City of West Richland: City may hold key to Tri-City home shortage

As a city that doesn’t rely on sales tax revenue to fuel much of its budget, West Richland had an unexpected boost from the Covid-19 pandemic: more people began ordering online, sending “destination-oriented” sales tax revenue to the city’s coffers.

“When you’re not dependent on sales tax, it’s actually benefited the city,” said Eric Mendenhall, West Richland’s community development manager.

This influx resulted in a 22% increase between January and July, totaling about $50,000, compared to the same time last year. It will help offset a potential shortfall in the motor vehicle excise tax, one of the main revenue sources of its street fund.

“Depending on how bad and/or how early winter hits, the street fund may be OK, said Erin Gwinn, accounting manager for West Richland. “We are prepared to use general fund money in the event there is more demand than collected. The general fund has collected sufficient additional sales tax for this to happen.”

West Richland runs on a $68 million budget for the 2019-20 biennium and was working on finalizing the 2020-21 budget as summer 2020 wound down. It is continuing to focus on steady residential growth and the property tax revenue that comes with it.

“We’re dependent on property tax and that hasn’t changed,” Mendenhall said.

Homebuilding explosion

The homebuilding explosion in West Richland includes 200 permits for single-family homes expected to come online soon, pending final plat approval.

Compare this to the typical issuance of just over 100 permits approved annually, on average, for single-family homes in the city.

West Richland estimates 2.5 residents at each lot, giving the upcoming development the ability to add 3% to the city’s total population and contributing to a citizen count currently listed at 15,726. In the past 10 years, the city’s population has grown 33%, according to state population estimates.

An additional 75 multifamily units also are in the initial phase and building permits soon will be made available for those.

“Another 118 lots could also come online before the end of the year,” Mendenhall said.

Just over half are for Pasco’s Aho Construction, which is behind the largest residential development ever approved by West Richland.

Over the next decade, and 10 total phases, the builder will add nearly 600 homes to the Heights at Red Mountain Ranch development, off Keene Road, with Ruppert Road to the north.

With homes ranging from 1,500 square feet to 3,000 square feet and prices starting at $285,000 for the neighborhood at the base of Red Mountain, the total buildout by Aho is expected to increase the city’s population by 15%.

“They’re pretty much closing on a home every day their real estate office is open,” Mendenhall said. “They took down phase 1 and 2 with 105 (lots). I imagine when they get halfway through, they’re going to be applying for final plat for the next phase. They could be taking them down two (phases) at a time, maybe one at a time, depending on how the economy goes.”

New neighborhoods also are expected from Viking Homes, which recently paid $1.6 million for 84 acres on a property known as Sand Hill at North Harrington Road and Twin Bridges Road. The city is expecting 175 homes to be built there. A representative with Viking Homes said the project isn’t likely to begin in 2021 due to off-site issues, including utility access, and predicted the first phase would begin in 2022 with 30 to 50 homes, resulting in a four-year buildout. 

“You’ve got all of this residential coming here. Once grocery stores and other retail see the rooftops, they’re going to be pushing to get here and locate their businesses here,” Mendenhall said.

Commercial projects

Averaging just a handful of commercial business building permits a year, “I am anticipating a lot of commercial interests coming out, and they already are out and kicking tires on properties in the Belmont Business District especially,” he said.

The area near the city’s municipal services building is expected to soon see a convenience store and possibly a Firehouse Subs restaurant.

Sun Pacific Energy pitched the project to Firehouse Subs’ corporate office with the possibility of a car wash or coffee stand also included.

“We have our fingers crossed,” said Jarrod Franson, Sun Pacific’s operations manager. “The whole area has taken off. We see the future mapped out in that part of West Richland.”

Benton Fire District 4’s new Station 430, 8031 Keene Road, West Richland. (Photo by Scott Butner Photography)

Besides Leona Libby Middle School, the Belmont Business District also is home to one of the Richland School District’s newest construction projects, the Teaching, Learning, and Administration Center, which will move from central Richland when construction wraps for the project off Keene Road.

The district also owns acreage nearby intended for a future high school and will open a new elementary school on Sunshine Avenue once it is finished being used as a temporary site for other schools under construction.

There is no confirmed completion date for the new Tapteal Elementary that is being rebuilt following some delays. “We eagerly await its completion,” said Ty Beaver, district spokesman.

A decade ago, West Richland had 4,000 fewer residents than it does today.

The Richland School District, serving both Richland and West Richland, has developed four projects within the city’s borders since 2017.

“West Richland has a lot of growth and (the Richland School District) wants to be present here,” Mendenhall said.

The increase in residents is driven by the continued appetite for new construction and an ongoing home shortage in the Tri-Cities, currently averaging 400 homes on the market daily.

Too, the city has racked up honors for livability, including a 2017 report from WalletHub.com that called West Richland the No. 1 place to raise a family in Washington.

“West Richland remains a very attractive place to live,” Mendenhall said. Most recently, it was named the second-safest in Washington by Home Security Advisor in 2020, based on total crimes.

The added interest and growing population has required the city to continue planning for future growth by improving its current infrastructure, supporting efforts to study the roundabout at Keene Road and Bombing Range Road, now frequently used by the growing Badger Mountain South development just beyond West Richland’s city limits.

The roundabout was built 20 years ago to accommodate 20 years of growth.

The city also started the process to create a “complete street” of a roughly three-mile portion of Highway 224/Van Giesen Street beginning at the U.S. Post Office and going west to Red Mountain Road.

The state kicked in funding for design work that would add sidewalks, curbs and gutters, bike lanes and turn lanes for buses.

The project is unfunded and it’s only a short distance away from the last of the holdings at the old City Hall properties, with the final purchase and sale agreement in place for the former bank building.

An engineering firm is expected to fill the space on Van Giesen Street.

The city’s police department is leasing back its building while plans are underway to construct a new headquarters for the department at the Tri-City Raceway property.

A design-build team was recently hired as a cost-savings tool and it’s likely building permits will be submitted before the end of the year.

“Under normal procurement, you hire an architecture or engineering firm to design the building, and then they hand it off to a builder, and then when the builder gets into it. If there are problems with the engineering or architecture, now you’ve got a change order, and if there are a lot of those that come up, it drives your costs up. Having them together, they work together through that design process so that it reduces those overruns and saves the city and its citizens a lot,” Mendenhall said.

The police department building is on track to be completed by the end of 2021. Voters approved a bond to pay for the project in 2019. The project is valued at $12.5 million.

A renewed interest in the former Tri-City Raceway includes using it for racing or turning it into an event center. The property is not listed for sale.

“The city is working through some plans internally of how they need to utilize a portion of the property and then determine how we want to move forward with marketing the site,” said Rob Ellsworth, managing broker for SVN | Retter & Company.

While some groups are looking at restarting racing there, Mendenhall said, “We’re seeing how viable the race track is for tourism and any economic development, but we’re not closing the door to any opportunities that may exist.”

As with other cities, West Richland is anxious to hear results of the 2020 census, yet already knows the upcoming year will bring hundreds of homes and residents to its city, a trend likely to continue for years to come.

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