Nearly 40 residents who live on or near 21st Street in Chehalis gathered at the Lewis County Fire District 6 station for a town hall Wednesday aimed at allowing residents to voice traffic and flooding concerns related to a new proposed apartment complex.
Chehalis Mayor Tony Ketchum and councilors Bob Spahr and Isaac Pope were in attendance. They were joined by City Manager Jill Anderson, Planning and Building Manager Tammy Baraconi, City Public Works Director Lance Bunker, Street Superintendent Judd Riddle and City Clerk Kassi Mackie.
“I really appreciate all of you coming out tonight considering the last statement I heard was the city council doesn’t care, so we called this special meeting so we could listen to your concerns,” Ketchum said.
K&W Properties LLC Owner Karl Werner was accompanied by Project Engineer Bob Balmelli to explain the details of K&W’s newly proposed 52-unit apartment complex, which will be located on 2169 Jackson Highway directly adjacent to 21st Street.
Werner is a life-long Chehalis resident and his company has recently built and runs two apartment buildings adjacent to the land for the new proposed complex. Currently, the newest apartment complex is in the land-use permitting phase. Ground has yet to be broken on the property.
“We’re investing our own money in the community and the projects that we’ve built. We built phase one and phase two. There’s 52 units there. They’re quality builds. We build them with our own money and then hold them and rent them,” Werner said.
Werner went on to state that in the past few months he has already received letters with complaints and taken them into consideration. Concerns include flooding and traffic impacts;, however, Werner said he feels the need to carry on with construction due to the city facing an affordable housing crisis.
As for traffic concerns, K&W anticipates that most future tenants will enter and exit the complex at Jackson Highway. Residents disagreed and added that with the businesses that already exist near the junction of Jackson Highway and 21st Street — plus the elementary and high schools just a block away — traffic would only get worse on their already congested residential street.
There are currently 62 houses on 21st Street, counting the ones on Olympic Drive and Cordoba Court. Cordoba Court resident Richard Dodd explained just how dangerous he thought the road already was.
“When you pass a school bus or transit bus or you have two pick-ups side-by-side, you guys are hugging the ditch lines. There’s no sidewalks and with the Boys and Girls Club going all summer long, there’s times when kids have to jump in the ditch to let transit buses and stuff go by,” Dodd said. “The road can’t handle that much more traffic, going out on Jackson Highway, if that’s an option, great, but our road is still buckling.”
Dodd added that he’s been told that 21st Street isn’t legally wide enough to be considered a two-lane road and that no yellow center-line markings can be made on it.
Pope stated that he had toured the area with 21st Street resident Bob Heymann, who originally brought this issue up to the council over the summer.
“When kids are walking down it, it’s extremely dangerous,” Pope said.
Another issue with traffic Dodd brought up was that the initial traffic study conducted by the city was only conducted observing activity from 4:30 to 7 p.m., well after both schools send students home for the day.
“So you had none of the school traffic that comes up and down this road during school time, and a lot of people do use this road because on 20th Street getting out during school time doesn’t happen. You can sit there for a long time,” Dodd said.
Other residents said they have witnessed many vehicles ignoring stop signs on the street and speeding too, making the already narrow roadway even more perilous.
“My kids have had to jump in the ditch to avoid being hit by vehicles. People run the stop sign at 21st and Salsbury whether there are people or not. I am a solutions person, so I think a round-a-bout would be ideal there,” said 21st Street resident Courtney Eiswald.
Thomas Schienbein, another resident on 21st, added that there are other large vehicles aside from the buses that create traffic hazards.
“For kids really it’s a matter of safety. You have fire trucks coming down and you have the garbage trucks on Monday and Tuesday. With the schools being where they are, 21st has become the option to get to work,” Schienbein said.
He said he’s not against the project but wants the city and developers to be more mindful of the roads.
When considering the flooding concerns, currently the proposal K&W has put forth includes saving a portion of the apartment property as wetlands and creating two ponds to divert and hold potential floodwaters.
Balmelli broke down more details of the proposed apartments. He explained that they are also adding more drainage control with a new ditch leading to an existing ditch on 21st aside from the flood control ponds.
Many of the residents in attendance disagreed with their assessment and stated that flooding has already gotten worse with the two new apartment complexes that have already been built.
In their eyes, the ponds won’t be enough to contain the floodwaters and keep properties on 21st Street from getting flooded.
Some even raised concerns that water erosion is occurring on the existing ditches next to their property and with each passing season erosion is getting worse and their properties are being made smaller.
Since the project is still in the land-use permitting phase, Baraconi told those in attendance that their concerns would be taken into consideration and adjustments to the plans will be made. The next step in the process will be city council approving K & W’s rezoning request, which will most likely occur at the end of October. She welcomed residents to attend the city council meeting.
“I’d encourage all of you to keep an eye on the council agenda packets, that’s where you’ll see the notification that the rezoning request is going through, then you’ll know when to show up,” Baraconi said.
The city staff will be taking comments into consideration and if any residents missed the town hall, they can reach out to City Manager Jill Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org to share concerns and request an audio recording of the meeting.