Kennewick Planning Commission OKs zoning change for Columbia Drive

The Kennewick Planning Commission decided to recommend a zoning change for the north side of Columbia Drive in a 3-2 vote Monday.

The change would restrict the types of businesses in the area, and some auto-related businesses might not be allowed to open.

Some Columbia Drive business owners have expressed concerns about the restrictions. Commissioner Raymond Hui, who voted for the change, said those concerns should be answered before the Kennewick City Council takes a vote.

Ken Williamson, owner of John's Auto Mart, which has been in business on Columbia Drive for about 55 years, asked the city to slow the process down so property owners can get more involved.

"We are all for revitalization on Columbia Drive," said Williamson, who has been involved in planning efforts for what has been dubbed the Bridge to Bridge, River to Rail area.

Williamson said he agrees that warehouses, laydown yards and truck stops aren't something they want to see. But there has been confusion, with new information presented during Monday's public meeting that hadn't been discussed with him before.

The city council will consider changing the general commercial zoning, a hybrid of industrial and commercial uses, to commercial community in the area between Columbia Drive and the Columbia River and the blue and cable bridges after holding a second public hearing July 1.

It is an interim step to changes that can be expected with the adoption next year of the bridge to bridge, river to trail plan. This is the northern half of the overall bridge to bridge area, said Greg McCormick, the city's planning director.

The overall plan calls for an "auto row" with auto and RV sales and repair shops on Columbia Drive between Fruitland Street and Highway 395, McCormick said. It also calls for different levels of mixed-use zoning.

The commercial community zoning does allow for auto sales and detailing and mechanic services, but it would mean some of the standalone auto service shops would be nonconforming uses, McCormick said.

Those nonconforming uses will be grandfathered in as long as the use is not abandoned for more than six months, McCormick said.

Richard Mathews, owner of Mathews Auto Body, said he understands the grandfather clauses, but he gets concerned when words like "future rezoning" and "the bigger picture" are tossed around.

McCormick said staff would have liked to slow the process down as well, but was only given a short period of time because the city council approved a 90-day moratorium in mid-April on building permits for new projects on properties between Columbia Drive and the Columbia River and the blue and cable bridges to allow for the rezone. Staff had requested six months.

The zone change is part of the city and Port of Kennewick's efforts to inspire the beginnings of a boutique wine village on Columbia Drive.

Larry Peterson, Port of Kennewick planning and development director, said the zoning change is one of many needed to implement the overall plan to revitalize the Columbia Drive area and recapture the city's waterfront.

The port and city are working to jump-start a boutique wine village at Columbia Gardens, about six acres of port-owned land in the middle of Columbia Drive that used to be the home of Beaver Furniture and the Chieftain Apartments.

The city will build a wine wastewater treatment and finish the trail around Duffy's Pond, while the port plans to prepare two buildings, one for boutique wineries and one for art incubator space.

Officials said they hope to have the facility and the first building for boutique wineries ready by crush in 2015.

-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com