The city of Woodland is pursuing an “abbreviated” update to its comprehensive growth management plan this year, which could help get the ball rolling to address the city’s lack of residential land.
The Woodland City Council took part in a workshop at its March 6 meeting to discuss the first steps of an update to the city’s land use planning document. Those steps include approving a public participation plan and determining what population projection to use in the update.
The last major update Woodland had to its comprehensive plan was in 2016. The council directed city staff to start what Woodland Community Development Director Travis Goddard said is an “abbreviated” update.
The city had to consider the development patterns in Cowlitz County in areas like the Woodland Bottoms and on Lewis River Road, Goddard said. A larger, multi-year overhaul of the plan could become moot if the county moves forward with planning efforts that affect areas like the Bottoms before the city’s planning is complete.
The city tried to address planning uncertainties in the Bottoms by approving an expansion of its urban growth area, which is land the city can annex under state law. Cowlitz County took legal action against the city, which forced Woodland to rescind ordinances including one that created the expansion.
Goddard said analysis through the update could show there is only six to seven years of developable land, which may show urgency to expand the growth area. Proof the existing area is not viable for the long-term could leverage the county to work with the city.
Goddard said open houses may start next month to allow the public to participate in the process. The draft plan includes mailers for utility customers and regular workshops on the update for both the Woodland Planning Commission and the city council.
Councilor Terry Hall wants to start the public participation process as soon as possible.
“We need to get the pulse of the community. We need to hear from the citizens what they really want it to look like as we develop,” Hall said. “I think if we put it off, we’re going to all of a sudden be in a jam … and we will have not heard from the people.”
The council directed city staff to use a 2.7% population growth rate in the update. The council needed to settle on a rate because the city has a variety of planning documents that were created across decades with slightly different methodologies, according to a city staff report.
The rate was closest to the most recent growth estimates the city had, Goddard said. The Office of Financial Management’s latest estimate for April 2022 put Woodland’s population at 6,575, toward the lower end of population projections from 2002, and significantly lower than projections made even farther back.
Though the city’s growth has been a point of contention for some residents, Goddard said the reality is more muted. In the past three years, there have been 32 residential building permits issued by the city, with zero issued in 2022.
“We have a bunch of projects that have been approved, but they haven’t been constructed,” Goddard said.
He said even if the city built 50 houses for the next several years it would be a slower growth rate than what the city has experienced over the past 20 years.
“If you’re freaking out about a lot of development coming, the reality is our next five years are going to be slower,” Goddard said.
The city would still need land to build those houses on, something Woodland is running out of. Goddard said a lack of residential development as commercial and industrial development continues could impact residential utility rates to pay for infrastructure needed to support the growth in the other sectors.
“Ultimately if there’s no land to grow, you’re going to have to start meeting with other problems in the community that are totally unrelated to development,” Goddard said.
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