Centralia Resident, Who’s Also State Senate Minority Leader, Discusses Outlook of Recently-Logged Hillside

What’s With the Logging by Yard Birds? Owner Plans Development Over Decades


At times, the rivalry between Tigers and Bearcats seems insurmountable. 

Could anything change if a community spanned across the lines of both Chehalis and Centralia city limits? 

Hilltop houses would boast views of the Cascades and the Willapa Hills. Neighboring businesses would have different ZIP codes. Children from both school districts would spend their days together. Even better: What if this community was all out of the Chehalis River floodplain?

“Both cities were good to work with,” said property owner John Braun, adding with a chuckle, “But they said, ‘If we have to put a water tank up there, we’ll have to put Tigers on one side and Bearcats on the other.’”

They’re likely more than a decade from this dream’s conclusion, but that’s the vision of Raindrop Properties, LLC, which owns hundreds of acres across Northeast Kresky Avenue from Yard Birds. The area was recently logged.

The holding company is owned in part by Braun, a Centralia resident who’s also the Washington state Senate minority leader. From his work in the Legislature, he’s gained a keen interest in Lewis County’s housing crisis and how it intersects with the issues of flooding and permitting.

His vision is to turn the Kresky-facing side of the hill into a terraced retail zone. Behind it, a switchback road will lead to a neighborhood, which is currently working timberland.

There, Braun sees potential for around 2,500 houses.

“This may take 10 or 20 years, but this is why we have the housing problem we have right now. Ten or 20 years ago, people weren’t looking at, ‘How are we going to build the houses for you?’” Braun said, pointing to The Chronicle reporter interviewing him.

The site is in the master planning process, and it’s the City of Chehalis’ first-ever project to need one. 

“There’s still some vacant land in the city limits of Chehalis and Centralia, but increasingly what’s left is affected by wetlands or … mitigation that makes it very difficult to develop or just uneconomical to develop. And then, the final thing is this isn’t in the floodplain,” he said.

For the best-suited utilities that were close by, Braun’s company brought most of the area into the Chehalis urban growth area from Centralia’s. He assured he’s “not picking sides,” though.

The landscape has a history of slides, a murmured concern about development there for decades. The two Braun knows about, however, were caused by human error. 

Raindrop also owns the old Elks Lodge now, which was sold after one of those slides made it too costly for the club. According to previous reporting by The Chronicle, Elks member Jerry Bridgewater — who oversaw stabilization efforts for the building in the early 2000s — also said the slide came from human disturbance. 

The steep acreage is made up of sand, and was formerly the location of several coal mines. 

“For years, I drove by this every day and thought it was just a big clay face. Turns out it’s not clay, this is all sand,” he said.

To cut into the hillside for such a project, Raindrop Properties gained a sand mine permit from the Department of Natural Resources. Locals can spot the sand at the Newaukum Golf Course or as fill for area construction projects. Filling in the coal mine holes was, similarly, a lot of work, Braun said.

“When we got it, it was pretty — well, it got quite a haircut,” he said.

With the road to the lodge and the road underway from Kresky, Raindrop Properties will likely develop a small system of roads for traffic flow through the proposed neighborhood. Once it’s time for the actual selling and construction of the businesses and homes, Braun said, his team will sell the land.

“Ultimately, this is a business. Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But, the goal is to put our community in a position where we have sufficient homes, ideally, at a range of prices, to serve our needs now and into the future.”