Houses purchased as Cornelius' Laurel Woods development advances
Although there's a long way to go before Cornelius' more than 905-home subdivision Laurel Woods is completed, newly constructed houses are being purchased, and people are already moving in.
When all of the development's 12 phases in the southeastern corner of the city are finished within the next five years, new residents could increase the city's population by nearly one-third, said Ryan Wells, Cornelius' community development director.
Home-building has been slightly slower than expected, Wells said, but several of Laurel Woods' new publicly accessible amenities are finished and others are partially finished.
The new parks, playgrounds and walking trails will be necessary assets as the city plans even more development in the future, Wells said.
Rooms with a view
During a break in the rain on a recent late January morning, Wells set out on the new walking trail along the development's southeastern boundary. Prospective homebuyers drove slowly past recently completed one- and two-story homes, as contractors worked inside wooden skeletons of homes yet to be finished. The Tualatin River was running high, and ducks swam in the flooded wetlands feet from the walking trail.
The development's southern boundary runs almost to the 100-year floodplain of the Tualatin River. The walking trail, which is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, now snakes between the housing plats and the flood plain.
"You got the Tualatin River right here," Wells said, indicating the waterway that snakes through Washington County from the Coast Range to West Linn. "It's a little at flood stage right now, but I thought that was a really appealing quality of this trail. A various times of the year, you have various stages of life in the Tualatin floodplain. We're planning on installing a few viewing stations so people who want to do some birding, or maybe just see some wildlife, can."
The development contains vegetated water filtration systems, in accordance with state environmental requirements, that will help remove roadway pollutants before stormwater runoff washes into the wetlands.
Wells said he was recently talking with the city's public works foreman, who said there's evidence of coyotes and raccoons coming up onto the trail.
"That probably will change as population increases," Wells said.
Parks, trails, playgrounds and more
The first half of the multi-use trail is completed, and when it's finished, it will be nearly a mile long. A gap in the trail outside of the urban growth boundary will have to be bridged by a raised section of trail, like a boardwalk, Wells said.
The raised trail will connect the western side of the development to the eastern side, where a 6.5-acre park has been plotted out in the middle of the development.
The city is now taking park name recommendations from residents. People can submit recommendations through a Google form on the city's website or submit them in person at the Cornelius Public Library until March 31. After reviewing the submissions, the city's parks advisory board will select up to three names to recommend to the City Council.
The park will include a full-size dedicated soccer field, two full-court basketball courts, two covered picnic shelters, all-inclusive playgrounds, standard and ADA picnic benches, open grassy areas, and smaller multi-use trails connected to the larger trail system.
The city partnered with Portland-based nonprofit Harper's Playground to design the playground at the central park. It will be "universally accessible," Wells said, meaning anyone with physical, intellectual or emotional disabilities will be able to use it.
In addition to the large central park, Laurel Woods will also include five smaller parks with playground and exercise equipment.
Residents outside of Laurel Woods are already using the walking trail, which Wells said he's encouraged to see.
Jessica Lucas, a Cornelius resident, was out walking her dog, Dude, along the trail when she passed Wells. Lucas said she walks Dude on the trail frequently, and she plans to continue doing so even as the neighborhood is built up.
"It has a wonderful atmosphere," Lucas said about the trail. "I think it's just fabulous."
While some residents are already pleased with the development's public amenities, others are anxious about how the development will affect traffic in town.
Larry Hofer, another Cornelius resident, went to explore the walking trail for the first time recently and he said he hopes the city is preparing for hundreds more cars.
"Maybe you figure two cars to each house, so I don't know," Hofer said, adding he doesn't think additional traffic along Highway 8 will have a substantial impact on his neighborhood.
Wells said the city is committed to improving north-south access between Highway 8 and Laurel Woods. Traffic studies suggest that the initial phases of the project will not overburden South 20th and 26th avenues, which serve the area, Wells said. 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 city annexed the 138 acres where Laurel Woods sits in 2014, after it was brought into the urban growth boundary.
Wells said the Laurel Woods is "part of a larger effort of improving the community overall."
He added, "We have over 1,200 new housing units coming into the city."
Wells is currently managing eight different housing subdivision projects, he said: "With more to come. I'm still talking to developers."
That's a stark contrast to the period between 2002 and when the urban growth boundary expansion was improved in 2014, when Cornelius didn't receive any subdivision proposals, Wells said.
As the region grows, Cornelius is growing with it. To the east, Hillsboro has also seen dramatic population growth. To the west, Forest Grove saw a flurry of new apartment construction in the late 2010s. To the north, once-tiny North Plains has grown rapidly to a population well over 3,000, according to demographic researchers at Portland State University, and it's preparing for more.
Affordable housing in Cornelius
Wells said he and other city officials are working to give new residents the ability to both live and work in town.
"We're also working on job creation, so it isn't going to become just a bedroom community where everybody has to drive for 45 minutes to get to work," he said. "We really want to increase the availability of good-paying jobs here in town."
Wells said a couple of companies that are able to provide wages that can support Laurel Woods' home prices will announce new opportunities in Cornelius later this year.
There are several different types of housing being constructed in Laurel Woods, including multiplex units that will be priced in the low $200,000 range as well as larger houses higher than $400,000, Wells said.
Although prices for such houses might be more affordable than those toward Hillsboro and Portland, Wells said the city recognizes people are concerned about the availability of affordable housing regionally.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Cornelius has the second-lowest median household income of all major cities in Washington County. Neighboring Forest Grove is the county's poorest, both by median income and poverty rate.
Cornelius also stands out among other cities in the area for its young population. More than one in four Cornelius residents is under age 18, according to the most recent Census data, and fewer than one in 10 is age 65 or older. The only city in Washington County with a higher youth population is Sherwood, which is also by far the county's most affluent.
Cornelius plans to commission a housing needs analysis later this year, Wells said.
He said the Laurel Woods development addresses many of the housing needs identified the city's last housing needs analysis in 2009.
"Affordable housing is on everyone's lips right now," Wells said. "We expect (the new housing needs analysis) will result in a little bit of a pendulum swing back to density, multifamily, affordability. There's still a lot of opportunity in our community to provide that."
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