Is there room for low-income housing at Kennewick’s waterfront?

The Port of Kennewick’s efforts to revitalize a stretch of the downtown waterfront are being called into doubt over a last-minute addition to the concept: low-income housing.

The port wants to incorporate low-income and other supportive housing at The Willows, the 6.55-acre former manufactured home site on Clover Island Drive, near the Columbia River and Duffy’s Pond.

In late May, the port agreed to collaborate with the Kennewick Housing Authority on a $2.4 million application to the federal Build Back Better program to install infrastructure at The Willows, which has been a trailhead parking lot near Columbia Drive East since the manufactured homes were removed.

It is unclear if the partnership will come to fruition. The Biden administration and Republican leadership were negotiating the size of the package when discussions collapsed in early June, leaving its future in limbo.

Nevertheless, the port envisions a partnership that would commit it to supporting residential development catering to individuals and families in transition from poverty following the pandemic, seniors and homeless and at-risk veterans. It also would have four level-two electric vehicle charging stations.

The port is not committing additional funds to match the hoped-for grant. Instead, it committed the $24 million it already spent to improve Clover Island and create the Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village. The Willows connects to Clover Island by way of a causeway and to Columbia Gardens by way of a paved path along Duffy’s Pond.

Commission Chair Don Barnes and Commissioner Tom Moak, who also serves on the Kennewick Housing Authority Board, voted to support the Housing Authority partnership. Moak noted the port doesn’t have money to install the water, sewer, power and other utilities the site needs to develop.

Commissioner Skip Novakovich, who said it is an inappropriate use of high-value real estate, abstained and later asked the commission to consider rescinding the resolution.

The decision has complicated the port’s attempt to win support for its master plan to guide development in what it calls the Kennewick Historic Waterfront. The plan is meant as a high-level guide for future development of the port-owned properties, including Clover Island, The Willows, Columbia Gardens and Cable Greens at the foot of the cable bridge.

Broadly, it guides commercial and recreational development, with nods to residential uses on all four sites.

A June 8 hearing about the master plan served as an outlet for supporters and opponents to weigh in.

Three area business leaders agree the Tri-Cities needs more affordable housing and support city-led efforts to develop property on East 10th Street. The Willows isn’t the right spot, they said.

Lampson International, the heavy-lift crane company, has been in business at its Columbia River waterfront site for 75 years. The company and the family that owns it appreciates the positive changes taking place, said Kate Lampson.

The Willows is not the right location for residences, she said.

Mark Blotz, general manager and partner of the Clover Island Inn, said low-income housing is the wrong use for the island’s gateway. The inn brings in tourists, pays taxes and has more than 50 employees and a $1 million-plus payroll, he noted.

“I strongly feel it should not be at the entrance to Clover Island. I would hate to see us go backwards,” he said.

Carrie Lundgren, a real estate agent, and her husband, Doug, bought Cedars Restaurant on Clover Island in 2019. Carrie called The Willows prime real estate that should be developed with recreation in mind to bring the community to the neighborhood.

Supporters note the master plan contemplates residential development on the waterfront. Affordability should be part of the calculation, they said.

Kirk Williamson of the Benton Franklin Health Alliance noted the “crying need” for affordable housing across the Tri-Cities.

The mixed-income Willows vision is something the alliance would support, he said.

Final approval of the waterfront master plan is pending a review of the public comments by Makers, the port’s consultant.

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