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Port of Othello approves extension on future $3 million land sale to developer

by GABRIEL DAVIS
Staff Writer | March 22, 2024 1:20 AM

OTHELLO — Port of Othello Commissioners approved a 90-day extension to their contract with developer Meritage Companies LLC on Tuesday. The contract holds two parcels of land for Meritage’s eventual purchase and prevents the port from selling the land to another buyer for the duration of the contract.

According to the port’s Executive Director Chris Faix, Meritage is planning on developing housing and commercial properties on the 75 acres of annexed land southwest of the intersection at 14th Avenue and state Route 26. Faix said the sale and development are still in the early stages, and Meritage wants a longer extension after the 90 days. 

Meritage President Jack Barrett attended Tuesday's meeting to discuss the project and the extension with the port. 

“We've done enough of these difficult developments, this doesn't scare us a bit. Not even remotely,” he said. “What everybody has to get comfortable with is the discomfort of the time it takes to get it done.”

Faix said the main potential roadblock for the project is the need for a roundabout at the 14th Avenue and SR 26 intersection to make the development accessible. Barrett said Meritage can’t start any development until it confirms in writing that a roundabout will be installed by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“If there was anything we could do (on the land) right now, we'd be doing it,” Barrett said.

Faix said Meritage plans on including multiple different types of housing, ranging from homes to apartments to senior living.

“We anticipate somewhere, just on the 75 acres, between 650 and 750 dwelling units,” Barrett said. 

Faix said the planned development could also contain commercial businesses like a hotel, a gas station, a grocery store, a bank and restaurants. Faix said these companies are hesitant to come to the development without the roundabout confirmation.

“You can't blame the companies. They don't want to be on an island in there with no roundabout to get the customer to be able to come in easily,” he said. “The way that the traffic bottlenecks there now, if you've ever been over there after school time, by CBHA, it backs up for quite a ways and if you add a development like that in there, you'd never get across 26. It would just be miserable.”

Faix said that the port has heard from several sources that the roundabout is funded and will eventually be installed after roundabouts at two other intersections in Othello are completed. 

“I mean, that's what (WSDOT) told Jack,” he said. “We've heard from several different sources that it is approved and the money has been allocated for it, but it has to go in the natural order of the way they set it up. So (state Route) 17 and Cunningham (Road), and First (Avenue) and 26 will come first, and then ours will be third in line behind that.”

Another potential challenge for securing development comes in the form of private easements, but Faix said securing the easements will likely not be a significant issue for Meritage. 

Faix also said the port is in support of providing a longer extension after the 90-day extension.

“We did give him a 90-day extension just so we can try to figure out some of the roundabout questions and the easement questions, so that will help determine exactly how long of a real extension he needs, for lack of better words,” he said. “It's probably going to be a year after that … The port, we are very interested in having this happen, so we're willing to bend and work with them as much as we can.”

Meritage has already committed $100,000 toward the total purchase price of the land, which Faix said will be approximately $3 million in total at $40,000 an acre. According to the Adams County Assessor’s Office records, the combined assessed 2024 market value of both parcels is about $2.1 million. Additionally, If Meritage were to walk away from the land sale or let the contract expire without buying the property, the port would still keep the $100,000.

During the meeting, the port discussed including a requirement to install an interceptor drain in a canal on the property — which Barrett will need to do for development anyway — as part of the longer contract extension. Barrett said Meritage would be open to that as an option. 

“Even before you do that, you still have to have a plan … I mean a plan that you can execute,” he said. “Right now we can't execute it. But in concept, absolutely not, we don't have a problem with that.”

Barrett said Meritage was drawn to Othello through the city’s push for more housing, the original intention behind the development. 

“Ever since we started working with this gentleman and his company, we bought in 100%,” Faix said. “We want to do what we can do to make this happen because Othello needs the housing; we need the restaurant, we need the hotel, we need the grocery store, we need all this stuff that he's talking about bringing. I mean, within reason and within our rules that we have to operate by, we want to do whatever we can to help make this happen for Othello and Adams County and for the port.”

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com.

   The Port of Othello owns about 75 acres of land, pictured, bordering state Route 26, southwest of the intersection of 14th Avenue and SR 26. The port is currently holding the land for the eventual sale to developer Meritage Companies.
 
 
    According to Port of Othello Executive Director Chris Faix, one of the potential roadblocks to future development on the 75 acres of port-owned land on the south edge of Othello is the need for written confirmation that the Washington State Department of Transportation will be installing a roundabout at the intersection of 14th Avenue and state Route 26, which would be necessary for better access to the developed property.