City of Pasco: Fast growing community is thinking big

Pasco grew by more than a third as 20,000 residents joined the city between 2010 and 2022.

With a current population estimated at 80,180, Pasco is nipping at Kennewick (population 85,320) and is among the fastest-growing communities in the state, according to the Washington Office of Financial Management.

Big growth brings big demand for jobs, housing, schools, civic infrastructure and recreation amenities just to keep up. Pasco is responding on all fronts with commercial and residential construction setting new records from one side of the city to the other.

“There’s a lot going on in Pasco right now,” said David Zabell, Pasco city manager.

Zabell, who retires in October, was speaking at grand opening ceremonies for Reser’s Fine Foods’ new 250,000-square-foot mashed potato processing plant on North Capitol Avenue.

During the ceremony, Reser’s officials noted construction had already started on a 70,000-square-foot addition, where it will produce potato and macaroni salads. The new plant replaces Reser’s 110,000-square-foot plant at the Pasco Processing Center, which is now for sale.

Reser’s expansion-upon-expansion is the kind of growth that could propel Pasco into more record-breaking development this year and next.

“Things are still very busy. We have permit value numbers that are comparable to 2021, except for industrial,” said Rick White, the city’s community and economic development director.

Industrial permit activity was only down in the first half of the year because 2021 was an outlier that saw permits issued for the two immense warehouses built for Amazon Inc. on South Road 40 East, near Sacajawea State Park, and for Reser’s.

It would take a lot to top that in 2022.

Amazingly enough, that’s likely to happen. Previously announced projects are being reviewed now, most notably Darigold Inc.’s $600 million milk-drying plant.

Darigold announced its intent to build in Pasco in 2021, but only broke ground in September 2022 and its grading and foundation permits were pending. A vendor will build a cold storage facility on its property to support Darigold, which promises to be a large project on its own.

The $36 million Lewis Street overpass, which replaces the outdated and dangerous underpass that runs below the BNSF Railway line, began in mid-2021 and is expected to open to traffic in fall 2023. (Photo by Scott Butner Photography)

Local Bounti, a Montana ag tech startup, resumed site work for its $40 million greenhouse complex, where it will grow lettuce and herbs for the fresh produce market. It began the project in the spring, but paused it to focus on a merger with a competitor. The Pasco project has been redesigned, according to company statements, but officials couldn’t be reached to comment on how they have changed.

The city also expects to authorize permits for an industrial complex with eight buildings totaling 2.1 million square feet near the Amazon warehouses this year. Tarragon, the Seattle-based developer, indicated it expected to begin initial construction by spring 2023.

And that is just industrial development.

Residential subdivisions, retail plazas, apartment complexes and an ambitious infrastructure update at Road 100-Broadmoor Boulevard are keeping city planners busy. White said the city handles the workload with a mix of in-house staff and contractors.

Residential development

Homebuilding has slowed across the Mid-Columbia and Pasco is no exception. Pasco issued 183 permits for single- family homes through August, down nearly half from its five-year average of 342 over the same period.

But that only tells part of the story. Interest rates are rising, to the detriment of homebuyers. But the Tri-Cities is growing and has a long-standing housing shortage. Development may slow, but informed opinion holds that it will continue.

White said subdivision developers are busy creating lots for future homes, chiefly on Pasco’s west side.

The city is processing subdivision proposals for 650 to 700 lots east of Road 68 and for a 220-lot subdivision at Broadmoor. Together, they offer homebuilders more than 900 residential lots to build on, signaling a revival in homebuilding if demand holds into 2023.

On Pasco’s east side, the Port of Pasco expects JMS Development to break ground on a mixed-use residential and commercial project at Osprey Pointe. JMS intended to begin with a utility development, a market and residential and commercial spaces by early 2023 at the latest.

Broadmoor growth

Pasco has long eyed Broadmoor to support its continued growth.

Broadmoor is the general name for the 1,600-plus acres of windswept dunes bordered by Road 100-Broadmoor Boulevard, the Columbia River, Burns Road and Interstate 182.

The city extended sewer service in 2021, ushering in the potential for high-density and commercial development.

“I think 2023 will see a lot of activity in the Broadmoor area,” White said.

The city is supporting it with a $40 million package of road and infrastructure projects funded by tax increment financing, in which debt is repaid by property taxes on the new development.

Costco is a reported tenant for the area though the company has not confirmed plans for its second Tri-City location. Costco or not, the area is gaining steam and local streets need to be ready.

“That’s going to be a ton of road improvements to Broadmoor, Sandifur,” White said.

New schools

The Pasco School District will ask voters to approve a $195.5 million bond in February 2023 to fund two new high schools and other education projects. The school district serves approximately 18,600 students.

One would be a traditional, comprehensive school serving 2,000 students. It will be built at Road 60 and Burns Road.

The second is described as a small, innovative school that will serve 600 students and be built on Salt Lake Street near Curie STEM Elementary in east Pasco.

Pasco High is overenrolled by about 600 students and Chiawana High, which added a handful of portable classrooms this year, is overenrolled by nearly 800 students.

In a nod to future needs, the bond would fund land purchases, if approved.

Public facilities

In February, Pasco voters became the first in the Tri-Cities to approve a modest sales tax hike to pay for a “public facility,” namely, an aquatics center.

The city-sponsored project is governed by a public facilities board, which recently hired ex-Pasco Mayor Matt Watkins to shepherd the project. It most likely will not break ground in 2023 but watch for Watkins and the facilities board to finalize a site somewhere in the Broadmoor area.

In other civic infrastructure news, the city has solicited bids for myriad projects, including its long-awaited animal control facility ($5 million), its next (but not last) fire station ($8.5 million) and numerous water and sewer system updates, including a new reservoir.

The $36 million Lewis Street overpass, which replaces the outdated and dangerous underpass that runs below the BNSF Railway line, began in mid-2021 and is expected to open to traffic in fall 2023.

The 2021-22 capital projects budget anticipated nearly $120 million in spending on civic projects.

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