Connectivity Key to Construction in Battle Ground

Proposed road extension will open SR-503 to commercial development

The city of Battle Ground and two development companies – Mill Creek Partnership and CJ Dens Land Company – are teaming up to facilitate commercial development along SR-503 at the intersection of Scotton Way (south of Main Street, north of Eaton Boulevard/199th Street). The development agreement was approved by the Battle Ground City Council in mid-November, and will extend Scotton Way to the west, through SR-503 to Southwest 20th Avenue.

“The agreement with the developers is the culmination of over two years of work,” said Battle Ground City Manager John Williams.

Initially, the agreement commits the developers to pay 50 percent of the debt service payments. According to Cathy Huber Nickerson, Battle Ground’s finance and information services director, this will amount to interest-only payments of about $33,000 per developer, per year, for the first three years. After that, the estimated payments will be principal-and-interest, about $60,000 per year, until enough tax revenue is generated from the developed commercial properties to meet the obligation.

“This agreement is new ground,” said Huber Nickerson. “It mitigates risk for the city given the current development environment.”

T.J. Fontenette, principal of Mill Creek Partnership, is fairly optimistic about the development environment.

“The recovery is starting to take hold,” said Fontenette, whose firm has owned 35 acres north of the Scotton Way extension for 25 years. “18 to 24 months from now, things should be visibly improved.”

That prediction is why Fontenette said Mill Creek signed the development agreement with the city and CJ Dens (owners of a small parcel of land south of the extension).

“Our goal is to bring a quality retail and commercial development to Battle Ground,” said Fontenette. “This area has tremendous potential.”

Fontenette has experience recognizing development potential.  He was involved in the ownership group behind the development of the Eastridge Business Park in Orchards several years ago.

An added bonus of the project, according to Scott Sawyer, Battle Ground public works director and city engineer, will be providing the city access to the 80-acre “Remy property,” which the city acquired in 2000. 60 acres of the property are slated for wetland mitigation, and the city hopes to build a park on the remaining 20 acres of uplands.

The project will be funded by $4.28 million of Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds (RZEDBs) and up to an additional $540,000 of General Obligation Bonds. Though the city of Battle Ground did not receive an allocation of RZEDBs as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Clark County and Vancouver did – but did not have any shovel-ready projects that could take advantage of the bonds, as they are not available after December 31st. Battle Ground, said Huber Nickerson, successfully petitioned Vancouver and the County to use their bond allocations for the Scotton Way project.

According to Huber Nickerson, the RZEDBs enabled the city to keep interest rates down on the project, as the federal government pays 45 percent of the interest expense. These bonds are also attractive to investors, because they come with a 45-percent tax credit on the yield. The city hopes to have sold the bonds before this article goes to print, though Huber Nickerson said the date of sale could change depending on market volatility.

Without the lower interest rate of RZEDBs, Battle Ground Community Development Director Robert Maul said the project would have likely never gotten off the ground. He said the city looked at other funding options, such as Local Improvement District (LID) and Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT), but they were too costly.

Part of the expense is due to the length of the extension – roughly a half-mile, or 10 city blocks. The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) wouldn’t allow the extension and installation of a traffic signal unless Scotton Way was extended all the way to Southwest 20th. Sawyer said WSDOT’s rationale is that SR-503 is a “limited access” highway, and in order to stop traffic on such a road it had to be for a better reason than just development.

Now that the funding process is almost complete, the city of Battle Ground and the developers are ready to move ahead. Sawyer said that they will outsource the design of the SR-503 and Scotton Way intersection, as well as the electrical work for the traffic signal. In fact, they have already sent out a request for proposals, which were due on December 7th. The design of the two-lane roadway itself, which Sawyer said will probably carry an average of 10,000 vehicles per day, will be handled internally by the city. The estimated completion date for the road extension is sometime in 2012.

“The Scotton Way project will support the creation of jobs and provide services to Battle Ground citizens that are not currently available in the local community,” said Williams. “It will also provide additional east-west connectivity in the City.”

According to city documents, the development made possible by extending Scotton Way could create up to 700 jobs, not counting construction of the roadway and developments.

Fontenette said, “The project will open up the entire 503 corridor to commercial development, which will be an asset for consumers, employers, and employees.”

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