Prosser sees spike in residential construction

 Rolls of blueprints for new buildings – including a $78 million hospital complex – and plans for new developments are piled on chairs and tables in the Prosser Building Department’s temporary office.

Steve Zetz, Prosser’s community development director, said there’s a lot of work ahead for his team, pointing to the packages recently delivered to his office filled with thick plans from PMH Health for its replacement hospital.

The hospital project is just one sign of increasing development in Prosser.

Residential growth has exploded in the Benton County seat.

“The word is getting around that it’s a nice place to live,” said Mayor Randy Taylor.

Prosser saw 2,461% growth in the number of applications for new subdivision lots in the past five years. They totaled 461 mostly residential lots in 2021, compared to 307 the previous year. In 2019, 2018 and 2017 there were fewer than 45 applications for new lots.

“Nothing has been typical in the past year,” said Zetz, who has worked for the city for 15 years.

Residential boom

The demand for Prosser housing is growing, Zetz said. He chalks it up to multiple reasons, including growing pains in the Tri-Cities prompting would-be homeowners to seek out the quieter suburb of Prosser.

Zetz drives 20 minutes to work from his Benton City home (he couldn’t find one in Prosser when his family was looking, he said) and noted the significant uptick of traffic during the 5 a.m. commute in both lanes of Interstate 82.

He said his office fields calls from all over the region: Oregon and west side retirees and those working remotely who want to be in a smaller town close to bigger cities. California residents cashing out after selling their 1,400-square-foot home, wanting to buy a bigger place for half the price.

“We send out 2,500 utility bills a month. We’re talking about adding 1,000 more in the next 12 to 18 months. It’s dramatically changing everything we do,” Taylor said.

Residential, commercial and public construction can be found in all corners of the city.

Prosser School District’s 2017 voter-approved bond for $69 million included several projects, including a new $60 million high school, completed last year, and renovating Keene-Riverview, Prosser Heights and Whitstran elementary schools.

Off Old Inland Empire Highway is the proposed four-phase 154-lot Mustang Estates, the name a nod to Prosser High’s mascot, along with River Road Residence at South Nunn Road and North River Road, with more than 50 lots; Arabella West off Hoisington Road with 154 lots; and more in the pipeline.

Homes are under construction at Red Blend Villas, a 55-and-older community off South Kinney Way. Neighborhood amenities include 19 lots with a common area, featuring an off-leash dog park, barbecue picnic area, outdoor fireplace, gazebo and pickleball court, according to the developer’s website.

Not far from the I-82 rest stop, a three-story commercial building is taking shape, just a parking lot away from Starbucks on Merlot Drive. The first floor will be for commercial, with two floors of apartments above.

Zetz expects the apartments to fill up fast once built. “There’s demand for every level of housing,” he said. “And not everyone can afford a mortgage.”

Protecting Prosser’s hillside

The Horse Heaven Hills rising to Prosser’s southern border provide a picturesque backdrop to the city that’s home to 6,200 people. And Zetz wants to keep it that way.

“Unlike the Tri-Cities, we don’t want developments on top of our hills,” he said. 

He gets animated talking about the city’s desire to protect the hillside, what the city calls a “cultural asset” in its 20-year Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2018. The planning document aims to guide future development.

Construction is underway on the 289-lot Bella Vista development at the foothills of the Horse Heaven Hills off Highway 22 in Prosser. (Photo by Kristina Lord )

When the city began to put the plan together, Zetz wanted to get input from Prosser’s future citizens, so he asked Prosser High School students to weigh in. They identified the hillside as a resource to be preserved for hiking trails and other recreation. They shared concerns about future housing and windmill development and “encouraged plans to preserve the area for their future children.”

Including their voices and vision in the planning process earned the city the governor’s Smart Vision award in 2019, a crystal trophy Zetz displays proudly on his desk.

Zetz drove through the Bella Vista development at the foothills of the Horse Heaven Hills off Highway 22 on a recent day and pointed out a newly-built gravel trail snaking up the hill. He praised the developers for agreeing to build the trail to the top in exchange for the city allowing higher density lot sizes at lower elevations. Bella Vista is a 289-lot project being built in six phases.

“We want to preserve our hillsides,” he said.

North of I-82

As the housing projects take shape around Prosser, the city’s attention is beginning to turn north of I-82.

Contractors are working to bore six feet under the interstate to place a 36-inch diameter steel casing. 

Inside will be home to 16-inch water, 14-inch sewer and 6-inch Benton REA conduit lines – the veins needed to pump life into future developments on the far side of the highway. It’s expected to be completed by late spring.

Funding for this $2.3 million project comes from the Benton County Rural County Capital Fund, a fund is fueled by Washington’s 0.09% sales tax rebate to local governments.

The marquee project to anchor future growth on this side of the highway will no doubt be the new Prosser Memorial Hospital complex. PMH Health expects to break ground on 33 acres this spring.

A 58-lot residential development, Wamba Meadows, is planned next door.

“My goal is to let Prosser grow. If you’re not growing, you’re dying – but we still want to maintain the small-town charm,” Taylor said.

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