Lewis County officials reiterated Monday their belief that any move to resolve an ongoing development dispute with STIHL Northwest must come from the city of Centralia, saying the county lacks the legal flexibility to overlook development codes in the city’s urban growth area.
"This is the city's call to make,” said county manager Erik Martin. “I’ve asked that they let us know how they’d like to proceed."
The dispute has arisen over STIHL’s $20 million facility at the Port of Centralia. The development is within Centralia’s urban growth area, meaning it’s technically outside city limits — but Lewis County has agreed to enforce the city’s development codes, presuming it will one day be annexed into the city.
Because of that agreement, county officials say they need to uphold the letter of the law, and that means mandating that STIHL install sidewalks, curbing, lighting and gutters on Foron Road adjacent to the site. They plan to hold that position until Centralia tells them otherwise.
STIHL has maintained that it doesn’t plan to use Foron Road as a frontage road or access point to the property, and therefore shouldn’t be required to pay for upgrades to the county road. Port commissioner Peter Lahmann said he agreed with that assessment.
“It’s a back road,” he said. “I went out and drove it the other day. It’s a pretty good long chunk of property to go in and upgrade when you’re not even going to use the road. … To me it doesn’t seem like a reasonable thing to require an upgrade of that back road at this time.”
Officials in Centralia have said they’re exploring case law to see if the upgrade requirement is illegal, as STIHL has claimed. Martin cited a similar case in Lacey where it was found the upgrades required of a developer were too onerous.
“The cost was huge, it was massive,” he said. “The courts found that it was disproportionate to the effect of the project.”
Eric Eisenberg, the county’s civil deputy prosecutor, has conducted a cursory review of the legal parameters, Martin said, a study that proved “inconclusive.” As the county believes it is Centralia’s call to make, it’s not exploring the matter further at this point, though Martin said Eisenberg would be willing to present his findings to city officials.
County commissioner Edna Fund said she believed Centralia city manager Rob Hill would be discussing the matter with staff Monday. She emphasized that the matter was in the city’s hands, but county leaders are hopeful it can be resolved to allow the development to proceed.
“It is Centralia’s code that we have to enforce,” she said. “We want to talk about it between the port and the city, and we want to come to some kind of conclusion.”