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Newberg City Council has accepted a feasibility study and directed city staff to establish an urban renewal agency

COURTESY GRAPHIC - In July, the Newberg City Council accepted a feasibility study created by the Ad Hoc Urban Renewal Citizens Advisory Committee and directed city staff to establish an urban renewal agency.
Urban renewal. The city of Newberg has been down this road before, with less than ideal outcomes, but city officials say they are determined to take another stab at the process in order to rejuvenate parts of the city it has deemed "blighted."

In July, the Newberg City Council accepted a feasibility study created by the Ad Hoc Urban Renewal Citizens Advisory Committee and directed city staff to establish an urban renewal agency.

What does that mean in layman's terms?

An urban renewal district is an economic development tool that helps cities revitalize parts of town using something called tax increment financing, according to Doug Rux, the city's community development director. Rux stressed that tax increment financing does not mean property owners will incur an additional tax, but rather that a portion of future proceeds from property taxes on land within the urban renewal area are redirected to the city for revitalization efforts.

"It is a redistribution of taxes that are already being paid to the taxing districts," he said. "The taxes that are redistributed go to the urban renewal agency to perform the improvements listed in the urban renewal plan."

The amount of property tax collections going to each agency in the urban renewal district — such as the city, local school districts and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, are frozen at their existing level. Any taxes collected above that base are used to pay for urban renewal.

The city's new attempt at urban renewal is centered on three areas that total approximately 600 acres and includes the downtown area, stretches of Blaine and River streets and the confines of the city's riverfront master plan that have been identified as blighted.

Projects that could be undertaken range from streetscape and storefront improvements to rehabilitation of existing buildings and working with developers on improving properties. URA money could also be put toward construction or improvement of streets, sidewalks, utilities and parks.

New development or substantial rehabilitation of property within the identified area could result in increased property tax proceeds and would also be directed toward revitalization efforts, Rux said.

"This does not mean individual tax bills increase," Rux said. "It only means a portion of their tax bill is allocated to the urban renewal agency for use in the Urban Renewal Area."

This is not the city's first rodeo when it comes to urban renewal. Two prior attempts, adopted by previous city councils in the 1980s and 1990s, were turned down by voters in referendums headed up by the late Joe Brugato. Among his successful arguments were that the city designated areas as blighted that were not, but were included in the URA because they would soon be developed and, therefore, would generate increased tax proceeds for the city.

That designation is not an easy one to explain.

Oregon law states that blighted areas are designated as such "by reason of deterioration, faulty planning, inadequate or improper facilities, deleterious land use or the existence of unsafe structures, or any combination of these factors, are detrimental to the safety, health or welfare of the community."

Blight can take the form of areas that have fallen into disrepair, are overcrowded, have inadequate transportation systems, be prone to flooding, have experienced decreased property values, are economically dislocated and house defective or poor quality construction, among other descriptions.

The impetus for creation of an urban renewal program was identified as a potential economic development tool by a number of agencies, including the Newberg Economic Development Strategy, Newberg Downtown Improvement Plan and A NewBERG Community Vision, as well as the city's riverfront master plan and housing needs analysis. Work on the project began in 2015 during discussions of the city's master plan, but kicked into high gear in January, when the city conducted a feasibility study into the idea.

Ultimately, creating an Urban Renewal Area is meant to assist in the revitalization efforts identified in the 2016 Newberg Downtown Improvement Plan and the 2019 riverfront master plan.

"Some of the potential projects listed in the feasibility study for the downtown area include transportation improvements, infrastructure, building face improvements, etc.," Rux said. "In the riverfront area, transportation, water, wastewater, stormwater and trail improvements are identified."

Rux said these capital improvements would assist in leveraging new development opportunities which, in turn, will create new investment and job opportunities within the community.

The City Council would act as governing body over the Urban Renewal Area if the plan is approved.

The feasibility study estimates that tax proceeds could start being directed to the city in the fiscal year ending in 2023, but that remains to be determined, Rux said.

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