From rock quarry to rock-star development

Columbia Palisades project at 192nd & Brady Rd. will begin to take shape over next few months

Columbia Palisaides

Big machinery scurrying about is no strange sight on the 84 acres surrounding the intersection of Brady Rd. and 192nd Avenue – after all, the area has been a rock quarry for more than 135 years. Tons and tons of rock from the site have made their way in various forms into countless projects around the county and beyond – including huge boulders (some weighing more than 30 tons each) that are now part of the Columbia River jetty and the Grays Harbor jetty. But now there is a new breed of machinery working the site, beginning to transform it from a rock quarry to a visionary mixed-use project called Columbia Palisades that will serve as the eastern gateway to Vancouver.

According to Ed Freeman, vice president of Columbia Palisades Corp., when complete the project will feature 84.2 acres of luxury single-family residences and townhomes, retail and restaurants, office space, multi-family housing, a 100-unit hotel, an amphitheater with seating built into the hillside, and a community center – all with stunning views of the Columbia River. The project also includes about 24 acres of open space, such as the sloped areas, a stream corridor and a trail that wraps around the slope.

Freeman said that the project ambiance will be a “lifestyle center” similar to Bridgeport Village in Tigard or the Pearl District in Portland (but with shorter buildings, limited to five or six stories).

Chad Eiken, director of community and economic development for the City of Vancouver, said that the project will be a “new benchmark” in terms of mixed-use developments, and that it will be a “great addition to the 192nd corridor.”

Jon Wagner, Vancouver’s senior planner, added that the project is in conformance with the Riverview Gateway subarea plan adopted in February 2009, with just a few changes, such as omitting the proposed pedestrian path under 192nd, which turned out not to be practical.

“Full entitlements are in place, we have submitted our site utility construction plans to the City, and expect the first of three site-work permits to be ready in about 10 days,” said Freeman.

Rock quarryTapani Inc. is performing the grading and site work, which will continue through October. Freeman put the cost of the site work at “more than $10 million,” but added that they have saved significantly by crushing about 100,000 cubic yards of their own rock from the quarry site. Onsite utilities will begin to be installed in September, which should take about six months. “Street A,” which loops from 192nd around the north of the development down to Brady Rd., will be paved first; then Tapani will turn its attention to the paving work for accessing the 50 residential lots on Brady Knob. Plans also include adding a left turn lane on 192nd, adding lanes to Brady Road, and installing a round-about at the intersection.

“The round-about will keep traffic flowing on Brady Road,” stated Don Hanson, principal at Otak Inc., who has been working on the Columbia Palisades project since its inception 12 years ago. “It’s pretty exciting to see this thing come to fruition.”

Hanson said that it has been an “interesting project,” where the “constraints became opportunities.” Being involved in the reclamation of the site enabled Otak to do pre-grading and to oversee the quality of the slopes and compaction.

“The challenge is in the topography – there is a 100-foot elevation change from the bottom to the top of the site,” said Hanson. “That really drove a lot of the configuration of our plan.”

He added that both the City of Vancouver and the Department of Natural Resources (which oversees the mining activity) have been great partners.

“It’s an excellent example of a private-public partnership,” stated Hanson.

With the site work underway, said Freeman, he can turn his attention to marketing – but already a wide variety of businesses have expressed interest, including hotel, medical, dental, mixed-use retail developers, and even gas station operators. He anticipates the first office building to start construction by this time next year, as well as some residential construction.

“It looks terrible right now, but when it’s done it will be fantastic,” said Hanson. “The project has challenged us to do our best work.”

“We’re really confident in the location – we will build it and they will come,” added Freeman.

Quarrying has a rock-solid history in Clark County

Fisher’s Quarry started operations in the early 1880s and encompassed more than 180 acres along Highway 14. Located in basalt flows which erupted from a vent located on the slope of Prune Hill, a Boring Lava cone, the quarry produced rock products for projects including the streets of Portland and coastal jetties. Smith Brothers Contracting purchased Fishers Quarry in 1943, and the Umpqua Navigation Company bought the quarry about 1967. In 1984, Umpqua split the quarry, selling the portion east of 192nd Avenue to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the western portion to Peter Kiewit and Pacific Rock Products. Kiewit became the sole owner of the western portion in 1999; in 2002, Rinker Materials purchased that portion (Rinker was later acquired by CEMEX).

Columbia Palisades Corp., an affiliate of Weston Investment Co., bought the eastern quarry from WSDOT around 2002, and CEMEX continued to mine it for the next nine years, after which began the reclamation of the site to prepare it for the transformation from an active quarry to a landmark mixed-use development that will welcome thousands of people per day to the eastern edge of Vancouver.

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Jodie Gilmore’s journalistic background includes more than 15 years of writing for the Vancouver Business Journal as well as other publications such as Northwest Women’s Journal, North Bank Magazine, American Builders Quarterly and The New American. A Master’s in Technical & Professional Writing and 20+ years in the trenches as a technical writer and online help developer round out her writing background. When not writing, she enjoys gardening and working on her small farm in the Cascade foothills.