Growth plan attacked by activists, chamber - The county had hoped to adopt the 20-year plan by the end of the year, but many groups say it's flawed


The Oregonian

VANCOUVER, WA-- Clark County's proposed 20-year growth plan was slammed Tuesday by an environmental leader, home builders, growth advocates and the Chamber of Commerce.

Clark County commissioners, eager to adopt the new plan by year's end, sat through lengthy hearings Monday and Tuesday, and little of what they heard was favorable.

By state law, counties designate what land adjacent to cities can be earmarked for growth and possibly annexation. In the Clark County plan, however, numerous basic assumptions have come under attack.

As a result, more than one speaker has predicted that the state will reject the plan or large portions of it.

In Tuesday's hearing, environmental activist John Karpinski complained that "nobody seems to care that the plan doesn't meet the state growth law," primarily because it lacks a required infrastructure plan.

Especially important, he said, is explaining how future costs will be financed. Instead of providing a 20-year list of road needs, he said, the county has inserted an existing six-year plan that does not address growth.

Matt Lewis, spokesman for the 800-member Building Industry Association, said the county plan "slid into an abyss. Its core principles are somewhat fallacious."

The local building industry will have $1.97 billion in sales this year, Lewis said, which represents 10,000 jobs. He said the new plan will provide contractors with three years of buildable land, not 20 years' worth.

Lewis also brought up a Washington State University Vancouver report on the economic impact of new homes. The study claims homes' retail sales and property taxes fully pay for the infrastructure required.

But that triggered attacks by two of the three commissioners.

Chairman Craig Pridemore said the report was flawed because it listed one-time construction fees -- such as road, park and school-impact fees -- as ongoing income.

Commissioner Betty Sue Morris called the report a "snapshot that includes no operating costs for roads, schools and utilities."

Lewis said when he "decodes" the commissioners' position that growth doesn't pay for itself, "I am hearing (you say) that taxes are too low. The general public doesn't agree."

Consultant Eric Hovee -- representing the "Responsible Growth Forum," an association that supports business and growth -- said that while "some people say the plan is fatally flawed, I say it's critically flawed."

Hovee recommended the plan not be adopted until the missing infrastructure report is completed.

Asked by the commissioners for a suggestion about paying for services such as policing and the health district, Hovee said costs will continue to outpace income.

"You have to look at the operating budget, and at some point, you have to go to the voters about the level of services they want," he said.

Portland jobs were an issue for John McKibbin, former legislator and county commissioner who heads the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. He said the growth plan ignores the 67,000 jobs Clark County residents hold in Portland, suggesting growth should involve keeping those workers in Washington.

McKibbin also slammed the plan's formula for jobs. He said Portland has one job for every two people, while the plan's goal is one job for every three people in Clark County.

"But if you do the math, the Clark County plan provides closer to one job for every four people," he said. "That makes our bedroom community status worse."

Bill Stewart: 360-896-5722 or 503-294-5900;


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