REGIONAL RESET: Cities' priorities for funding, planning vary
Cities vary in planning, funding priorities
This project started with some seemingly simple questions – what are the region's cities' main priorities for investment? What do they need money for, and how do they plan on spending it? What's the anticipated return? What barriers do they have to success?
While we found some similarities, we also found unique communities with unique needs. Some of the conversations were colored by overarching political issues – we talked to Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey before the urban growth boundary was expanded, for example, and our interview with Oregon City Mayor Doug Neeley was before bids closed for the Blue Heron site near Willamette Falls.
Here's a more in-depth look at what we heard from the leaders we talked to.
We sat down with Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle a few days before a vote on his city's proposed urban renewal district, a vote that passed by a 10 percent margin. The issue was heavy on the mayor's mind.
Doyle is unapologetic about wanting to re-imagine his city's downtown to attract a new generation of residents, and thinks the city should do whatever it can to mitigate the impacts of 1950s-era street and zoning planning.
Part of that involves improved streetscapes and new alternatives for vehicle traffic. But it's also about being smart with some of Beaverton's natural assets, like Beaverton Creek.
"We all find it peaceful to see water," Doyle said in expressing his hope that opening up the creek out of culverts, and widening it, would encourage businesses to look to the creek as an asset.
Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle said improving access to water, both from Beaverton Creek and in fountains like this, can help his city's downtown.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to turn downtown Beaverton into a community with business and life from early in the morning to late at night, a so-called 18-hour community. It's going to take public investment, Doyle said, but he thinks those investments can be made intelligently.
"It's been proven over and over, if you do the right planning, it (investment) works," he said.
If Fairview Mayor Mike Weatherby had a Christmas list, an aircraft carrier would be at the top of it. It would also likely be second, third, fourth and 12th.
Weatherby is adamant that the USS Ranger can be anchored in the Columbia River near his city, and that it would serve as a game-changing tourist destination for Fairview. Significant logistical challenges stand in his way – specifically, the carrier can't fit through the BNSF Railway bridge over the Columbia River near downtown Vancouver – but Weatherby is undeterred.
Beyond that, Weatherby would like to see 223rd Avenue widened to four lanes to accommodate more freight traffic (and, of course, for traffic going to special events on the Ranger), and for Sandy Boulevard to be widened for trucks and pedestrian safety, as well.
An effort to schedule an interview last week with Happy Valley Mayor Lori DeRemer was unsuccessful, but in an email, she talked about transportation investments as key to her city's future.
"The city is unable to single-handedly build the transportation network to accommodate the growth associated with the UGB expansion decisions," DeRemer wrote. She'd like to see funding for the Sunrise Corridor, a proposed freeway paralleling Highway 212 between Interstate 205 and Damascus, as well as capacity improvements throughout the road network.
She said her city is in a good place to accommodate more growth, and is focusing on using systems development charges – fees on new construction to pay for infrastructure – to build roads and parks in her city.
Perhaps no city in the region has been more active in the growth discussions of the last four years than Hillsboro, which had bold – some would say outrageous – aspirations to eventually urbanize the Tualatin Valley floor as far north as Helvetia.
Hillsboro's downtown redevelopment efforts have been stalled in part because of the resources the city puts in to monitoring Metro, said Mayor Jerry Willey.
Between urban reserves and the recent urban growth boundary decision, Hillsboro's energy has been focused on setting itself up for more decades of growth. But Mayor Jerry Willey said that's come at the expense of planning for and implementing other projects, like downtown redevelopment and the AmberGlen regional center.
"We spend a significant amount of our time and resources monitoring Metro, making sure there isn't some flagrant foul in the process," Willey said. City planners' efforts aren't just focused on making sure Hillsboro adheres to the regional government's development codes. Willey said it's Hillsboro's job to be the standard-bearer for outlying communities that don't share Portland's visions for future development.
"If the city of Hillsboro didn't take the point and push back on a lot of these things, the region would be significantly more restricted in what we can do," he said, adding that he estimates the city has spent millions on coordinating with Metro.
With the battle for new land over, Willey is optimistic that the city's development efforts will take off.
"I think we're going to see AmberGlen considerably pick up pace in the next year or so," Willey said. Hillsboro's economic development manager, John Southgate, added that downtown redevelopment has taken a more focused turn, with consultant Michele Reeves steering land and business owners on smart choices for economic development.
"They have to be willing to say 'I'm not going to put the first person who walks in the door with a check in hand in my building,'" Willey said. "I'm going to make sure that I am willing to hold out until I get the right tenant, which will be good for the whole downtown, not just my pocketbook."
Earlier this year, Lake Oswego families got the heartrending news that three of the city's schools will close. It's a blow to any community, and one that Mayor Jack Hoffman would like to see avoided in the future.
"How do you become a complete community, as opposed to a community that has great high schools and junior highs, and you're closing elementary schools?" Hoffman asks. "It's young families and working-class families."
Adding more families to the city, he says, means adding more middle-class and affordable housing to undeveloped and underdeveloped areas of town.
"A community that has a variety of housing choices and housing types for all income levels, I think, is a more livable community," Hoffman says. "If that's a shared community goal, how do you get there?"
In his mind, that involves the development of the Foothills area, between downtown and the Willamette River, and thinking about different housing types instead of single-family homes.
Will Lake Oswego residents actually buy in to the idea of adding workforce housing to the community? Hoffman goes back to the schools, pointing out that adding 3,000 more families paying property taxes would help bolster school districts' budgets.
Hoffman also said Lake Oswego is looking at improving its pedestrian networks, to make for healthier and more walkable communities.
"If you have the community say we are willing to spend $20 million for bike paths and pedestrians – whatever the number is – that's what we should do," Hoffman said. "It's people willing to invest in their own infrastructure, and $10 million, I think, equals $35 per year for Lake Oswego" property owners, he said.
Oregon City Mayor Doug Neeley is excited about the possibility of acquiring the Blue Heron mill site near Willamette Falls.
There's a fair amount of buzz around Oregon City about the Blue Heron site next to Willamette Falls. Oregon City wants to see that redeveloped as an anchor for downtown, with public access to one of the largest waterfalls (by volume) in North America.
Oregon City is hard at work in redeveloping its downtown, Neeley says. A new economic development manager just started. The city is working on bringing in mixed-use development to its downtown area.
Up the bluff, near Clackamas Community College, is Oregon City's other focus, Neeley says.
"We've got land that's zoned industrial," he said. "It'll be synergistic between the programs the college offers and the employers that can go into that area."
Oregon City isn't looking at landing an Intel or other large employer. Smaller firms, like Benchmade knives, will be crucial to growth in the area.
"Some may be incubator in nature, some might not require much of a footprint," Neeley said. "We're not talking about big manufacturing operations, but small ones."
On the Friday afternoon after the clearing of Occupy Portland from Chapman and Lownsdale squares, social services weighed heavily on the mind of Mayor Sam Adams.
Adams says Portland and Multnomah County pick up a disproportionate share of the region's social services costs, costs that should be distributed more equally throughout the region. He said the city spends double per person what the rest of the region spends on affordable housing and homeless services.
"I accept that as the largest city we're going to always invest and spend more on that," he said. "But the disparity is too great."
Smart planning, good infrastructure, efficient transportation – those all will fall in line if people have prosperity, he said.
"Metro can help with that kind of facilitated role on key issues like human services and social services," Adams said. "Helping people, wherever they're at, get to their next rung of human potential."
It took some prodding, but Adams also opened up on brownfield redevelopment. He acknowledged that employers are unlikely to set up shop on polluted land that they have to pay to clean up. Adams isn't arguing that there isn't a place for greenfield development, he just thinks the region, and state, should do more to make brownfields available for employers.
All of these efforts, Adams says, will take more regional collaboration.
"I think residents of the region see that we are one of the best-planned regions in the United States, but that's high praise on a rock bottom basement standard of regional planning and cooperation," Adams says. "I don't think we've even begun to tap our potential for regional planning and action."
What if the premise for an entire community's planning had the rug pulled out from under it once the building had started?
Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden is keeping an eye on planning for the Stafford area, which could bring more traffic to his city.
That's what happened in Tualatin, when a freeway interchange proposal collapsed under the weight of the Westside Bypass.
The Nyberg Road exit on Interstate 5 was supposed to be for businesses and industry, with residents using a new interchange on the south end of town, at Norwood Road.
Mayor Lou Ogden recalls the history as such: The road feeding into Norwood should extend all the way north to Hillsboro, to serve the westside. "Then they went beyond that and said 'That's a good idea, you ought to just go north across the river and connect it to 205,'" Ogden said. The Westside Bypass "manifested itself into that then imploded on its own weight, both politically and financially."
The Norwood Road exit will never be built. Instead, Tualatin is focusing on improving north-south traffic west of Interstate 5, connecting 124th Avenue to the Elligsen Road exit in Wilsonville.
That $75 million project, he said, will free up about 2,000 acres of industrial land, an area called Basalt Creek.
East of I-5, Ogden is thinking about residential growth, particularly in the urban reserve south of Interstate 205. The city is also keeping a watchful eye on discussions about the future of the Borland Road area.
Some of the early-stage concepts for Borland include a dense regional center. Ogden said he's worried that that would steer even more traffic toward the Nyberg exit at I-5.
There's a bit of a paradox on the westside. There's no question that places like Aloha, Bethany and Raleigh Hills are suburban pieces of the regional map. But with no city government, those areas must turn to Washington County or special districts for municipal services.
Washington County Chair Andy Duyck says those areas will always get what services they want and are willing to pay for. It's the focus of a study of the Aloha-Reedville area, which is underway, looking at what regulatory and fiscal changes the county could make to revitalize the area between Beaverton and Hillsboro.
"It could be changing zoning in given areas to create mixed-use, which might make communities more vibrant," Duyck said. "It could be a strategic plan working with the parks department to acquire land for more parks. It might be some transportation issues. Maybe we can change some road alignments or encourage a light rail line through a given area."
Duyck, sometimes derided as a sprawl-friendly conservative, recognizes that services can help communities prosper. He just doesn't think Washington County should be offering the services, or regulating the outcomes.
"There's a lot of things we don't do," he says, "but we're in a prime circumstance to be able to help others get them."
To Duyck, it also means avoiding burdensome regulation. He pointed to the planning for North Bethany, where several work groups got involved in the planning process. What started as a simple principle – growth should pay for growth – wound up commandeered by special interests pushing for more and more caveats for new development, Duyck said.
"Every decision you make opens up to a whole bunch more decisions that bog down the system," he says. "They slow it down and there's a cost associated with them.
"If we want to get back to a more sensible system," Duyck says, "we're going to have to trust that some of these things are going to be taken care of by the developers and landowners."