Ridgeline Development or Open Space?

Ridgeline Development or Open Space?

By Dennis Cresswell, Managing Editor, Tri-City Citizen

Milo Bauder doesn’t like controversy, and most of the time he can avoid it. Over a period of several decades he has quietly created some of the finest housing developments in the area that we now call south Richland without becoming as well known as some other local developers.

If his name isn’t exactly a household word to Tri-Citians, many of his projects certainly are — Hills West, Meadow Springs, Westcliffe and Crested Hills among them. On his drawing board now is a project that would be a mix of single-family homes and townhouses on 41 acres just up the hill from his Crested Hills development.

The fact that it’s uphill from existing housing is the reason Bauder’s project named “The Crest” isn’t sailing through the approval process quite as smoothly as previous ones, even though it has been part of the city’s planning for nearly 30 years. It’s on a portion of our area’s ridgeline that is adjacent to Badger Mountain and is often referred to as “Little Badger.” His project would include a road connecting it to the Rancho Reata area.

Develop or preserve?

The Friends of Badger Mountain would like Little Badger to remain undeveloped, and have started a letter-writing campaign in an attempt to sway city planners and council members. The organization is the same group that formed a few years ago and waged a successful campaign to preserve Badger in its natural state. The group has since spearheaded the work of putting in hiking trails to make the big mountain accessible.

But that was then, and this is now. That effort saved a major landmark from development, and this hill may not be considered in the same league. The Friends of Badger Mountain raised $700,000 of mostly public money in a period of a few months to buy Badger Mountain property and set it aside. But is that likely to happen in the case of Little Badger?

“People have strong feelings about preserving open space,” says Sharon Grant, a leader of Friends of Badger Mountain. “We need to identify the special places in our area and work to preserve them.”

Grant estimates that about 1,000 people per week make the hike up Badger Mountain and back. The land is owned by Benton County to be preserved in perpetuity as the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve. The City of Richland — which also contributed to purchasing the land — has put in a park at the base of the mountain. The park will soon have restrooms, and members of the Friends of Badger Mountain plan to put interpretive kiosks along the trails.

Achieving balance

Paradoxically, preserving all of Little Badger in its natural state would not make it accessible to hikers and nature lovers, according to Bauder. He supports the idea of establishing hiking trails, and his development plan includes donating 27 acres of property on the north slope of the mountain to the city to be used for a trail, as well as providing trail easements on the south side.

“I’m not looking for someone to write me a check for it,” Bauder says. “But there will be no trails and no road to get to the trailheads if I don’t do the project, and that’s a loss to the community. For the open space and trail system to happen, my project has to go forward.”

Before the Richland Planning Commission held an August hearing on the project, the Friends of Badger Mountain seemed to agree. In a message to supporters, the group called for “smart development that incorporates both preservation of open space and integrated trail systems.“

The group is interested in developing trails from what is now called the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve all the way down the hill to the Amon Creek Basin that flows into the Yakima River. Such a trail is included in the city’s 2006-2011 Parks, Trails and Open Space Master Plan, and Grant and members of her group see it as a step toward creating a “ridges to river” trail system.

Traffic concerns

Opponents of Bauder’s new housing project, including nearby residents, have employed a tactic that’s now almost standard procedure in cases such as this — complaining about additional traffic. Consequently, at the August 23 hearing the Planning Commission asked him to do another traffic study.

Bauder has initiated the new study, but he says if the level of controversy over his project is raised further he will hold off on The Crest.

“I have other projects to do,” Bauder says. “I don’t have to do this one.”

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