By Andrew Kirk
The Tri-City’s bedroom community saw continued residential growth in 2019 and more is on the horizon.
West Richland issued 86 residential building permits for the first half of 2019, compared to 42 during the same period last year.
The Heights at Red Mountain Ranch, the largest residential development project ever approved by the city, will include 563 single-family homes and eventually 226 multi-family residential units in later phases, for an expected occupancy of 2,249. The first phase will feature 105 homes.
Four commercial building permits also were issued in the first six months of 2019—the same amount as in 2018-17—but the city knows it needs to bolster this sector.
“As a bedroom community … we’re lacking retail sales tax on a per capita basis compared to other cities. It’s a top priority I’d say,” said Roscoe Slade III, public works director for West Richland.
Within Benton County only Benton City receives less funding per capita from commercial activities. West Richland is becoming a series of connected neighborhood clusters, Slade said. That means commercial and industrial development has to be planned and incentivized within each cluster.
Plenty of projects are in the pipeline.
The city is selling its previous City Hall complex and actively recruiting buyers or tenants for a handful of lots adjacent to the new City Hall off Belmont Boulevard. It is also working to buy the old Tri-City Raceway to encourage light industrial development there.
One of the two former City Hall buildings on Van Giesen Street was sold in late August 2019 to Eye Care Associates of West Richland, said Rob Ellsworth, a senior advisor with SVN | Retter & Co. in Kennewick.
The building at 3801 W. Van Giesen was still listed for sale in September 2019, and several restaurateurs were looking seriously at it. It also would be perfect for a bank, credit union or day spa, he said.
“There are some minor cosmetic issues but it’s ready to go otherwise,” he said. “It’s on a corner with great traffic… it opens itself to a wide variety of retail-type uses.”
Much of West Richland’s residential growth in recent years —and some planned in the near future—funnels traffic onto Van Giesen.
“Their prospects are only going to improve. It sees a lot of traffic on a daily basis,” Ellsworth said.
The city also has a handful of lots for sale or lease in the Belmont Business District adjacent to its new City Hall at 3100 Belmont Blvd. near the intersection of Keene Road. The lots average about four acres.
Slade said two acres have been sold for a future convenience store/gas station with a Firehouse Subs sandwich shop on the southeast corner of Belmont Boulevard and Keene Road. Tri-City developer Ron Asmus has plans to develop about five acres near the same intersection; he requested a building permit in spring 2019 for a 35,000-square-foot commercial building, valued at $3.2 million, at 2943 Belmont Blvd.
The neighborhood formerly was a 40-acre sewage lagoon the city bought from the federal government and is now usable land to benefit the community, Slade said.
Leona Libby Middle School, completed in 2017, is nearby, and a newly-completed 65,000-square-foot elementary school building is across the street. The Richland School District is using the new building at 2100 Sunshine Ave. to house Tapteal Elementary while it is rebuilt at 705 N. 62nd Ave. Once Tapteal is completed, the new elementary school building will house students from Badger Mountain Elementary while it is demolished and a new school built.
Only then will the new building on Sunshine Avenue get its own name and students. School boundary lines will be redrawn to assign up to 600 students to attend there, said Ty Beaver, spokesman for the district. About 70 acres adjacent to Libby Middle School has been set aside for a third high school in coming years but first a new 41,000 square-foot Teaching, Learning and Administrative Center will be built at 6972 Keene Road. Construction on it began in summer 2019.
Baker Construction & Development is building a Bush Car Wash at 3220 Kennedy Road.
The city is negotiating with the Port of Kennewick to buy the old Tri-City Raceway, which the city annexed in 2015. The 92-acre raceway, near Highway 224 and Keene Road, would be the home to a new West Richland police station. Voters approved a $12.5 million bond request in April for a station.
The city needs five acres for the police station, so it is hoping to plat the rest into lots for commercial and light-industrial development with the station as the anchor tenant. The development of those 87 acres would proceed as outlined by the Port of Kennewick’s master plan for the area, unless amended.
Slade said the city government is proud of how West Richland has grown so quickly and yet retained its small town—even rural—feel.
West Richland’s streets were built to accommodate different forms of travel, with bike lanes, sidewalks, bus pullouts and other features for safety and multi-modal use, Slade said.
“We won a state award and grant money for our streets,” he said. “Most of the roadways in West Richland are new and constructed with multi-modal in mind… so we’re well connected and ready to expand.”
Plans to build a Red Mountain interchange to more easily connect Dallas Road to I-82 were suspended in fall 2019.
Troy Suing, assistant regional administrator for planning and program management at the state Washington Department of Transportation, said his office and the city of West Richland have “taken a step back” from that proposal.
“The city is looking at other improvements it can make to roadways such as (Highway) 224 and intersections that would be more timely and more effective use of the funds,” he said. “The plan was to improve access and support economic vitality in the area, so they’re taking a step back and saying, ‘What is the right solution at this time?’ ”
Were the city to decide the interchange is imperative, the funding would be available, but the process would take two to four years, Suing said.
It’s still a challenge meeting the needs of existing residents while planning for future residents, Slade said, but the city is up for it.
“We continue to improve the quality of life for West Richland residents and that’s why you’re seeing the growth. This is where people want to live, work and play,” he said. “We’re the best-kept secret in Tri-Cities, but word is getting out.”
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