Kennewick commission backs river district action plan

KENNEWICK — A redevelopment action plan for Kennewick's river frontage district between the bridges received unanimous support Monday from the city's planning commission.

The plan, calling for mixed-use along Columbia Drive, incorporating retail and pedestrian-friendly storefronts, with business and residential allowed on upper levels, will head to the Kennewick City Council on Feb. 8 based on the commission's 6-0 vote.

But the recommendation may not have the endorsement of the Port of Kennewick, which wants more flexibility in the standards that call for virtually all parking that isn't on the street to be incorporated with structures, not on lots.

Larry Peterson, port director of planning and development, said requiring parking structures with retail on the ground level is too costly.

"It just doesn't pencil," he said, insisting that land values in the bridge-to-bridge area can't justify parking in multi-story buildings.

The port owns large properties in the area, including land containing Duffy's Pond, and has its own ideas for redevelopment.

Peterson said that instead of focusing mostly on street-level retail, the river frontage district should have wineries, micro-breweries and distilleries, which would "bring an interesting funky quality."

The port also has asked that some of its properties be excluded from being "catalyst projects."

Consultant Tom Beckwith, who prepared the plan, came up with the idea of having developers submitting competing proposals as potential projects on several key properties in the river frontage area. He called them "catalyst projects" because they would spark further development.

But Peterson said the port wasn't interested in having its property be one of the catalytic properties.

"What's the hangup?" asked Chairman Bob Spaulding. "Do you just want to do your own thing?"

Peterson said the port and the consultant "got sideways" months ago, and "it's affected our view of the plan."

Spaulding said he wanted to hear specifics, not personality issues.

Beckwith suggested the port's desire to develop the Duffy's Pond property, which is one of the catalytic areas, could be an issue because it calls for surface area parking.

"When you use surface parking you get stuck with it. Once you underachieve, you're underachieving from then on," Beckwith said.

Commissioners sided with Beckwith.

Commissioner Richard Rasp said the bridge-to-bridge plan was the best prepared one he had seen. "It impresses me we've got the standards stated up front. That's not what happened with Southridge," he said.

Prior to calling for a vote, Spaulding said the plan was a chance to create what the Tri-Cities needs -- a true urban place.

"This stretches this community. We can create what the people long for, but we really have to stretch to get there. This is about using public dollars to attract private dollars," he said.

Six people spoke during the public comment period in favor of the plan.

One of them, Kennewick businessman Ken Silliman, said he hoped the river frontage area improvements would come soon, but it must have the city and the port working together.

"I look forward to this, so don't screw it up," he told them.

* John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com