Marion County dedicates resources to help guide a very busy and growing unincorporated corridor

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Afternoon traffic mounts on 99E in Brooks, Nov. 16, 2021. Traffic issues are at the top of the list of concerns for area residents.In recent years Marion County has dedicated attention and planning resources to a threaded-together area it has dubbed the Brooks-Hopmere region.

The two unincorporated sites were once seemingly obscure, dot-on-the-map locales in the shadows of the larger population centers of Keizer and Salem to the south and Woodburn to the north.

A closer look reveals anything but obscurity: Brooks proper is busy enough to support three convenience markets, Route 99 eatery, a hardware store, car dealers and a Chevron filling station; a major food-processing plant abuts its west border, and just to the west of that is a busy truck stop with two more fuel choices, another market, and several fast-food options; still further west is Hopmere proper and, yet, another convenience market along with a variety of agricultural services.

The region is located primarily, if not entirely, within the Gervais School District.

I-5 crosses Brooks-Hopmere — as do the Willamette Valley's two main north-south railroad lines — and it's not unusual to see traffic backed up considerably at Hopmere's four-way stop at Brooklake and River roads or at the traffic light at 99E and Brooklake Road during peak traffic hours.

A report from Marion County's Community Services division to the Marion County Board of Commissioners summed the area up in a nutshell: "it's an intersection of a lot."PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Both of the Willamette Valleys main rail lines travel through the Brooks Hopmere area. Marion County has been developing plans to address growing pains in the once sleepy rural areas.

"It's an intersection of a lot of different highways: we have Interstate-5 as well as highways 99E and (north River Road)," Marion County Economic Development Coordinator Kelli Weese told the BOC on Nov. 10.

Weese was discussing the Brooks-Hopmere Community Plan Future Report, which aims to formulate guidelines for managing the area. The commission approved its continuance.

"It's our largest overall unincorporated community in the county. It includes really two separate communities that are joined at the hip … The area has about maybe 500 residents, and maybe even more drastically, about 1,500 jobs. Those jobs are brought by a mix of commercial, industrial, agricultural processing, those sorts of things," Weese reported.

Those jobs are largely what commands county attention as it highlighted the region in its 2018-22 economic development strategic planning. That included in 2019 the initiation of a study and outreach to examine the area's needs and its growth.

Marion County is also working with ODOT regarding the I-5 interchange, familiarly known as the Brooks exit, to extrapolate on its future needs and design adjustments.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - McKay Plaza in Brooks houses one of the small, unincorporated towns three convenience stores, while True Valley Hardware operates a busy store across Brooklake Road.

"We wanted to make sure that whatever they were proposing was really cohesive and looking toward what those businesses need and what those residents need," Weese said, adding that the county's community services seek to "identify some opportunities that we could have to support those businesses and support the development of that region."

County outreach through open houses, visits and surveys revealed that the area's residents prefer the area maintains its small-town feel, and they want improved roads and transportation infrastructure — mounting congestion is a prominent issue.

"This area has a lot going for it, and there are a lot of reasons that we are putting a focus on it," Weese said, itemizing the transportation options, a Chemeketa Community College branch, large employers and the unique Powerland Heritage Park among them.

Challenges in the area, besides needed transportation improvements, include limitations in its water and sewer systems and land-use discrepancies.

"As an unincorporated community, there is no local government structure; basically, Marion County is their government structure," Weese said.

Marion County Board of Commissioners approved going forward with the Brooks-Hopmere plan as county staff will continue to sort out the best way to manage the unique area's path into the future.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Center Market in Hopmere is located at the intersection of Brooklake Road and River Road NE, an four-way stop intersection that regularly backs up during peak afternoon traffic hours.

"We've been talking about this as an ag-industrial place, and I believe these businesses up there will qualify for what we just approved for DK (Fab) too, being of rural-ag (standing)," Commissioner Kevin Cameron said.

Earlier, the commission granted Woodburn's DK Fab, an agricultural equipment manufacturer and supplier, three-year property tax breaks to incentivize investments geared toward business growth and facilities expansion.

"Seeing this be a corridor where people could live, preserve the agriculture, and yet expand," Cameron mused, "our gross domestic per-capita income is so much lower than counties to the north, we have to figure out how we can add value to our agricultural products, like hazelnuts so we can increase wealth in our county."

The Brooks-Hopmere Community Plan Future Report hopes to achieve that in a once-sleepy, now bustling, busy corridor.

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