Former Living Enrichment Center site could become the next Villebois neighborhood

by: WIKIPEDIA CREATIVE COMMONS - Here is an aerial view of the Living Enrichment Center during its heyday in the late 1990s. One of the last major hurdles to developing the former site of the former Living Enrichment Center has been cleared.

Wilsonville City Councilors voted 4-1 Oct. 7 to approve an amendment to the Villebois Village Master Plan that will allow the future study area to be developed going forward. The amendment was sought by development firm Polygon Northwest, which holds purchasing rights to the 43-acre site and has announced preliminary plans to build up to 113 single-family homes there.

Council approval follows several months of public review, including a two-part planning commission hearing that stretched from August into September. Ultimately the council went along with the planning commision’s recommendation calling for approval of the master plan amendment.

“It’s been a well-vetted process,” said Councilor Susie Stevens. “There are no apartments, condos, attached homes, none of the things we’ve been talking about. This will give us the single-family homes that will start bringing that balance back. It starts down that road that we can move toward having more balance there.”

Councilor Richard Goddard provided the lone vote in opposition. He told colleagues as well as Polygon Northwest President Fred Gast that the master plan amendment allowing residential development in the future study area is too open-ended.

“From what I’ve heard tonight,” Goddard said prior to the final vote, “I don’t think the applicant has adequately addressed the need for his request or the concerns expressed by members of our community about increased density or transportation issues.”

The 43-acre site sits along Southwest Grahams Ferry Road and is now called Grande Point at Villebois. It does not yet have an approved development plan, but at an open house held in July, Polygon Northwest representatives revealed the project would feature up to 113 lots ranging in size from 3,000 to 6,000 square feet. The homes they intend to build would range from 2,200 to 3,200 square feet, which is somewhat larger than the average of roughly 1,800 square feet featured in Villebois homes built to date. The project also would include approximately 23 acres of parks and open space.

Details of Polygon’s proposed development, however, will remain fluid until the process reaches Wilsonville’s Development Review Board, which holds responsibility for specific site plans. The master plan amendment merely changes the allowable uses in the future study area to include residential development. Despite the details released to date, the development review board still will need to sign off on any plan containing specific numbers of residential lots and their sizes.

“Essentially it’s setting the table for the development plan that’s coming,” said Wilsonville Associate Planner Dan Pauly. “It’s going to be similar to other areas of Villebois.”

The council’s decision helps bookend years of speculation over the future of the former Living Enrichment Center site, which was essentially abandoned in 2004 as the home of a former New Thought megachurch and retreat center. Founded by Mary Manin Morrissey in the mid-1970s, the church moved in 1992 to the massive 94,500-square-foot concrete building that marked the property for decades. Linked by an underground tunnel to the nearby Dammasch State Hospital, the Living Enrichment Center was originally a state rehabilitation camp for public workers injured in the line of duty.

During a tumultuous dozen years in Wilsonville, the church grew from less than a dozen to an estimated 4,000 members. It shuttered its doors abruptly in 2004 as a result of a $10.7 million financial scandal.

Mayor Tim Knapp was a member of the DRB at the time Villebois planning began in earnest moe than a decade ago. He said current plans for the area are overblown.

“I personally think Villebois will be considered a success for a long time into the future,” he said. “It is an option for people who would like to live in Wilsonville in a certain type of environment. To me it is entirely appropriate to go forward with this. I cannot conceive of how implementing a different set of requirements, when the processes that are in place are being followed, would be appropriate at all.

“The applicant,” he added, “has demonstrated a willingness to engage the public in a way that other developers have not done.”

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