Our Voice: Kennewick finds success with southern expansion

Kennewick's decision to turn its gaze toward the south has already proved to be wildly successful.

It makes a Seattle-based land advocacy group's effort to thwart Kennewick's southward expansion all the more frustrating. Why look 200 miles from your home base to throw a monkey wrench in someone else's successful strategy?

We said in an earlier editorial that Futurewise should spend its efforts on worthwhile land fights and leave us alone. The group has filed a formal appeal to reverse a decision by the Benton County commissioners to expand Kennewick's urban growth area.

Now the fate of 1,263 acres south of Interstate 82 is in the hands of the Growth Management Hearings Board.

Kennewick wants the land for much-needed industrial development. Futurewise contends it is valuable farmland worthy of preservation. The farmer who owns the majority of the land said that it is no longer worth farming.

Most of the property is in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program, where owners are paid for land taken out of farm production. But most of the land will be out of the program by the end of the year, and no one has any plans to farm it again.

Adding land south of Kennewick to the city's urban growth area makes sense for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the city is already pushing up against its southern boundary.

The state and city have invested millions of dollars to improve infrastructure in the southern part of Kennewick, and it's paying off in new businesses, jobs and homes.

Kennewick approved a $13.7 million bond four years ago to pay for new roads and utilities in the Southridge area, and the area has exploded.

Trios Health's new Southridge hospital and an adjacent new medical office building are scheduled to open soon. New homes have been built and new businesses have opened, including Wine & More, Z Place Salon & Spa, Canyon Chiropractic & Massage Therapy and Bob's Burgers & Brew.

Copper Ridge Apartments, with 228 units, and Affinity at Southridge, a 154-unit independent senior living facility, also opened in the last few years.

The city's property tax base has grown by $56.7 million from development in Southridge, bringing in $173,000 in new sales taxes and $35,000 in new property taxes last year -- enough to pay the city's portion of the bond debt on the infrastructure. The state received $1.3 million in new sales.

Eleven new businesses opened in the revitalization area between 2010-13, Dan Legard, the city's finance manager, told the Herald. That meant 94 new jobs last year, representing about $3.4 million in wages, he added.

"This reflects how well the city is doing when it comes to growth," Mayor Steve Young told the Herald.

Now, Kennewick needs more room to grow, and land farther south is a perfect fit.

Futurewise needs to drop its misguided effort to bring a halt to this natural progression of the city's boundaries.

It might be different if the land merited protection. It doesn't.