The area north of the airport was added to the UGB. Now, officials are preparing to open it up to industrial development.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF HILLSBORO - The Jackson East project area is shown in red, next to Hillsboro's industrial area. Officials are finalizing bringing this area into its industrial zone, though residents of the rural area have been opposing the project for years. Hillsboro officials are finalizing a long and contentious process to redesignate a chunk of rural land in North Hillsboro for industrial and urban use.

Plans for the Jackson East area — so-called because it's east of Jackson School Road ­— are to expand the inventory of developable industrial land. But many of the residents who live there have been fighting for years to maintain a residential designation.

Homeowners worry that if Jackson East is designated as an industrial area, it will hurt their property values and change the character of their rustic neighborhood.

City officials say they are responsive to this concern, but the Jackson East area remains Hillsboro's best option to grow.

The area is directly north of the Hillsboro Airport and west of the existing North Hillsboro Industrial Area. As such, Jackson East borders an area where many data centers — which have become big business in Hillsboro over the past decade — have recently been built.

The roughly 550-acre area was added to the urban growth boundary in 2014 by the Oregon Legislature. That addition was specifically intended to increase the amount of buildable industrial land in the area.

It's been a long and contentious planning process ever since, with the debate largely centered around the value of industrial lots and whether existing homeowners will be allowed to stay.

City officials say that they've designed the rezoning so that existing residents can opt out of changing their land from residential to industrial. They say allowing more uses in the area is a significant change to how the city initially planned on moving forward several years ago and shows a willingness to budge while still accomplishing Hillsboro's economic goals.

"I think it shows a lot of willingness by staff to address the property owners' concerns," said City Councilor Anthony Martin during an Aug. 2 meeting. "This designation only affects your property if you choose to annex into the city."

But homeowners counter that even if they do stay, the city's growth — and industrial buildings springing up in their neighborhood — will impact their property values and make their community less livable.

"We've asked to remain in the rural designation for two main reasons: livability and salability," said area resident Mike Neuman during a public hearing on the matter. "The notion that we can just continue living in an industrial area is disingenuous."

Years of economic studies and land value assessments later, the issue seems just as controversial as when the planning process began back in 2016.

While residents fight the change, business advocacy groups have pushed for the Jackson East expansion to keep Hillsboro's economic engine churning. Councilors referenced this often in saying they must balance the needs of the existing residents with the city's needs decades down the road.

"We are moving in a direction that will change the way North Hillsboro looks forever," said Councilor Olivia Alcaire. "Things don't stay the same forever … so I feel like designating this as industrial pulls a bandage off and gives us a chance to work together."

City officials also said that the approval is necessary to incorporate the area into its growing transportation plan. They plan to punch Huffman Road through to Jackson School Road to help account for higher traffic in the area, for example.

They also stated that Hillsboro must make the change so that future infrastructure projects can add utility lines in the area, making the land more attractive to developers.

On Aug. 2, the Hillsboro City Council unanimously passed the first reading of a pair of ordinances that would finalize the land use designation. They are set to hold a second reading and could adopt the designation as early as their next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 16.

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