A Centralia family has big plans for a new housing development that city leaders hope will help alleviate the ongoing housing shortage.
In a Facebook post Tuesday announcing “Scheuber Heights,” Levi Althauser wrote that he and his partners are working to have 45 acres annexed into the Centralia’s urban growth area and ultimately city limits. He said initial plans are to develop 16 to 25 acres at up to four homes per acre.
“But we will see where the need is when we get there,” he wrote. “We are already dreaming up community gathering areas and house designs.”
Later Tuesday, the Centralia City Council took the first steps in potentially moving the project forward, voting to move forward with the plan to add 45 acres to the city’s urban growth area (UGA).
In January, Centralia city staff received a request from Levi Althauser to amend the city’s urban growth boundary (UGB) to include the additional 45 acres at the southwest corner of Scheuber Road and Graf and Military roads.
The UGB currently stops on the north side of Graf and Military roads, so the north side is within the Centralia UGA, while the south side is not.
Since Councilor Sarah Althauser is Levi Althausers’s spouse, she recused herself from the proceedings and vote, which came in at 6-0 in favor of the measure.
“The urban growth area is an area that must be urban in nature,” said Emil Pierson, Centralia community development director, at the meeting. “And it’s the area in which we could expand in the future. Hopefully the area would eventually annex into the city as it develops and as it grows.”
The possible addition would include 16 parcels of land, with 12 having existing homes.
The idea for the land is to develop about 24 acres of it into housing developments that could yield up to 180 units or homes as long as the area is rezoned after it is added to the UGA.
“More than likely we would see a planned unit development, sequestering a portion of the property and having homes on other portions of it,” Pierson said.
The city already services homes on both Graf and Scheuber roads with water and electricity, and it has sewer lines north of Scheuber and east on Military Road, with stormwater lines north of Scheuber Road and east on Military Road.
Now that the city has agreed to begin the process of amending the boundary of the UGB, it will facilitate the submission of an application letter to its planning and growth committee who would review it.
“They would make a recommendation to the Lewis County Board of Commissioners,” Pierson said. “And they would review it and send it forward from that.”
After the county potentially amends its comprehensive plan, the city council would then consider an amendment to the UGB to include the 45 acres into the UGA and rezone the land at the same time.
Levi Althauser said that through canvassing other property owners in the proposed UGA addition, he received minimal pushback, with the main objection being concerns over stormwater runoff. One landowner, however, was in strong opposition to the move.
“Overall, we have around 30 acres that want to be part of this, and see the value of coming into the UGA,” he said. “There’s about … 24 acres or so that actually want to develop.”
He said that he and another property owner plan to develop their land within the area, saying the prospect would be a boon for the city and region.
“One, we are going to provide those homes that people are moving to Tumwater to commute into Centralia, because they cannot find those homes here,” he said. “We really want to provide that housing. But in addition, because that housing doesn’t exist, people are buying up homes that they wouldn’t necessarily buy otherwise, so it’s actually creating a strain on those lower income homes that could have been starter homes. … It’s getting a little bit crazy, buying starter homes out here.”
A portion of the development would be for entry-level homes, with townhomes on the table for another portion of the project.
While one commenter was against the idea, saying mainly that the city’s rules were too restrictive and would hamper their current use of their land, the public comment on the measure yielded mostly those in support of the idea.
“As an advocate for housing, I support this as well,” said Centralian Lisa Striedinger. “I think it is a great idea to bring housing of all kinds to our community.”
Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston agreed.
“I very much support this. As we’ve discussed, the housing issue is very serious in our community and this is a unique opportunity. I would say that I like the vision that you laid out, Levi, and appreciate what you’re doing,” Smith Johnston said, adding later: “I also just want to put a plug in that if there is room in your plan for townhomes, something other than single family residences in some places of that, I think that would be ideal.”
She did, however, say that she empathized with the objections raised.
“I do appreciate the concern people have for their immediate neighborhood changing,” Smith Johnston said. “I see impacts where I live as well, and it’s very difficult to see that change over time when you've lived in one place. However, we need to find housing.”