A statewide land advocacy group has appealed a recent decision by Benton County commissioners to expand the city of Kennewick’s urban growth area for industrial development.
Futurewise is asking the state Growth Management Hearings Board to rule that 1,263 acres south of Interstate 82 and west of Highway 395 should be protected as valuable agricultural land.
The advocacy group also is asking the board to overturn the February decision by Benton County commissioners and conclude that the urban growth area expansion violates the state Growth Management Act, according to the petition. The decision process can take 180 days.
Kennewick officials see the expansion as a way to solve the city’s shortage of industrial land available for development and to bring more jobs into the community. They hope to market it to a range of companies, from Department of Energy contractors to telecom and data providers, electrical storage centers, medical research companies, and manufacturing, warehousing and regional distribution businesses.
Benton County Commission Chairman Jim Beaver said the city of Kennewick has a strong case for the urban growth area expansion and a good chance of prevailing with the state board.
The urban growth area expansion could create jobs that will be needed as Hanford cleanup work winds down, he said.
Tim Trohimovich, Futurewise planning and law director, said his group believes the land meets the state and county criteria for agricultural lands of long-term significance and should be kept in agriculture.
Kennewick Mayor Steve Young told the Herald that Futurewise’s appeal is disappointing. It is clear the group fails to understand Eastern Washington, he said.
“This is land that is just sitting there,” he said. “There are no crops. There is no farming. This is another move by Futurewise to prevent cities from growing and creating a future.”
The majority landowner, John Christensen, told Benton County commissioners in January that it’s no longer profitable as farmland. He and fellow landowners have turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program, where land is taken out of farm production in exchange for an annual payment. But most of the land will be out of the program by the end of this year and will become idle.
Trohimovich countered that there is nothing that requires land to have irrigation in order to be considered valuable farmland. The landowner could farm as dryland or try to get water.
Trohimovich also argued that the city has more than enough vacant land within its boundaries for industrial development, with some land just north of I-82 that could be targeted for industrial development instead.
But Carl Adrian, Tri-City Development Council’s president and CEO, said plentiful industrial land in the Tri-Cities is a common misconception, and there really isn’t that much available.
Some land is already spoken for, Adrian said. Richland has maybe 100 acres that is contiguous, while Pasco has about 400.
Kennewick doesn’t really have any, Adrian said. While there is some industrially zoned land, it’s either adjacent to homes, has a slope or topography that wouldn’t work, or lacks adequate access and infrastructure.
The expanded urban growth area would provide something the Tri-Cities does not already have, Adrian said.
Companies that TRIDEC would deal with for land like what the expanded area offers don’t have to bring their business to the Tri-Cities, Adrian said. They have choices.
“All industrial land is not created equal,” he said.
The property is flat, next to I-82 and has access to utilities, said Evelyn Lusignan, the city’s customer service manager. The city already has a plan to expand water and sewer service to the urban growth area. The city has received a $1 million state grant for road access.
Kennewick City Manager Marie Mosley said the city will continue to move forward with the urban growth area expansion.
“The UGA expansion is the right thing to do for our community to achieve the council’s goals of expanding economic development opportunities and job creation,” she said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com