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Plan for demo forest nearing the deadline

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By Brian Beckley

The Courier-Herald

As the deadline for submitting an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan draws closer, focus is shifting toward plans for the future of the Washington State University Demonstration Forest.

Control of the 147-acre forest was returned to the Weyerhaeuser Corporation this past fall in exchange for a large donation to the university. Because the comprehensive plan shows the forest zoned public facilities, a zoning change amendment is expected to be requested by April 30.

According to the agreement, WSU will receive half the profits from the land sale and Weyerhaeuser will also pay to rebuild the ropes course to WSU's specifications and fund relocation of the university's employees.

Plans at the time of the deal called for the forest to be split into three parcels of land. According to a Sept. 8 memo sent from Weyerhaeuser Vice President of Land Acquisitions and Divestitures Ted Cozine to WSU Vice President for Business Affairs Greg Royer, approximately 80 acres were planned for residential use, approximately 29 acres were to be zoned for commercial use and the remaining approximately 40 acres would become park land.

A later e-mail from Julie Keough at Weyerhaeuser said a preliminary plan for the site devotes 20 acres to parks, 23 acres to commercial and 106 acres to development.

According to Wally Costello of Quadrant, the property development subsidiary of the Weyerhaeuser Company, no plans have been finalized yet for the use of the land. However, some members of the city council had a chance to view a preliminary plan for the land in a meeting earlier this year with representatives from Quadrant.

According to Deputy Mayor Dan Swatman and Councilman Neil Johnson, the original formula seems to still be in place. The documents they saw show plans for a "deep commercial" development in the section of the forest along state Route 410, housing located behind Fred Meyer and between 30 and 40 acres of park land featuring a ball field complex on South Prairie Road.

The plans also show large buffered areas with trails between the different properties.

"They still keep a row of trails with trees so people can walk from one end to the other," Johnson said.

Calling the forest a "public asset," Swatman said he was not sure the city council would approve the zoning changes, but he recognizes something will eventually be built on the land.

"I'd much rather see the forest stay, but I realize ... there's going to be some development," Swatman said. "If we ignore it and don't do anything with it, someone will figure out how to do something with it.

"Thinking you can keep it undeveloped forever, that doesn't seem to happen in a city environment," he said.

Johnson said he hoped to see a more binding agreement than just the zoning map before the council must vote.

"I don't want to see a shell game," Johnson said of potential changes. "This is a sensitive area and we need to treat it as such.

"We have to be a little selfish in that regard," he said.

Swatman said the public will be involved in the process of changing the land's zoning.

"If the people think it's a good deal (Weyerhaeuser) should be allowed to do it," he said.

The forest was originally deeded to WSU in 1941 under the condition it be used for "experimental and demonstration purposes including forestry and demonstrations by the Boys and Girls 4-H clubs of the extension services" of WSU. The deed also specifies if the land is used for any other purpose, it would revert back to Weyerhaeuser.

The site serves more than 7,000 adults and students each year.

Brian Beckley can be reached at bbeckley@courierherald.com.

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