West Richland to try to include raceway in urban growth area

West Richland again will try to include the former Tri-City Raceway property in the city's urban growth area as part of a short-term effort to address an approaching shortage of available land.

On Tuesday, the city council unanimously approved asking Benton County to amend the city's urban growth area to include the 92 acres.

The council also unanimously decided to investigate moving some portion of the Lewis & Clark Ranch and other agricultural land out of the city's urban growth area via a boundary line adjustment.

That is needed because property owners plan to keep the land in agricultural uses. Having that land in the city's urban growth area is preventing the city from adding land that could be developed into homes and businesses.

Councilman Brent Gerry said it is in the city's best interest to ask to include the raceway property now, then work toward a boundary line adjustment.

That will allow West Richland to start economic development at the raceway property in partnership with the Port of Kennewick, he said.

The city and port have plans to develop a cutting-edge winery effluent treatment plant to make the former Tri-City Raceway -- near the proposed Red Mountain interchange on Interstate 82 -- even more attractive for wineries.

West Richland has a low-interest $2 million public works trust fund loan that could help pay for the project. But the loan requires the project to be finished by September 2016.

And utilities already are extended to the edge of the port-owned property, which port officials say is poised for wine-related development including manufacturing, warehousing and a wine village. But the greatest potential economic impact can only occur if the land is in the city's urban growth area.

To accompany the urban growth area expansion application, the city council also unanimously approved spending about $30,000 to have J-U-B Engineers update the capital facilities plan to serve the raceway property with utilities and transportation.

Part of the former raceway's potential is because of the Kennewick Irrigation District's efforts to bring Yakima River water to up to 1,785 acres of prime wine-grape-growing land on Red Mountain by next summer.

Benton County would like to see an application for an urban growth area expansion by mid-November, said Ruth Swain, the city's community and economic development director.

West Richland applied in 2007 to expand its urban growth area but was denied, in part because the city has a large amount of active farmland in its urban growth area.

On paper, it looks like West Richland has a plentiful supply of available land, said Jason Robertson of J Robertson and Co. of Olympia. What that doesn't take into account is that much of the land is in long-term agriculture use.

In reality, the city has a deficit of about 300 acres for residential development in 2035, Robertson said. As for commercial and industrial, the city needs to come up with another 150 acres to meet 20-year growth projections.

And that is if the current pace of slow commercial and industrial development continues, he said.

While adding the former raceway property will help, it will not be enough for the city's long-term needs, Robertson said.

"We have a little room before it becomes a crisis," he said. "But as you know, everything takes time."

That's why the city needs to talk with property owners to determine whether they would be willing to have some or all of their property return to the county, Robertson said.

Then the city can be ready in three or four years to move forward to consider another urban growth area request towards the proposed Red Mountain interchange to address the long-term needs, Gerry said.