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Tigard voters approve urban renewal measures

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The measures are passing 68% to 32% in unofficial election returns Tuesday evening.

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF TIGARD - The Tigard City Center Urban Renewal Area, outlined by the red dotted line, was proposed for expansion by including the properties shaded in gold at Tuesday's election.Urban renewal measures placed on Tuesday's ballot by the Tigard City Council have passed by wide margins, according to unofficial election returns.

Measure 34-274, amending the existing City Center Urban Renewal Area to include seven more tax lots, and Measure 34-275, adopting an urban renewal plan for the Tigard Triangle and creating a new 547.9-acre urban renewal district there, both have 68 percent of voters in favor, according to numbers available from the Oregon secretary of state's elections website as of 10:10 p.m. Tuesday.

The city has heavily promoted the measures since the Tigard City Council voted over the winter to refer them to the ballot. Although not allowed to endorse a "yes" or "no" vote, material from the city has touted the benefits of urban renewal and the lack of any direct cost to local businesses and residents.

Urban renewal works through a mechanism called "tax increment financing." Despite the name, the mechanism does not actually raise taxes, although it depends on overall revenues rising as the assessed value of properties within the urban renewal district increases and new developments are added onto the tax rolls.

When an urban renewal plan is approved, the amount of taxes being collected by the city and each taxing district in the urban renewal area is capped, forming what is sometimes called a "frozen base." Revenue above that capped amount — the "tax increment" — is collected by the urban renewal agency and allocated toward fulfilling the voter-approved plan.

The Achilles' heel of tax increment financing is that revenues may not increase as much or as quickly as expected, resulting in not enough money being collected over the lifespan of the urban renewal plan to complete all of the projects voters approved. Tigard city officials have said that is the case in downtown Tigard, as the Great Recession's effects on the local economy has resulted in lower-than-anticipated collections.

Measure 34-274 expands the City Center Urban Renewal Area by 37.7 acres, which should increase the amount of tax increment financing available until the urban renewal plan sunsets. The plan, which voters originally approved in 2006 by nearly a two-to-one margin, allows the urban renewal district to collect up to $22 million by 2026. The amendment does not change that amount of "maximum indebtedness," nor does it extend the plan's lifespan.

Urban renewal is a tool intended to revitalize "blighted" areas, providing local governments with the revenue needed to carry out capital improvement projects, like building new streets, extending or improving existing streets, developing utilities, purchasing and redeveloping properties, and commissioning public art.

One of the more visible and successful programs associated with urban renewal in downtown Tigard has been facade improvements, with the urban renewal agency providing as much as half the cost of overhauling businesses' dated, damaged, weathered or simply unattractive exteriors. According to the city, 20 such projects have been completed so far.

The Tigard Triangle, a large section of east Tigard bounded by Interstate 5, Highway 99W and Highway 217, also is considered to be blighted. Although nearly the size of downtown Portland, the area is beset by development obstacles that include missing road and utility connections, lack of public spaces and facilities, and low walkability scores.

The urban renewal plan being approved through Measure 34-275 states that the Tigard Triangle Urban Renewal Area can collect up to $188 million in tax increment financing up to as late as 2053. That revenue would pay for a broad range of projects, including a Beveland Street overpass of Highway 217, a pedestrian and bicycle overpass of Interstate 5 linking the Triangle to the flagship campus of Portland Community College on Mount Sylvania, and the development of parks, plazas and recreational facilities in the Triangle.

Plans call for both the Triangle and downtown Tigard to be served by stations along the Southwest Corridor MAX line. The centerpiece of the Southwest Corridor Plan, being developed by Metro in conjunction with Tigard and other partners, is a MAX light rail line that would link downtown Portland with the Bridgeport Village shopping center, passing through Southwest Portland and Tigard along the way and likely serving adjacent areas like PCC Sylvania, Lake Oswego and downtown Tualatin with new bus and shuttle routes.

Last November, Tigard voters narrowly approved a measure allowing their city to support and participate fully in Southwest Corridor planning. That planning project is separate from urban renewal in downtown Tigard and the Tigard Triangle, although both efforts likely will shape Tigard's evolving landscape.

Tigard Mayor John L. Cook told The Times on Tuesday evening that he was "really excited" by the measures' passage and to see better than two-thirds' support for both of them. He said he is hopeful that in the city center, improvements can be made north of the railroad tracks, and that in the Triangle, the city can build out utilities like sewer lines and stormwater facilities to support more development.

"It's a big statement by the voters … and we haven't let them down on the other one yet," Cook said, referring to the 2006 urban renewal plan.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with unofficial election results as of 10:10 p.m., as well as quotes from Tigard's mayor.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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