Tigard is refining its vision for the regional center, a site that includes parts of Beaverton and Washington County

COURTESY GRAPHIC: CITY OF TIGARD - Tigard is spearheading a look at ways to improve the broader Washington Square area, especially in three separate sections.As Tigard works to refine its vision for how the Washington Square Regional Center will look in the future, several things are clear: High-rise housing isn't in as much demand as it used to be, retail needs are changing with the economy, and while car dealerships are still going strong, the city may press them to downscale their sprawling footprints.

Those were some of the comments made as part of an update to the Washington Square Regional Center Update Project, a multi-year look at ways to refine the vision of an 827-acre site that includes not only the indoor shopping mall, which is in Tigard, but the surrounding area, including parts of Beaverton and unincorporated Washington County.

"Our goal here is to facilitate more housing, transportation and business/employment options in a way that are consistent with Tigard's strategic plan to be walkable, healthy and inclusive," Susan Shanks, a senior Tigard planner, told the Tigard City Council during a Jan. 26 work session.

The areas being examined as part of the regional center update plan include the Nimbus Avenue/Cascade Boulevard area, the Washington Square Mall property and Metzger, an unincorporated community east of the mall.

Shanks told the council that recent community engagement included numerous in-depth interviews with residents of the area, conducted in English, Spanish and Swahili.

Of those interviewed — 62% were renters, 38% owned their homes — many said that while they feel Metzger and Washington Square area are great places to live, they want to see safer walking and biking areas, more affordable and family housing options, and more greenspace.

In general, Shanks said there is strong demand for housing of all types in the regional center, especially standalone residential and mixed-use buildings.

"There's also strong demand for car dealerships in very specific locations, and then there's less demand for small professional offices," Shanks said, adding that new retail and larger office space, flex space and light industrial space isn't in high demand. "It's not that industrial uses don't want to locate here, but there's just no demand for building new buildings to support those uses."

Shanks said that one of the key findings of the study is a desire to move away from very dense, very vertical mixed-use construction in the area, saying such plans proposed 20 years ago never came to fruition.

"We want to make some smart moves now to nudge it forward in some shape or form, as opposed to just nothing happening," said Shanks. "That's our goal here."

Shanks said Metzger residents want more affordable and family housing options, not only new apartment complexes.

"They want more greenspace. They want more business diversity and they want better access to parks and trails and definitely more sidewalks," Shanks said.

Regarding the mall area, the community likes its family-friendly atmosphere, but Shanks said "they think there's way too much asphalt. They want more greenspace. They want better access to transit, and they want better connections to the mall."

Shanks said one option might be to re-examine a 50-year-old, no-build agreement between Metzger's Crescent Grove Cemetery and the mall, which provides a 200-foot-wide arch buffer on the west and north sides of the cemetery. She said one possibility would be to build an above-ground stormwater facility to drain water from the mall's parking lot when there's heavy rain.

Also at the mall, plans are underway to soon raze the former site of Sears and redevelop that area.

"There's great opportunity for transformation here, but the market is really unpredictable, and also, it really needs a lot more improvements," Shanks. said

Shanks said the question now is whether the city should incentivize or even partner with the mall to develop a denser, mixed-use area.

For the Nimbus/Cascade area, community members are requesting better and safer Highway 217 crossing and access for pedestrian and bicyclists to the Hall Boulevard/Nimbus Avenue station for TriMet's WES commuter rail.

"You know 217 is just a huge barrier for this area," said Shanks. "What we've learned about the Nimbus/Cascade area is there is a strong demand for car dealerships but also small industrial uses. Right now, those are not really allowed."

Interest for such dealerships are in the Scholls Ferry, Cascade Boulevard areas and specifically include the former Orchard Hardware store property, she said. As a result, Shanks said planners will approach the council regarding a very targeted zone change in those areas in an effort to accommodate such dealerships.

In response, Tigard Mayor Jason Snider said he believes the city needs to encourage car dealerships to "use their space differently and not have massive lots."

Shanks said that would be taken into consideration and that the regional center plan has extremely high design standards.

"As for next steps, we're going to get lots of community feedback," she said. "We're planning a big community engagement push in the spring."

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.

Have a thought or opinion on the news of the day? Get on your soapbox and share your opinions with the world. Send us a Letter to the Editor!