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Wilsonville looks to chart an urban renewal path

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville City Councilor Scott Starr is chairman of the city's urban renewal strategic task force.Urban renewal is no one’s favorite topic. An exception might be made for certain economic development professionals, of course, but it’s a complex, often controversial concept that affects a person’s property tax statement.

It’s hardly surprising it’s low on the totem pole.

But for the city of Wilsonville and other Oregon municipalities, it’s a vital lifeline to the future — a means of improving public infrastructure and creating jobs through tax incentives in one swoop.

Wilsonville has engaged a citizen task force to formulate a comprehensive strategy for the future of urban renewal in the city, and the group chaired by city Councilor Scott Starr is currently in the thick of that task.

“First of all, this is really, really complicated,” Starr said Nov. 4 at a city council work session prior to that group’s regular meeting. “But it’s more or less trying to pick the right strategies to set us up for the future. That’s really where we’re trying to go with this. A lot is future oriented, but how do we get from here to there?”

The hurdles are numerous.

The city’s two existing urban renewal districts collectively take up virtually all of the city’s allowable urban renewal space, which is limited to 25 percent of a city’s total acreage. Further, the projects originally planned for those districts do not have sufficient funding to complete all of them.

Couple that with the need for urban renewal investment in planned future industrial and residential developments in north and east Wilsonville and some serious decisions are going to have to be made in the coming months.

And don’t forget the Town Center Loop area, which some already feel is ripe for redevelopment and enhancement.

“The issues we have is there is a need for an Old Town (traffic) escape just because of the amount of traffic we have there,” Starr said. “And there is a strong concern about the viability of Town Center and what will go on there in the near term as far as how the businesses are doing. At the same time, we’re getting to the strategy of how we set ourselves up to invest in Coffee Creek (Industrial Area) at a future point. It’s really trying to figure out what’s the best way.”

According to Kristin Retherford, the city’s economic development director, the task force has carved out three possible options.

Scenario A would see the city finish all projects in the two existing districts and then close both districts. This would require a substantial increase in the maximum indebtedness allowed for the West Side Urban Renewal Plan.

Instead of completing the project list, Scenario B would see the Year 2000 Urban Renewal Plan district close immediately while completing all projects on the West Side Plan list — except the Old Town escape. By removing the latter from the West Side Plan, the district maximum indebtedness could be increased enough to finish projects while also avoiding legal requirement for concurrence, or the consent of at least 75 percent of the other taxing districts covering the plan area.

Finally, Scenario C would have the city partially close down the Year 2000 Plan and finish West Side Plan projects. This would require the city to get concurrence from 75 percent or more of the taxing districts covering the West Side Plan. At the same time, it would reduce the acreage in the Year 2000 Plan to allow for a new district in the Coffee Creek Industrial Area in north Wilsonville. And by keeping the district alive, albeit in shrunken form, the city would retain the option to fund new Town Center projects in the future.

In all three, the city would reduce its overall urban renewal acreage enough to create a new district elsewhere. This would require concurrence from other taxing districts and likely would generate substantial opposition in some quarters.

Increasing maximum indebtedness in existing districts, Retherford said, would probably have the same effect.

“It’s not a 100 percent gimme thing that’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s a political issue and it’s also an important financial issue for the other taxing districts.”

Like Starr said, it’s complicated.

“We can come up with a plan,” he said. “But we have to have the endorsement, and that’s something we have to look at.”

Consultant Elaine Howard also noted the task force has not yet touched on the Frog Pond planning area, which will be home in coming years to massive residential development on both sides of Stafford Road.

“Frog Pond needs to be dealt with too,” she said. “But the task force hasn’t even gone there yet.”

Mayor Tim Knapp said both Frog Pond and Coffee Creek are strong candidates for urban renewal investment — provided it successfully encourages adequate private sector investment in its wake.

“It could be very shortsighted to say we don’t want to spend more than we have to spend,” Knapp said. “Of course we want to be prudent, but we want to invest where those investments will encourage and enable private sector development.”

A one-time critic of urban renewal, Starr said the current path sought by the task force is in part a reaction to perceived excesses of the past.

“At risk of being political, perhaps the way urban renewal was approached and spent and invested with, and the way this committee is looking at it, one could argue it’s very different in different ways,” he said. “I think some of your concerns are going to be hashed out in a public process so people feel good about the dollars being spent. I’m feeling pretty good so far about the process.”



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