Clarification Mar. 4, WSU intends to sell the land. The article has been edited to clarify that.
A discussion about donating 1.7 more acres to Washington State University (WSU) was on the Richland City Council workshop agenda for Tuesday night. One new Richland city councilmember questioned whether donating additional land to WSU to sell was a good idea. Six councilmembers thought it was a no-brainer.
Five of the six voted on April 2, 2019, to eliminate any requirement that the 45 acres donated in 1993 had to be returned to the city if it wasn’t used for a campus.
The additional donation will improve the development potential and justify a higher asking price for the property north of Hanford Street which is currently zoned for parks and other public facilities.
Since five to six acres of the land Richland donated originally is undevelopable, protected wetland, WSU wants to trade it back to the city for 1.7 acres on George Washington Way at the north end of the property.
“City really has no risk or exposure as it relates to enforcing the wetland regulations. They are what they are. They’re actually state pass through regulations that the city has no discretion to lighten the touch on WSU proposals or when to take a different policy approach to them,” Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky told the council. Translated this means that the wetlands have state protections, and the city can’t make them go away to maximize the value of the property.
Will city taxpayers benefit?
Councilmembers Jhoanna Jones, newly elected in 2021, asked, “How do we verify that the city taxpayers will get the benefit.”
WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Sandra Haynes and Interim Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, Damien Sinnot explained during the meeting that the money earned from developing the property would go into research at the Richland campus and the city would get an increase in tax revenue.
Jones said that she wanted more details in the contract regarding where profits will go, “We don’t know for sure,” she said.
Zoned for parks, schools, trails
The land north of Hanford Street is zoned “public facilities.” That means the city currently requires that this land be a public park, a church, a school, a public trail, or some other public use.
“So it looks long and skinny, but at 200 feet in depth is clearly deep enough to put, say a strip mall or a row of townhomes or put apartment complexes,” Rogalsky noted in his presentation.
Rogalsky added, WSU will have to go through a rezoning of the property if it is converted to those uses.
The southern part of the property has residential zoning.
Jones cites state constitution prohibitions
Jones also cited the Article VIII, Section 7 of the Washington State Constitution that prohibits donating property to “an individual, association, company or corporation.”
Donating property from one public agency to another for public use has not been prohibited under this provision.
The city council cited Article VIII’s provisions on land donations as part of its reason for rejecting Adam Brault Avenir’s effort to create a public market on city land where Park Place Apartments now stand, Avenir recently told the Observer in an interview about the failed market project.
Sixth councilmember declares the donation a no-brainer
The other newly elected Councilmember, Theresa Richardson, described how she finally got her degree at WSU in the early 1990s after attending college in many locations. She then joined the other five councilmembers in declaring the deal a “no-brainer.”
Lemley went further saying, “To think that we do not benefit from WSU is absolutely asinine, because they have put us on the map in one respect, you know, from higher education, especially.”