Neighborhood Profile: Developing Zillah Lakes | Local
Zillah Lakes, a residential and commercial development on the southwest end of Zillah, has faced its share of hurdles since its inception in 2005.
A ditch running through the 220-acre site and into the Yakima River required a federal permit, which delayed development. Then the Great Recession mortgage meltdown hit.
Now, this close-knit community nestled between the Yakima Valley Highway and Interstate 82 may be on the way to full development, thanks to a newly installed road that will provide better access to the site.
The road – Vintage Valley Parkway – crosses the south side of the development and parallels I-82 with intersection points leading into the development. The road runs from First Avenue in Zillah west to Buena Road. It features sidewalks, lampposts, benches and medians with vegetation.
The road has not yet been opened because the final details of the project have not yet been finalized, said Ardele Steele, Zillah’s director of urban planning and community development.
While the road provides required access to the site for more residential sites, it also opens up around 80 acres to potential commercial development, she said.
“We’re making code amendments now,” Steele said. “We’re getting things ready and as soon as they open the road gate we’re pretty sure it’s going to go pretty quickly.”
So far, there are about 80 houses and townhouses in Zillah Lakes, with room for about 200 more.
There is also some commercial development: a seven-room boutique hotel, a 4,500 square foot event center, and a substation for the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office.
There is a three-hole executive golf course, a small vineyard, a swimming pool and a walking path that loops the entire development.
This is a bit scaled down from the much more ambitious plan presented to city officials in 2006.
At that time, the plan was to build 850 upscale homes, townhouses and apartments, a nine-hole championship golf course with two lakes, a winery, brewery, shopping center and RV park. on former agricultural land.
Developers said the project would attract westerners looking for a quiet place to retire. City officials embraced the project which could have potentially doubled the size of Zillah, which had a population of around 2,500 at the time.
The project was divided into several construction phases, the first including the golf course and approximately 70 homes ranging in price from $200,000 to $325,000.
But the stock market crash drove many buyers away and many of the newly built homes were rented out.
A lot has changed with the recovery of the economy. All houses and almost all townhouses are sold.
The golf course – which was never fully built – was limited to three holes to make way for more commercial development, said Scott Clark, development consultant and commercial real estate broker.
“From a developer perspective and from a business perspective, it made it a lot more palpable,” he said.
Clark said he receives inquiries from local and regional developers interested in the commercial and residential aspects of the development.
Steele said projects in 2019 showed the development had the potential to bring in more than $100 million in commercial development.
“That was 2019,” she said, noting recent inflation. “The thing is, when you have a bunch of freeway frontages, you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t take advantage of it.”
Kevin Litton and his wife, Tina, were among the first to move into Zillah Lakes, and they’ve never looked back.
They sold their Yakima home to find comfort where they are now. Kevin is the president of the owners’ association.
The Littons’ backyard faces one of the development’s lakes. From their back porch, they can feed the fish, jump in their little rowboat to cruise the lake, or watch the sun come up.
They can also take the gravel path around the development or take the Vintage Valley Parkway on foot to nearby restaurants and bakery.
“We love it,” Kevin said. “It’s the best thing we’ve ever done.”
The small golf course is fun and easily accessible, he said.
“You never have to wait for a tee time – just step outside,” Kevin said.
On a recent afternoon, the Littons sat in their yard with neighbor Elsie Pearson, who has lived there since 2009, and talked about the neighborhood.
Residents know each other by first name in the development, Pearson said.
“This neighborhood, you can’t beat it,” she said. “We keep an eye on each other.”
Tina pointed to a year when high winds blew through trees in Yakima Valley, including their neighborhood.
Men pulled out saws and helped clear fallen trees and branches for neighbors who couldn’t afford them, she said.
“You don’t even think about it,” she said.
The neighbors organize monthly birthday parties. On the first of the month, everyone gets a birthday card that celebrates a birthday that month, Kevin said.
“It’s just a very close, ongoing family,” Pearson added.
There are also weekend barbecues often held at homes, which can get a little packed at times, Tina said.
“You don’t want to offend anyone so you can get 20 people here,” she said.
“Summer months are nice because you can be outdoors,” Pearson said. “Everyone has beautiful gardens.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, residents held annual Halloween parties,
A resident runs a printing business and makes t-shirts for anyone noticing the annual event, Kevin said.
The pool is a good example of community collaboration, Kevin said.
“Everyone put in about $4,000 to $5,000 and we built it,” he said.
Site manager Doug Lakman said the development often attracts outsiders.
Reunions, quinceaneras, graduation parties, and other gatherings often take place at the event center.
Groups from out of town stay at the boutique hotel. A Granger bride and groom have booked staycations for an out-of-town family to attend their wedding, Lakman said.
And a Seattle-area Ferrari auto club touring the state makes Zillah Lakes its first stop.
“That’s the kind of momentum we get,” Lakman said.
Now commercial and residential developers are being sought as the next phases of the project begin, he said.
“That’s our goal,” Lakman said.