City eyes creation of new district for Tigard Triangle, expansion of Main Street-focused area.

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF TIGARD - A map shows the outlines of the proposed Tigard Triangle Urban Renewal Area, roughly bounded by Highway 99W, Highway 217 and Interstate 5.Tigard took a big first step Tuesday toward realizing city officials' vision of a more urbanized, better connected district in the so-called Tigard Triangle.

The Triangle, so named because it is bounded by Highway 99W to the north, Highway 217 to the west and Interstate 5 to the east, is about the same size as downtown Portland. But despite what would seem to be a prime area, with its proximity to major highways as well as to bustling Southwest Portland and tony Lake Oswego, the Triangle is relatively “underdeveloped,” as city planners have described it.

Last year, the city completed a long-range plan calling for the Triangle to be redeveloped as a mixed-use district. In order for that to happen, though, city officials say surface transportation in the area must be improved. There are gaps in the Triangle's road network; many streets lack sidewalks and bike lanes; parts of the Triangle have no road access at all.

On Tuesday evening, the Tigard City Council — meeting as the board of directors for the City Center Development Agency, which oversees Tigard's existing urban renewal district — voted to begin the public review process for creating a new urban renewal area that would cover the Triangle, along with some adjacent lots on the north side of Highway 99W.

“Everyone on the technical advisory committee and the citizens' advisory council in the drafting of this (urban renewal) plan, they all agree that the Tigard Triangle is a really good candidate for urban renewal,” said planner Susan Shanks, “and, more importantly, also meets the definition of blight in the Oregon revised statutes.”

The CCDA board's vote, and the ensuing public process, is a necessary step toward the formation of such a district — which, under Oregon law, would be empowered to collect property taxes above the preexisting level in order to fund certain projects. That funding method is called tax increment financing.

Tigard requires voter approval before an urban renewal district is created or substantially amended, unlike many Oregon municipalities.

“This isn't the only funding source we'll use for the Triangle, but it's a big, substantial portion of it,” Mayor John L. Cook explained after Tuesday's meeting.

The maximum amount of tax increment financing that could be used toward projects and programs included in the urban renewal plan is $188 million, according to the draft plan.

Cook, who also serves as the CCDA board's chairman, said the city has been exploring urban renewal as an option to develop the Tigard Triangle for two or three years, but the Triangle has actually been a city priority for much longer.

“We always knew that the Triangle was something we needed to work on,” Cook said. “But first we had to get past River Terrace (development), and we had the Southwest Corridor (transit plan), and so then it was … the water (utility partnership with Lake Oswego) project, so the Triangle was always sort of the fourth big project out there, but it sort of had to wait its turn.”

Among the projects in the Triangle's draft urban renewal plan are two new I-5 overpasses for bicycle and pedestrian usage, one new overpass of Highway 217 to connect Southwest Beveland Road with the Hunziker industrial area west of the freeway, and several new or extended streets and trails.

If the plan is put to a public vote and approved at an election next May, voters won't be writing city councilors a blank check. The spending of tax dollars raised by the urban renewal district will be restricted to the projects on the voter-approved list, Cook noted.

Improving local transportation could bring about taller buildings, according to the mayor. Tigard already boasts the tallest building in Washington County, the Lincoln Center office building near Washington Square — but the Tigard Triangle could end up with a respectable skyline of its own if developers construct five- or six-story buildings in the district as it is built up.

A proposed MAX light rail line would also serve one or two stops in the Triangle if it is constructed. The fate of that line likely hinges on whether Tigard voters elect to authorize city support for the project next month.

A public hearing will be held at a Tigard City Council meeting on Dec. 13 to consider input on the urban renewal plan, as well as an amendment that would expand the existing urban renewal district centered on Southwest Main Street to include some additional lots.

“The reason why we're doing is the City Center Urban Renewal District doesn't have the financial capacity that was originally estimated,” said Sean Farrelly, Tigard's redevelopment project manager, explaining the need for the expansion.

Asked why City Hall wants to expand the existing urban renewal district in the way that it proposes, Cook said, “Currently, there's one piece missing off Main Street. … One of them was more to round out the area, and the other parcels, we were looking more at which ones are most likely to redevelop in the future.”

The City Center Urban Renewal Plan was originally approved by voters in 2006, less than two years before the start of the Great Recession. Cook and Farrelly said the economic downturn threw off the pre-recession predictions for how much the district would collect in taxes, which has left the city unable to complete some of the projects voters approved 10 years ago.

“Because of that recession, we've really fallen behind in our capacity,” Farrelly said.

Even still, Cook said it is valuable for residents to be able to see some of the work on Main Street that urban renewal has made possible, as the city looks ahead to possible May votes that could increase the amount of land in Tigard included within an urban renewal area from about 191 acres to almost 777 acres, including the nearly 548-acre Tigard Triangle district.

Voter approval will be required both to create the Tigard Triangle Urban Renewal Area and to expand the City Center Urban Renewal Area.

After the board's votes to start the public process on both, Cook remarked, “Well, we've started the ball rolling.”

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor
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