The Port of Chehalis will lend city officials a hand in developing an updated comprehensive plan largely thanks to a major sale earlier this year that significantly bulked up the Port’s reserves.
The $2.5 million property sale to locally-grown McCallum Rock Drilling was the biggest in the port’s history, and helped turn things around for the quasi-governmental authority. According to Port CEO Randy Mueller, those large “cash events” are relatively infrequent.
“A year ago we were in the middle of a pandemic, we had lost our largest tenants and we were laying off staff,” Mueller said Tuesday.
Now, the port will reinvest the funds from the sale into the long-term planning efforts of the city.
“Just sitting on the pile of cash doesn’t do any good,” Mueller told the city council this week.
Previously, City Manager Jill Anderson had pointed to staffing levels as a limiting factor to long-term planning. And when asked how the port’s assistance would help city officials, Building and Planning Manager Tammy Baraconi said it would mean staff could update the comprehensive plan “without her hair on fire.”
During a council meeting last month, long-time resident Steve Ryan lobbed criticism at city officials over a lack of long-term planning. According to Mueller, the port’s decision to lend a hand in that field was not spurred by Ryan’s comments.
In regards to the citizen-led committee overseeing the process that Ryan requested — and was informally offered a seat on — Anderson said it’s something city staff “just don’t have the margins for,” at least right now. She noted that input from the public is also received through public hearings, testimony and the planning commission.
Currently, the city is still in the data-collection phase of the updated comprehensive plan, and agreements between the port and the city haven’t yet been finalized. The city’s comprehensive plan was last updated in 2017, although those updates were relatively minor, according to Mueller.
Baraconi said that anecdotally, there’s an understanding that a lack of residential housing will likely need to be addressed in the comprehensive plan. And officials will have to take “a good hard look” at the balance between residential and commercial zoning, she said.
Mueller has his eye on the economic development portion of the comprehensive plan, specifically pointing to a decades-long shift in the local economy from resource extraction to a “knowledge-based economy,” and one in which many individuals work from home and require broadband internet.
He noted that some businesses in the industrial park have become twice as productive as they’ve been in past decades, yet employ less and less residents.
The city of Chehalis’ comprehensive plan, Mueller said, should reflect those “new realities” and identify industries likely to move in based on the area’s assets.
Overall, Baraconi said the updated plan will make a whole host of processes easier, including expanding infrastructure.
As the city gets bigger and surpasses certain population thresholds, it will also be required to meet additional regulations, which long-term planning can help with.