Aloha Business Association ponders its future
When most people talk about Aloha the same themes come up time and again: Aloha wants to do their own thing, to heck with the county's plans for the surrounding area.
"I tell people it's like college where you have the frat houses and the sororities, and then you have the dorms," said Karen Bolin, a local business owner and the only president the Aloha Business Association has ever had. "Then you have the GDIs, the God [Expletive] Independents, and Aloha is the GDIs. They don't want to be a sorority, don't want to be a dorm, and if you talk to anyone in Aloha that's been around, they don't want to be a part of Beaverton or a part of Hillsboro."
The Aloha-Reedville area — Washington County's largest unincorporated community — boasts more than 50,000 residents, but has no local government, relying instead on Washington County planners.
And Aloha's longtime identity as a bedroom community of starter homes and affordable apartments is under threat: Massive upscale developments are underway in a record-setting plan for homes in South Hillsboro and Beaverton's South Cooper Mountain area. The influx of new residents is expected to impact traffic in the region, particularly along Southwest Tualatin Valley Highway in the heart of Aloha.
The voice of the community falls two one of two groups, the Aloha Business Association and the Aloha-Reedville Community Council. But both can do little more than give recommendations to county planners, leading to frustration among some members.
Both were included as stakeholders as Washington County drew up plans for Aloha Tomorrow, a years-long planning project aimed at revamping portions of Aloha for future development, but the decision lies at the county level.
The Aloha Business Association has several tangible accomplishments to its name, including the formation of the Aloha Library which opened 2011, and a new farmer's market.
"We're not funded, not incorporated and not listened to," Aloha resident John Tyner said. "The realization of the library is nice — the farmer's market and some of the community things are good, too, but they're essentially froth on the larger ocean of things larger than what we're doing."
Tyner said there have been some efforts to influence the direction of transportation projects, but Aloha community groups often feel like small fish in a very, very large pond.
The Aloha Business Association began in the fall of 2010, fueled by a community celebrating after Aloha High School's football team won the school's first state football championship.
"The community only developed after the success of the football team," said Tyner, the father of Aloha football star Thomas Tyner, who set state records while at the school and eventually played for both Oregon and Oregon State universities. "It became the center point of the community. Huge crowds, the prominence of my son, and we ended up with a sense of community."
Several months after Aloha's championship win, residents packed the first meeting of the Aloha Business Association. The sheriff was there, as were representatives of county government and several dozen business owners.
It took two years to settle into a routine, said Bolin, who has served as association president since its founding. Everything about the organization was built from the ground up.
But now, six years down the road, the association has taken a different form. The buzz around Aloha High football has dissipated, and the group is more about meeting to exchange business ideas than to tackle big-picture issues.
According to a study done by Washington County, 60 percent of county residents will likely move from their current homes within six years. Bolin estimated businesses move around equally as often, meaning the membership of the association is drastically different today than it was when it was founded.
"What it's become is a networking and education forum," Bolin said. "And when the county has things, they come and say, 'Okay business community, here's a think we want feedback on."
Bolin said the association is looking at ways to market Aloha, both through door-to-door visits with new residents and, hopefully, signage officially welcoming commuters to the area.
"The only thing we have are some railroad signs that say 'Aloha.'" she said. "They don't say 'Welcome to Aloha,' and they're county signs that just identify Aloha."