm reception to the legislation.
Susan Walker, Benton County senior planner, said the planning staff's main objection to the Senate bill is where it gives only 120 days for the county to process an application.
That's not enough time if more than one application occurred at the same time, she said.
"That would be tough," Walker said.
But that 120-day provision will change in an amended version of the bill, Mosley said.
Another problem involves existing agricultural use of the land Kennewick envisions as an industrial landscape. It is classified in the Growth Management Act as agricultural, Walker said.
"We have to figure out how to get that out of GMA ag, which means we have to determine that the soil and sun (attributes) are not suitable for agriculture," she said.
County commissioner Leo Bowman said the bill only will change the frequency at which the county will receive applications, but the county will retain its ability to even deny consideration of the applications.
However, Bowman said the county is not opposed to Kennewick's proposal to double its industrial land.
Richland Mayor John Fox said he supports expanding Kennewick's industrial land, noting that Richland and Pasco have more than Kennewick.
w Eric Francavilla, a Herald intern from Washington State University, contributed to the report.