Beaverton: Cooper development sends cars on dangerous road
As residents who live along Southwest Tile Flat Road near Mountainside High School know very well, the neighborhood looked quite different two decades ago — when it could scarcely be called a neighborhood at all.
There was so little traffic, folks would ride horses on trails along the road, Jennifer Anderson recalls.
Anderson remembers a neighbor remarking that Tile Flat Road was so empty, "you could take a nap on it."
She wouldn't recommend anyone doing that today.
"We've seen ourselves, eight or nine accidents," Anderson said.
The once-rural area where Anderson and her husband live is at the center of multiple development projects — most notably, Scholls Heights at South Cooper Mountain, which will add hundreds of homes.
The South Cooper Mountain project aims to provide a blend of affordable and upper and middle-income housing options for Beaverton's ever-growing community. Thousands of homes — including houses, townhomes and apartments — are planned in the area.
The Scholls Heights segment lies within the South Cooper Mountain planning area, northeast of the Southwest Tile Flat Road and the Southwest Scholls Ferry Road intersection. Southwest Strobel Road will be the eastern boundary of the site.
This planned development is slated to consist of 676 single-family lots and one multifamily lot.
The project calls for widening Tile Flat Road — from the northern boundary of the Scholls Heights property to the Southwest Scholls Ferry Road intersection — to three lanes, with accompanying bike and pedestrian lanes, except for where the Andersons and their neighbors live. That would create a sort of "hourglass" shape, wherein the road is widened, and then narrows to two 9-foot-wide lanes for 600 feet, and then widens back to three lanes.
"You've got an hourglass design of a road, and that makes no sense when there's increased traffic that's going to be put on that road," said James Zupancic, the attorney representing the Andersons.
Jennifer Anderson's husband, Ron, wrote in an Aug. 4 testimony to Beaverton's planning commission that he has been rear-ended twice while driving down Tile Flat Road. He referenced the narrowness of the road as a contributing factor.
"Other community members will be severely injured or killed if the road is constructed in the partial manner as proposed by the Scholls Heights developer," he wrote. "I am concerned about emergency vehicle access, and the more challenging driving path for inexperienced drivers, impaired drivers and those with decreased night vision that will not anticipate the narrowed roadway."
Several of the Andersons' neighbors are also protesting the plan to only partially widen the road, saying Tile Flat Road is already dangerous enough without a traffic bottleneck.
"I use TF Road, and it has been designed to be a rural road with narrow lanes and no shoulders on the section of road that I travel," South Cooper Mountain resident Karen Chin wrote in an August letter to the planning commission. "Tile Flat Road was not designed to be the thoroughfare it will be when thousands more homes are built in the area. Already, people drive too fast on the road, and there is no place to pull off of the road to let traffic pass or to pass a bicyclist who is enjoying a country ride.
"Traffic has increased on TF Road in recent years, and with the planned development on South Cooper Mountain, traffic is likely to become a bumper-to-bumper nightmare while inviting many more accidents."
Who is responsible?
The issue on the table now is whether or not developers are even required to widen Tile Flat Road in its entirety.
Mike Robinson represents West Hills, the applicant of the project. He told planning commissioners at an Aug. 4 meeting that the project was already approved in 2017.
"While we appreciate the topics folks want to talk about — traffic safety and Tile Flat Road — it's simply something that's not before the planning commission," he told commissioners.
But Zupancic argues that the applicant misinterpreted the plan, and that they were supposed to widen the entirety of Tile Flat Road all along.
Zupancic referenced a 2017 report from Kittleson & Associates, an independent traffic consultant. The report notes that West Hills should widen Tile Flat Road to three lanes from the northern boundary of the Scholls Heights property to the Scholls Ferry Road intersection.
The report also indicates that the developer conceded to this recommendation.
"That's what my clients understood that the planning commission had adopted, which was a Kittelson recommendation, and it was only until recently that they found out that that wasn't the case," Zupancic said.
Kittleson has since added a memorandum to the report, defending the current tapered road design.
"The proposed taper design appears to be consistent with applicable county and city engineering design standards by providing a reverse curve design that is consistent with the roadway design speed," the report states.
Still, as Zupancic notes, Kittleson never retracted the initial recommendation to widen the entirety of Tile Flat Road.
Because the parcels that belong to the Andersons and their neighbors are not part of the development project, the developer is not required to widen the road in front of their homes, Robinson said.
"In 2017, there was no proposal just as there is tonight to put a road in front of their property. In fact, it's not possible to improve the road in front of their property because there isn't sufficient right of way. They've not sold it. They're not part of the project. What they're asking for, (West Hills) simply can't do," he said.
Jennifer Anderson said the developers offered to purchase the Andersons' property, but that they gave them an "insultingly low" offer, so the Andersons opted not to sell.
"I mean, we would like to stay in the area and to buy something similar to what we have within Washington County," she said. "And our prices are crazy right now as well, if you can find anything at all."
West Hills did not respond to a request for comment on this story, nor did Kittleson & Associates.
The Beaverton planning commission will meet again on Wednesday, Aug. 25, to make a final decision on how to proceed.
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