County council OKs population projection for comp plan update


One of the first major steps toward updating Clark County’s Comprehensive Growth Management Plan received final approval last week, as the county council voted to go with a 20-year population projection slightly higher than what was suggested by cities but below what the development industry wanted.

During its May 2 meeting, the Clark County Council voted unanimously for a population projection that the county would have 718,154 residents in 2045. That projection will inform the growth plan update, a periodic revisiting of the county’s land use strategy required by the state Growth Management Act.

The May 2 meeting was the second half of a public hearing on the population projection that began April 18. The council was considering information from the state Office of Financial Management, which produces a population projection range for counties to use as they make their plan updates.

The OFM’s “medium” projection for Clark County to hit in 2045 was about 698,000, or a 1.26% increase annually. The office provided a range for consideration, from about 576,000 people to roughly 792,000.

During both parts of the meeting, the council heard from representatives of development interests who advocated for the higher end of a projection.

Justin Wood, who represented the Clark County Association of Realtors, reiterated the stance of his organization that the middle forecast was too low for what they anticipate will come in the next 20 years. He advocated for the council to pick an annual growth rate of no less than 1.45% and up to OFM’s high end, which equated to about 1.51% annually.

“We cannot control or stop new residents from joining our community. We need to properly plan so that both old and new residents can enjoy the lifestyle, amenities, housing and employment opportunities that Clark County residents have come to know and love,” Wood said.

Going with no less than 1.45% was also supported by the Building Industry Association of Clark County.

Cities in Clark County maintained the stance that the middle projection from OFM was the most prudent.

Vancouver City Councilor Erik Paulsen pointed to the accuracy at which the most recently-used medium population forecast was predicting the 2020 Census number. He responded to development industry comments on the medium projection being lower than what the county was likely to see.

The idea that OFM is somehow missing Clark County’s in-migration is not supported by the data,” Paulsen said.

He added that expansion of urban growth areas due to higher population estimates can’t be easily changed. Those areas are where cities are allowed to annex and then eventually develop per state law.

Ridgefield Mayor Jennifer Lindsay said the impact on growth of the existing infrastructure and environment was chief among what was on the minds of her constituents.

“They are concerned if we’re going to have enough roads to support all these new homes and businesses. They are concerned about the loss of open space,” Lindsay said.

They also had concerns of the impact of growth on the local school district.

“They want to know, ‘can we slow down or can we stop growth?’ And we all know you can’t,” Lindsay said.

Former longtime member of the Clark County Planning Commission Ron Barca said he had taken part in four prior updates to the comprehensive plan.

“We are about to repeat the same story over, that we had in the past,” Barca said. “We target a high number, and then we find out that Clark County genuinely can’t support the capital facilities of the high number.”

“Everything that you need in the way of housing, you can    get through your own policy means and zoning changes,” Barca said. “You’re not going to do it by inviting another 100,000 people into the county.”

The county historically has made decisions in favor of development interests, Clark County resident Janet Hedgepath said. That has led to a greater number of single-family homes compared to other housing types.

“Meanwhile, your own housing options study and action plan shows that middle-income households are not being served in the current housing market, because there’s a lack of diversity in housing types and housing sizes,” Hedgepath said.

Infill of existing land marked for development was a better option than continuing to open new land to development by expansion of the growth area, she said.

The projection that the council ultimately approved was based on past actual data averages of population growth dating back to 1990, Paul Newman, a Geographic Information Systems analyst for the county, said. It was slightly more than the medium number from OFM as the office anticipated more of a growth decline than what had been seen historically.

That rate corresponds to a roughly 1.4% annual increase, according to information from staff.

Councilor Glen Yung felt that going with the high end of 1.51% wasn’t reflective of what the county was likely to see. He proposed the 1.4% annual rate, which ultimately passed.

Councilor Gary Medvigy agreed that a rate above medium was the best option for the county.

“I think the best informed, pragmatic decision is to go somewhere higher than middle, but slightly less than the high (range),” Medvigy said.