BURBANK - By this time next year a bank branch, dental office, dry cleaner, even a fast food restaurant could be staking claim on the empty lots lining U.S. Highway 12 between Humorist Road and State Route 124.
With a water system in place, sewer system in the works and a new interchange under construction on the highway, a long-term vision to develop the Port of Walla Walla's Burbank Business Park is coming to life one step at a time.
Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz unveiled an ambitious timeline for the next part of the project. He hopes to have a binding site plan that will allow the division of lots for commercial and industrial property at the Port's more than 100-acre park in place by next March. The 85-lot plan needs approval from Walla Walla County before the lots can be sold and developed.
A county official said a binding site plan this large is more likely to take five months to process. Kuntz said sewer installation would likely begin next summer. "And then we're off and selling lots," he said.
Whether the timeline is optimistic or not, the transformation is well under way.
During a recent meeting in Burbank, Port officials presented the latest updates to about 30 or 40 residents who attended the gathering at Columbia Middle School.
Rising property taxes, mandated services and the overall cost of living were common themes and concerns of the numerous questions asked by residents during the presentation. However, several residents were also cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of a new business park with tree-lined walking paths and proximity to basic services they now have to drive to Pasco to receive.
"I have mixed feelings," said Burbank resident Debbie Williams. "I live in the Burbank community because I love the quiet country feel. I like the idea of (the business park) being across the street from the (high) school A lot of kids can't afford cars, so they could walk across the street for work. In that respect I'm really excited about it."
As with others who spoke up, Williams said she fears the possibility of development that comes too swiftly. Several residents who spoke up said they worry about too much coming too soon, altering the character of the community. Conversely, some also wondered if the roughly 3,300 residents in the small community that makes up the western pocket of Walla Walla County can support 85 lots' worth of commercial development, especially with access to Pasco's businesses just across the bridge.
But commissioners and Port staff assured that full development is more likely to take decades than merely a few years, and protective covenants at the property will result in a respectful and tastefully designed business park.
As far as property taxes are concerned, Commission President Mike Fredrickson clarified taxes are more likely to go down as new businesses join the park. As the property develops, more landowners will be able to share the load, he said.
He also said development of a business park is more likely to take place over decades rather than a few short years.
"Over the last two years we've come out to Burbank and we've heard what people said loud and clear, which is ‘We don't want a Road 68,'" Fredrickson said referring to the rapid development that's taken place in the Pasco area.
He said the breakdown of the Port's property into smaller lots could help counter the strip-mall-type of development that's popped up along the neighboring community's thoroughfare. However, commissioners also said it's possible that one property owner could buy several of the smaller lots and piece them together for one larger development.
One 20-acre parcel has been identified in the preliminary lot layout as a possible destination for a grocery store. If there's no demand for the piece, it too could be broken up into smaller lots.
Port officials say the heavy industrial tenants will remain along the waterfront at the park, where the Snake and Columbia rivers converge. Light manufacturing and commercial properties will make up the area that's closest to the highway.
Kuntz said the Port has come to terms with the city of Pasco for sewer treatment service that will allow Walla Walla's economic development agency to provide sewer services without having to build its own treatment plant. The initial connection from the Port will cost $1.8 million. The Port plans a pipeline to run a sewer line under the Snake River and into Pasco.
The Port and Pasco have both agreed to enter into an interlocal agreement. The 75-year agreement would allow the Port a maximum flow of 300,000 gallons per day. The Port would collect fees from local users and then be responsible for paying Pasco. Residents will not be required to hook up to the sewer system unless they were unified in their desire to.
Kuntz said Port officials ultimately want the development to be something of which residents can be proud.
"We're hoping the citizens can drive by and say, ‘Somebody really thought this through.'"