Woodland rescinds planning agreements with Cowlitz County


In an effort to better handle the potential for growth outside of city limits, Woodland has formally cut ties with Cowlitz County in regard to the city’s development planning.

During its Sept. 6 meeting, the Woodland City Council voted 5-0 to approve a resolution rescinding two prior resolutions that dated back as far as 1981. The joint resolutions between the city and Cowlitz County dealt with how the city planned for growth, which led to issues on who could approve changes.

The decision to rescind the old resolutions resulted from issues brought up in 2018, Woodland Community Development Director Travis Goddard said. That year, the city received eight applications to amend the city’s comprehensive growth management plan, half of which would have involved expanding the city’s urban growth area. That area is land outside of city limits designated for any future annexation by the city.

During a public participation process undertaken while the city considered the amendment applications, county staff cited the two existing resolutions  as “binding justification” to prevent any expansion of the urban growth area without the county’s approval, according to a city staff report. None of the applications involving the shift of the boundary moved forward as a result.

Since the time the city dropped consideration of those amendments, Goddard believes the city’s current planning process allows the city to move ahead with planning outside of those resolutions. In the city’s 2016 comprehensive plan update it relied on planning under the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA) and didn’t reference the past resolutions like previous plan updates did, according to the staff report.

“Because of these interlocal agreements at the time, it kind of killed the city’s possibility to expand the urban growth boundary, not necessarily because it wasn’t good planning, but because Cowlitz County essentially used the interlocal agreement to ensure that we did not … make a decision,” Goddard said.

In the intervening years, the city raised concerns over projects at the county level that were approved without considering the impacts to Woodland.

“There are failures in the planning process, and part of that failure is we are required to comply, and they are only required to consult,” Goddard said.

Following the lack of approval at the city level, one of the developers who applied for a plan amendment, Aho Construction, moved to seek an amendment at the county level. They planned for residential development in the Woodland Bottoms to the south of the city limit. 

Though the Cowlitz County Planning Commission denied the amendment, the decision was appealed to the county commissioners.

Outside of Aho Construction’s plan, development at lower densities than the city would like has already started to occur, Goddard said. That can create a challenge for future expansion of the city and its infrastructure, as the Woodland Bottoms are the logical area for the city to look to as it grows.

The Woodland City Council is set to revisit discussions on the plan amendments submitted in 2018 that were not approved in a workshop at thecouncil’s Sept. 19 meeting, Goddard said. Because those amendments already went through processes compliant with the GMA they could be brought back for consideration.

During that process, Goddard noted some property owners in the Woodland Bottoms are concerned about premature development in the area. To meet those concerns, the city developed an agricultural zoning designation which was first discussed by the council earlier this year. That zoning will also be under consideration for final approval at the Sept. 19 meeting.

“It’s a tool for them to protect their way of life and their current use,” Goddard said.

Goddard said the city has tried to engage with the county and other entities like Woodland Public Schools and the Port of Woodland on master planning for the entire Woodland Bottoms. Though current work with the county has been slow, Goddard said the city is due for its periodic update of its comprehensive plan next year, which the city may move forward with on its own.

“If we don’t do it now, it may take six or seven years for us to even be able to begin this conversation,” Goddard said. 

He said the city didn’t have enough buildable land to accommodate the expected growth during that time frame.

Though the county can argue its side of the prior agreement should still be enforced, Goddard believes the city’s planning based on GMA compliance should supersede the “partial” planning of the non-GMA county.

“We fully intend to comply with the Growth Management Act,” Goddard said.


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