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Laurel Woods, under construction now in the southeastern corner of town, will feature more than 900 homes.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - A Pihl Excavation worker levels some gravel to build a road at the Laurel Woods development in Cornelius.It's easy not to notice Laurel Woods. Before too long, it will be hard to ignore it.

The biggest residential development in the history of Cornelius is taking shape in the city's southeastern corner, well to the south of the Highway 8 corridor that runs east-west through town. Once it is complete, it will bring more than 900 units of housing — detached single-family houses, duplexes and townhouses — along with several new acres of parklands to Cornelius.

Laurel Woods is being built out over a dozen phases, some of which are being constructed simultaneously. Right now, the first two phases are well underway — the Cornelius City Council was expected to approve plans to move forward with housing construction on Monday evening, July 2, after this paper's press deadline — with two more just getting started.

"It's an ambitious vision," said Ryan Wells, Cornelius' community development director.

'It definitely will contribute to our population'

According to Wells, the Laurel Woods project came about after state lawmakers and then-Gov. John Kitzhaber approved a "grand bargain" in 2014 paving the way for the expansion of Washington County's urban growth boundary. Cornelius annexed the entire 138-acre area and gave approval for The Holt Group, a Vancouver, Wash.-based developer, to begin construction.

"This is a significant addition to the city," Wells said.

The total number of lots in the mega-development has changed a few times during the course of development, Wells said, but it currently stands at 905. Assuming the average household size in Cornelius of 3.5 people stays the same, that will mean nearly 3,200 new residents.

"That's 25 percent of our population right there," said Wells.

He added, "It definitely will contribute to our population, and I see that as not only creating a broader voice in our community but also, from an economic standpoint, that's going to be that much more buying power that's going to likely entice commercial and industrial development to look at Cornelius more seriously and maybe help develop our downtown core."

Work began in earnest on Laurel Woods last summer. Plans call for Laurel Woods to be built out over the course of about five to seven years.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Construction workers with Pihl Excavation dig a subgrade for a concrete plaza that will hold playground equipment at the Laurel Woods development in Cornelius.

Trail will be built along southern perimeter

Along with the residential development, The Holt Group has also committed to building a trail that will be dedicated over to the city along Laurel Woods' southern boundary — in between the neighborhood and the Tualatin River floodplain, which the development overlooks. Wells said that trail will be a multimodal paved pathway, which he expects to be completed in about mid-2020.

A gap in the trail outside of the urban growth boundary will have to be bridged by a raised section of trail — perhaps a boardwalk, like that seen on the similar Tualatin River Greenway Trail in east Tualatin. Wells said the city will build that missing link as a municipal contribution to the project.

The city has also committed to improving north-south access in between Highway 8 and Laurel Woods. While Wells said traffic studies suggest that the initial phases of the project will not overburden South 20th and 26th avenues, which serve the area, as development gets underway on the eastern half of Laurel Woods, the city will extend South 29th Boulevard south to connect with its neighborhood streets.

The Laurel Woods development will also add a new name to the alphabetical order of east-west streets south of Highway 8 in Cornelius. The southernmost of these streets, which are generally named for trees, is currently South Palmetto Street. Laurel Woods will include both a segment of Palmetto Street and the new South Quartz Drive. (Wells said the city had a hard time coming up with a type of tree beginning with the letter "q" that wasn't quince, after which a street in neighboring Forest Grove is named, so it opted for a mineral name.)

Planning ahead for impacts on parks and schools

Laurel Woods is split between the Forest Grove and Hillsboro school districts, with the bulk of homes to be built in the latter.

Right now, the Hillsboro School District operates only one school in Cornelius, Free Orchards Elementary School to the north of Laurel Woods.

However, the district owns a 41.1-acre property along Southwest 345th Avenue, just northeast of the planned development, which was annexed into city limits last month. The property is one of two in the district's inventory that could support a new high school, according to a long-range planning document produced in 2016, although Wells said he believes it is likelier to be eventually developed as an elementary school, a middle school or both.

Laurel Woods will include some of its own community amenities as well. The site plan calls for about 10.5 acres of open space, including neighborhood parks and community gardens, as part of the residential development. The crown jewel of that space will be a new city park, which has yet to be named, lying roughly in the center of the Laurel Woods area.

"It was called for in our 2009 parks master plan, and so when (the developers) started coming to us with a vision for this project, we made very clear early on that we needed a robust parks system to serve not only this neighborhood, but the community at large," said Wells of the 6.37-acre park site.

Pointing out the park on the planning map — it's hard not to notice it — Wells continued, "As you can see, the central feature of this park is a full-size soccer field, permanent soccer field. With our interests, our demographics in this community, soccer is a very popular recreational pastime, and that was one of the highest things asked for in the parks master plan survey, and so we wanted to make sure that we fulfilled that for our community."

Cornelius is the only minority-majority city in Washington County, with slightly over half of its residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2010 Census. The vast majority of those residents are of Mexican origin or heritage. Soccer is by far the most popular sport played in Mexico; the Mexican national team, which reached the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup in Russia this year, is avidly followed by much of Mexico's population and diaspora.

COURTESY MAP: CITY OF CORNELIUS - The city park at the center of the Laurel Woods mega-development is clearly visible in green on this site map, which shows the full buildout of the southeast Cornelius neighborhood anticipated over the next five to seven years.

Additional development in the pipeline

Along with the new parklands planned in the Laurel Woods development, the city is taking the opportunity to expand its existing Dogwood Park further to the south in a separate but related project, Wells said. Dogwood Park, currently 2.17 acres in size, will grow by more than half with a 1.1-acre addition funded in part through the regional government Metro.

"We have a good relationship with them," Wells said of Metro, which has also put up funding for streetscape improvements along Adair and Baseline streets through downtown Cornelius in recent years. "I believe that they see that we're earnest in what we're doing, and that there's a great community benefit coming from it, so we're glad that they're re-investing public dollars into what we're trying to accomplish here."

Laurel Woods is the largest residential development under construction in Cornelius, but it is not the only one. The Emmert's River West subdivision along South 10th Avenue is expected to add 64 single-family houses to the city's housing stock, and no fewer than five smaller developments on the north side of Cornelius are in varying stages of approval.

All told, according to Mayor Jef Dalin, the city of roughly 12,500 people is on track to see its population increase by one-third over the next several years.

"We have significant development happening in Cornelius," Dalin told the audience at his State of the City address in February. "The city has approved development — and it's good you're all sitting down — for 1,100 housing units in Cornelius."

Laurel Woods is a big piece of that puzzle. How those new houses and residents fit into the city has yet to be seen — but Wells said he views the growth as a good thing, especially with Cornelius getting ready to develop a town center plan to guide the redevelopment of its blighted downtown core.

"The timing is perfect for all that to kind of come together," Wells said.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Laurel Woods is the largest planned development in the history of Cornelius, expected to add around 3,000 residents to the city's population over the next five to seven years.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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