Forest Grove signs off on Pacific University master plan update
Pacific University's master plan update — its first comprehensive overhaul since the university's master plan for its Forest Grove campus was adopted in 2006 — has won the approval of the Forest Grove City Council.
The 5-1 approval Monday evening, May 14, came as little surprise after councilors discussed the draft plan update at length when they met last month. It came with some conditions, though, including tweaks to slightly limit the areas the university can consider for expansion within the scope of the master plan.
The histories and identities of Forest Grove and Pacific University are deeply intertwined, dating back to the Oregon Trail days, when what was then called the Tualatin Academy established a sanctuary for children left orphaned or abandoned by pioneer parents. But as in many college towns, tensions are visible at times between the interests of the university and the interests of city residents and businesses.
Likely nowhere do these tensions come out more than issues of parking in downtown Forest Grove. While the university commissioned a parking assessment that found the supply of parking spaces on and around Pacific's campus well exceeds demand, city officials still regularly field complaints about too little on-street parking in the area.
At the city's behest, the Pacific plan update caps off-street parking at the university at just under 1,100 spaces, something university President Lesley Hallick told the City Council last month she sees as overly restrictive.
The updated plan also describes an expected shift at Pacific's Forest Grove campus toward having a larger and more undergraduate-heavy student population. That will likely mean more students living on or close to campus, so the plan notes some "opportunity sites" where future residence halls and parking lots could be built.
City staff expressed concern that university-related development in one of these areas, "Opportunity Site F" north of University Avenue and east of Sunset Drive, could conflict with the surrounding neighborhood. While city planning commissioners declined to remove it from the master plan update, Forest Grove City Councilor Malynda Wenzl moved last month that the council exclude much of the area, although she later withdrew the motion in favor of having a separate vote at Monday's meeting.
The portions of Opportunity Site F proposed for removal are those zoned for residential multifamily development. Lots zoned for general industrial or town center transitional use will remain part of the plan area.
Pacific also objected to that proposed change, with William Ray, the university's associate vice president for finance and administration, remarking in a letter to the City Council sent earlier this month, "One of the goals of having a master plan is to project to the city where the University may acquire land over time, and to allow for coordinated planning of those lands. Site F is an area
where the University may well acquire lands, and in fact has already done so."
Wenzl's amendment removing residential-zoned areas of Opportunity Site F — from 22nd Avenue south to 21st Avenue east of Cedar Street, and between 23rd Avenue and an alley just south of it — passed on a 4-2 vote, with Mayor Pete Truax and City Councilor Ronald Thompson opposed. Wenzl argued that the city should be seeking to preserve residential multifamily zones for affordable housing that can accommodate low-income residents.
"I'm just having a really hard time swallowing needing that much space for residential hall (development)," Wenzl said. She added, "I feel like it's not needed right now. It's not in a time period that we have to jump on this and lose affordable housing right now when we need it."
Truax and Thompson disagreed, saying they wanted to follow the university and planning commission's recommendations. Truax likened the debate to Forest Grove's past efforts to have the urban growth boundary expanded so that it could plan for the city's future.
"This allows Pacific to make plans for the future, allows Pacific to be a partner of the City of Forest Grove for the future," Truax argued.
Wenzl said she is open to revisiting the issue if Pacific determines some time before 2030 that it needs to develop residential-zoned land east of Cedar Street or north of University Avenue. City Planner James Reitz assured the council that the plan can be revisited on a one-year basis, a five-year basis or at will.
Councilor Tim Rippe also proposed an amendment requiring the university to work with the city on improved pedestrian crossings, due to an expected increase in foot traffic if new residence halls are built east of Cedar Street or west of College Way.
"Because of the nature of the parking and the lack of visibility of pedestrians … there is already a public safety problem that should be addressed by the city and the university together," Rippe said, citing Cedar Street on the east side of campus as a particularly problematic area.
The council approved Rippe's amendment 5-1, with Truax opposed.
Thompson was the only "no" vote on passage of the master plan update.
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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