There's a joke among Oregon urban planners: Washington County consists of a dozen highways and 10,000 culs-de-sac.
There's some truth to that cliché.
To our southeast, the city of Tigard is trying something pretty innovative to change that. It's called the Tigard Triangle. And we're just beginning to see a glimmer of what it could become.
The Triangle, east of Tigard, is bounded by Interstate 5 and Highways 99W and 217. It is roughly the size of downtown Portland. It's a stone's throw away from Portland Community College's Sylvania campus, from Washington Square, from Lake Oswego's Kruse Way, and from downtown Tigard.
It features an immense amount of underused and developable land.
Many cities have tracts of land that could be developed into something vital, but they lack proximity to highways. The Triangle is defined by highways.
For decades, it's been a vast Sargasso Sea of cracked parking lots and anonymous big-box structures.
In 2015, Tigard put into place a strategic plan to change all that.
And on May 22, the city OK'd two six-story, mixed-use buildings in the Triangle at Southeast 72nd Avenue and Dartmouth Street.
The plan includes giving the developers of the project $1 million in redevelopment assistance, earmarking that money to pay a portion of the project's system development charges, which are fees charged to developers for the cost of installing needed infrastructure such as water and streets.
The buildings will contain more than 200 residential units along with 6,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial/retail space. The project includes 243 parking spaces — this is still the suburbs, after all.
It's hoped that this will be the first of many mixed-use developments in the Triangle. The project is expected to generate $16 million in property taxes, with that amount feeding into the Triangle's urban renewal district coffers to fund the regional renovation over 35 years.
In December 2017, Tigard approved a so-called "lean code" for the Triangle, making it easier for developers to receive approval for projects. New apartments on Southeast 72nd Avenue were the first development to be pushed through the lean code, and those now are under construction. Meanwhile, six other multistory apartment and mixed-use projects have gone through early review.
To our mind, Tigard is doing it right. The Triangle could be the equivalent of Portland's Pearl District or South Waterfront — or of Hillsboro's Orenco Station. Innovative, with mixed-use sites and plenty of public transit — the proposed Southwest Corridor MAX light-rail line would shimmy straight through the heart of the Triangle, if it gets built.
Tigard's Triangle plan calls for: mixed-use development, with housing and commercial zones overlaid atop each other; more businesses designed for neighbors, as opposed to the big-boxes that can only be reached in a car and via vast parking lots; improved connectivity for cars, bicycles and pedestrians.
Right now, the area isn't easily accessible from downtown Tigard, or from PCC Sylvania. But it could be. It could include a Pearl-like walking environment with shorter blocks, pedestrian-friendly buildings and pathways between developments.
The plan also calls for parks, open spaces, community gathering places, and protection and restoration of natural areas, including Red Rock Creek.
The post-World War II years saw people flee cities for suburbs and small towns. That outflow has been reversed in the 21st century. As such, cities are striving for innovative ways to revitalize depressed areas. Portland has come up with two: the Pearl and the South Waterfront.
Everyone knows Washington County is growing rapidly; experts expect another 300,000 people within the next few decades. And it is almost impossible to stop growth (unless you wish to be the next Detroit, Michigan). That means the alternatives are planned growth and unplanned growth.
We know which is better.
Western Washington County lacks some of the geographic advantages of Tigard, being further out from Portland and more sprawling in area. But we also have some advantages of our own, including land that is relatively cheaper and the ability to develop some "reserve" land instead of relying on infill development.
Orenco Station should have been a model. The Tigard Triangle could be a model.
We've written on this page before about the changes that have been taking place along the Highway 8 corridor in Cornelius and west Hillsboro. For years — decades, really — the streetscape along the highway has been dominated by cracked parking lots, chain-link fences and run-down buildings. Newer developments like the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and the new Cornelius Public Library show that these areas can be transformed. Hillsboro's Block 67 project, redeveloping the old Hank's Thriftway site downtown, is another change we're eager to see.
We hope city planners and developers alike look to the Triangle for inspiration.
Let the highways be the highways. The districts and neighborhoods adjacent to them, even fronting them, can still be attractive, walkable spaces. That's a future worth cheering for.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.