A roughly 235-acre “blank slate” of largely untouched land south of Interstate 82 in Benton City could one day be home to a mix of wineries, hotels, shops, homes and more.
The city recently took a significant step toward making that happen by adopting a subarea plan that lays out a long-range vision and development strategy for the property.
“We want something nice – a high-end, upscale development that’s going to be a place where people want to come,” said Mayor Linda Lehman. “It’s a good place to promote Red Mountain and support the wine industry that we’ve got out here. If we have light industrial and retail and hotels (in the subarea), that’s jobs for us, and then there’s housing that we desperately need.”
The city council finalized adoption of the subarea plan in unanimous vote earlier this month.
During the meeting, some nearby residents expressed concern about the impact of future development, saying the additional businesses and people would put pressure on city services.
Lehman later told the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business that any future development would go through the required review process to ensure it could be accommodated.
Benton City currently is home to more than 3,700 people.
The plan envisions development in the subarea of a “new and unique neighborhood that will maintain ties with the existing community.” The subarea presents “a unique opportunity to attract a wide range of new residents, including young first-time homebuyers and aging adults alike by providing housing that could be walkable to nearby future amenities and services,” the plan says.
The approach could also bring jobs and recreation opportunities.
The firm AHBL and subcontractor Michael Mahaffey helped create the plan, with the city paying about $80,000 for their consulting services.
The plan was developed with input from the community, including through a survey and charette workshop. The city still is working on design standards for the subarea.
A building moratorium is in place in the subarea until the design standards take effect.
Full realization of the plan is likely years out. But the adoption marks a milestone for the property that’s remained largely undeveloped since it was annexed into the city nearly two decades ago.
The subarea sits near the southeastern edge of Benton City, south of the interstate and Jacobs Road and east of Webber Canyon Road. The subarea is home to a gas station and convenience store, but otherwise it’s open and undeveloped. The land was annexed into the city in 2005.
Most of it is owned by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
“DNR historically managed the 226-acre parcel of state land within Benton City’s boundaries for agriculture leasing, but as the city and county continue to grow, our management of the parcel is set to evolve," said Kenny Ocker, communications manager. "We have a duty as a trust manager to responsibly manage our lands to produce revenue to support our beneficiaries – in this case, Washington state’s public schools – and we have categorized this parcel as a transition land as we seek its highest and best use in the future, and we look forward to working with Benton City to achieve that goal.”
The plan covers goals and policies for future land uses; economic development; roads, sidewalks and other transportation and mobility elements; recreation and open space; utilities; and more.
It also lays out steps for implementing the subarea plan over time.
The plan was reviewed by the city’s planning commission and recommended for approval.
It also was reviewed by state agencies including the Washington State Department of Commerce, and it went through the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, review process.
Part of Benton City falls within the Port of Kennewick, and Lehman recently presented information about the plan to port commissioners and raised the idea of the port providing recruitment help or other assistance. Commissioners asked the port CEO to work with Lehman on a proposal.
Watch for the subarea plan to be posted on the Benton City’s website soon.
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