WARRENTON — The 19-acre collection of single-family homes and gravel side streets wedged between U.S. Highway 101 and state Highway 104 presents an opportunity for centralized development out of the tsunami inundation zone in Warrenton.
But amid a lukewarm reception, the city is struggling on how to plan for the future of the neighborhood, avoid exacerbating surrounding traffic and appease neighbors chafing at potential new restrictions on their property.
The City Commission previously voted to allow higher-density commercial mixed-use development to spur development. But with concerns about traffic issues in areas like the North Coast Retail Center, the commission required a master plan for the neighborhood, paid for with urban renewal funds.
After a weeklong open house to gather feedback, Kevin Cronin, the city’s community development director, presented a master plan proposal to the Planning Commission that would set parameters under which the neighborhood would develop. The overlay zone envisioned a mix of commercial property, varying densities of housing, public spaces, trails and improved streets. Rather than requirements of where things should go, Cronin proposed prescriptive caps on the number of homes and square footage of commercial space.
But commissioners, worried the plan would restrict property rights without directly addressing traffic, tabled the issue until their next meeting Nov. 14.
“I understand the intent of the overlay, but I don’t see the root of the issue being addressed,” Commissioner Ryan Lampi said. “It’s tough for me to restrict development based on a fear of the unknown, and we have rules … and codes in place to limit development and do the proper traffic studies.”
Commissioner Ken Yuill, who owns about one-fifth of the developable land in the Spur 104 area, has recused himself from voting on the issue. But he acted as the voice of about 25 property owners in the neighborhood who have been reticent to attend Planning Commission meetings.
A resident there since the 1960s, Yuill has seen the neighborhood evolve from woods and the site of a proposed aluminum plant into a retail center, with Home Depot visible from his backyard. He helped push for the expansion of sewer service to Spur 104 in the 2000s and the zoning change to commercial mixed-use.
But residents, each with various ideas for their properties, wonder how the city will site and pay for parks and infrastructure improvements, and what will happen to their property rights if development in the neighborhood bumps up against proposed caps.
“The whole aspect is that people were going to be more restricted on what they can do with their property,” he said. “People don’t like the restrictions.”
Yuill said he understands the need to plan out the neighborhood, but shared Lampi’s opinion that the overlay zone does nothing to directly address potential traffic issues. He and others have pushed for system development charges to pay for recommended traffic improvements, such as a dedicated left-turn lane or three-way stop where Ensign Lane connects with Spur 104.
Locals have also pushed for a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 101 and Highway 104, although there is no state money for such an improvement, Cronin said. The conversation has focused more on how to improve the intersection of Ensign Lane and Highway 104.
Cronin said their are two options to address traffic: limit land uses as he suggests, or build your way out of the problem with infrastructure.
“That is much more costly than trying to limit the land use side,” he said of the latter. “And I don’t think I articulated that clearly enough at the last meeting.”
Warrenton has multiple overlays, such as one delineating development rules in the tsunami inundation zone. But Spur 104 would be the city’s first for a neighborhood.
Cronin estimates the city will spend around $100,000 in urban renewal funds on planning for the Spur 104 neighborhood, money that will be paid back through future property taxes. The city wants to see a return on its investment by maximizing people’s land value with good planning, he said.
“We want to put some parameters around how that (development) is going to happen, so we can create a very beautiful, unique neighborhood,” he said. “And that is a much different concept than me, as an individual property owner, just selling it off to the highest bidder and letting the next guy figure it out. So that’s the rub. It’s a hard jump for people to make.”
The master plan for Spur 104 will be an agenda item for the Planning Commission on Nov. 14, when Cronin said they must make a formal motion to deny or approve it with conditions and send the recommendation to the City Commission for review in December.