Large lot industrial land shortage

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer February 22, 2012 12:33 pm

Nobody knows when or if some big company will choose to build a manufacturing plant in La Grande, but it pays to be prepared.

That's the idea central to a joint Union County-City of La Grande work session scheduled Monday at the Earle C. Misener Conference Room on Fourth Street.

City and county officials, plus hired consultants, will come together to discuss next steps in the effort to make sure there's large lot industrial land available to firms that have the need. 

La Grande comes up short now, said City Planner Mike Boquist.

"In general, a company looking to build a manufacturing facility has criteria to meet. When they do come in, we have to say we don't have 50 acres available anywhere," Boquist said. "We can't even submit a proposal."

It's a problem local officials have been working on for a long time.

In 2009, the City of La Grande added to its Urban Growth boundary about 150 acres of land along the south side of Highway 30 southeast of La Grande, and about 60 acres of land to the west of the La Grande Business and Technology Park.

The added land is privately owned, and is currently zoned for agricultural use. 

The city intends to create a new, large lot industrial zone for the properties. But before it can, it needs to update plans for transportation, water, sewers and storm water. The transportation piece gets first consideration, Boquist said.

 "Once those plans are updated, we can physically re-zone, and we're going to do that all at once. The transportation piece is the significant amendment, with water, sewer and storm water more minor," Boquist said.

With a grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation, the city hired consultants last year to study related transportation issues.

Three consulting firms — OTAK, DKS Associates and Alta Planning — looked at long-range transportation solutions, and have suggested the building of a frontage road along Highway 30, construction of a bike-pedestrian path along the road, and reconfiguration of the McAlister Road-Highway 30 intersection.  

The bike-pedestrian path is required in the plan by the Oregon Department of Transportation. As for the re-configuration of the Highway 30-McAlister Road intersection, Boquist said a long-range plan is make a 90 degree junction.

Depending on needs, the intersection might one day be regulated by a traffic signal. Monday's work session will mainly look at the transportation issues.

In a parallel project, the local engineering firm Anderson Perry & Associates is working on the water, sewer and storm water issues for the city. Anderson Perry also is reporting on the presence of streams and wetlands within the proposed heavy industrial zone. 

Wetlands take up more than 20 acres of the land in the proposed zone. Boquist said at some point a decision will have to be made  whether to mitigate the wetland impacts, or look elsewhere for additional land to be included in the zone.

He said everything that's on the table is in a planning stage, and even after the re-zone is complete actual placement of infrastructure won't happen until an actual customer comes to call.

"It's really going to be driven by development based on who comes in and what their needs are," Boquist said.

Union County Planning Director  Hanley Jenkins will lead off discussions Monday, talking about the availability of large lot industrial lands in other communities. Jenkins will emphasize that places along the Interstate 84 corridor like Boardman, Pendleton and Ontario currently have an edge when it comes to attracting industries.

"He (Jenkins)  is going to paint a picture of the competition. It's will  be obvious from that that we're behind," Boquist said.

Monday night's work session is at 6 p.m. at the Misener Room. The public may attend, but comment will not be accepted until Tuesday evening, when the city holds a public forum to show the transportation plan and field questions.

The forum starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at City Hall, 1000 Adams Ave.