A project to build a pool in Battle Ground received a show of support from the city’s government last week as the city council approved development fee waivers for a proposed YMCA facility.
During its Sept. 19 meeting, Battle Ground City Council voted 5-2 to approve waivers estimated at about $145,000 for the project planned for Rasmussen Boulevard east of state Route 503. The 18,000-square-foot facility would feature both a recreational and a lap pool.
The council also voted to direct city staff to bring potential changes to the city code to allow for waivers of systems development charges. If those fees can be waived it could mean an additional $346,000 less cost for the total project which was previously estimated at $13 million in total.
The potential for a pool in Battle Ground has been under discussion for several years. Project backers most recently appeared before the council in July to ask about the possibility of the waivers.
Councilor Shane Bowman acknowledged the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette, the organization that would run the facility, is currently looking for funding wherever it can find it. He also acknowledged the interplay between Battle Ground and Clark County on which government would be the first to commit financial assistance to the project.
“We’ve been in circles for … 11 years. It’s just going in circles of what we can do, what we can’t do,” Bowman said.
He specifically asked about a proposal put before the Clark County Council that would utilize $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the project. Part of the concern on using those funds regarded whether they could actually be used to support the YMCA.
Battle Ground Finance Director Meagan Lowery said the use of ARPA funds for the project is complicated. Though generally the funds could be used for any governmental operations, working with another entity would likely require a public-private partnership, which means public bid laws and prevailing wage requirements would apply. That could lead to cost increases based on what the city has seen with its own projects.
“It’s in that gray area where it would take a lot of agreement,” Lowery said.
Bowman, who was one of two councilors to vote against the waivers, asked to table the decision so the city could look into running a parks bond which could help fund the pool project. In a recent parks, recreation and open space plan developed by the city, a significant number of surveyed residents were in support of bringing a pool to Battle Ground.
Councilor Adrian Cortes acknowledged the protracted nature of the pool discussion. Cortes wanted to move forward on the project with some form of commitment.
“We can sit here and argue about why this has taken so long, but that’s not going to get us anywhere moving forward, in my opinion,” Cortes said.
He hopes the waivers will spur the county forward on any help they may provide to the project.
“I think that it’s clear this project has community support — a significant amount of community support,” Cortes said.
Cortes said being specific on who can apply for any potential code changes for additional waivers would help prevent any unwanted exploitation.
“When it comes to the code changes, we can make them narrow enough just to support a nonprofit, and the odds of it somehow being taken advantage of are extraordinarily low,” Cortes said.
Noting the reservations he had in the past, Cortes said he is “all in” with waiving the fees to support the project.
Bowman said he has “real issues” with changing the code to have a narrow focus that could only benefit certain organizations, equating it to cronyism.
“There are so many other ways to do this,” Bowman said.
Cortes countered by saying, “We’ll be the council that helped put them over the finish line.”
Councilor Shauna Walters stressed the need for amenities in Battle Ground to balance out the other forms of development in the city.
“I think that we spend a lot of time as a council proving whether or not we can shove more buildings — housing and commercial buildings — into the very small space that we already have, and not a lot of time thinking about the type of services we are going to offer to all those people who are going to move into our community,” Walters said.
Mike Westby, CEO of the firm Westby Associates who have been working with the YMCA on the project, said project backers heard from the federal government the “stumbling block” to receive funding for the project has been a lack of support from the city and state.
“You have always been the starter,” Westby told the council.
Mayor Philip Johnson was the lone vote against looking into the fee waivers at a July meeting. Since that time, Johnson said out of the thousands of citizens in Battle Ground, he has only received a dozen emails.
“Twelve out of 23,000. I don’t believe that’s overwhelming,” Johnson said.
He said the potential of waiving the systems development charges fees would break “a tradition that’s never been broken.”
“I’m not against the YMCA coming,” the mayor said. “I’m against opening up our checkbook.