Our Voice: Kennewick’s UGA proposal leaves some questions

The city of Kennewick and Benton County were rebuffed by the Growth Management Hearings Board last week when the city lost a battle to extend its urban growth boundaries south of Interstate 82 for industrial development.

The board not only said no to the expansion, but also called Benton County’s approval illegal.

Although it was the hearings board that made the decision to overturn our elected officials, the battle really was lost to a westside land-use advocacy organization, Futurewise.

We can’t help but wonder why an organization who likely has no connection with, or understanding of our community, feels compelled to muster their legal forces to thwart our community’s vision for the future. The only real winner in the battle was their attorney.

Perhaps that’s the explanation.

The expansion makes sense for a number of reasons.

For starters, 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.

Also the city’s property taxbase 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 that serves the area. The state received $1.3 million in new sales.

Kennewick will continue to grow in the coming years.

But the hearings board contends that even if the city grows at its projected 31 percent in the next 20 years, that growth doesn’t justify a 17-fold increase in industrial lands.

The hearings board said the city and county should document whether population growth backs up a need for the additional industrial land and submit a complete development proposal for the property.

The board also said that the county has violated state law and its own planning policies by agreeing to change agricultural land to industrial land. The land in question is no longer farmable, according to its owner. He hasn’t farmed it for years and doesn’t intend to farm it in the future.

We disagree with the board’s decision and think the city should consider an appeal to the Benton County Superior Court.

But the board’s ruling raised a number of legitimate questions about the project.

The city needs to thoroughly — and publicly — address those questions before moving forward.