Hundreds of acres north of the Queensgate Drive shopping
area are poised to be rezoned by the city of Richland to pave the way for
future development and a new school.
The 314-acre parcel, which has been owned by Washington
since its statehood, is currently zoned agricultural.
The state Department of Natural Resources requested the
rezone to allow for low-, medium- and high-density residential housing, as well
as earmarking some land for public use.
A decision could come by April. The city’s hearing examiner
held a public hearing on the matter March 11 and will make a recommendation to
the Richland City Council in about six weeks.
“The proposal is so consistent with the Comprehensive
Plan, it’s very unlikely it would not be approved,” said Shane O’Neill, senior
planner for the city of Richland.
Once the process is complete, the DNR said it will keep
the commercial-zoned parcels, totaling about 55 acres, but sell all the
residential-zoned parcels at auction. The residential zoning would cover about
200 acres, with nearly three-fourths of that zoned as low-density.
“Rezoning this property is a win-win for Richland and our
children,” said Hilary Franz, the state’s Commissioner of Public Lands. “New
development will lead to more jobs, amenities and homes. And because this is
state trust land, new development also means millions of additional dollars for
public school construction.”
Two parcels totaling about 45 acres are set to be zoned
for public use or open space. The DNR said the larger parcel, comprising 40
acres, is intended to be transferred to the Richland School District, with the
remaining acreage either intended for the school district, or to be developed
as open space.
“We do not yet own the parcel and there’s no
official decision on what it would be used for. Its size indicates it would
likely be a school site
if, at some time in the future, the district determines a school is needed in
that area. The five-acre parcel would likely be open space, such as for a city
park,” said Ty Beaver, Richland School District spokesman.
The DNR would transfer the land directly to the school
district, which would reimburse the Common School Trust for the value of the
property. Any sale proceeds would go into a land replacement account for the
Common School Trust, which reinvests the money by buying other
revenue-producing property elsewhere in the state.
The entire 314-acre lot has an assessed value from
Benton County of $2.8 million and is north of Vintner Square, with Kennedy Road
as its southern border, the city limits of West Richland on its western border,
Truman Avenue on the east end and unincorporated Benton County to the north.
The land is set to be re-valued this summer in time for the 2020 tax year.
The plot known as “Richland 16” has been leased by
Chiawana Orchards LLC since 1992 but that lease will expire Jan. 1, 2021.
Current revenue from the lease benefits the Common School Trust, which supports
the construction costs of public schools across Washington.
In documents filed by the state, the DNR stated the
lease will not be renewed and the request to rezone the property was so that it
can be “eventually segregated, then sold and/or leased for a variety of
compatible developments in the future, consistent with the city of Richland’s
land use and zoning regulations.”
Those regulations are in line with Richland’s recently
revised Comprehensive Land Use Plan and the rezoning expected more than a year
ago. The city is required to update its plan every decade as a means of guiding
decisions on future growth.
“The Growth Management Act requires all zoning aligned
with the Comprehensive Plan, which was updated two years ago, and this rezoning
proposal aligns with that,” O’Neill said.
The land is classified as “urban reserve” by the city of
Richland, which means it is set aside for future development. City council
members were previously updated on potential land use, which could include an
expansion of Vintner Square or the site of a future school. If the city had any
interest in the land, “(Richland) would need to lease/purchase areas as would
any other developer,” said Richland’s Planning Manager Mike Stevens.
The lease for Richland 16 includes revenue based on the
annual crop yield of Chiawana Orchards, which averaged $165,000 annually for
the Common School Trust in recent years.
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