West Linn eyes urban renewal district to spur waterfront development
After hearing from consultants who conducted a feasibility study for the creation of an urban renewal district in West Linn's waterfront area, the West Linn City Council is poised to do just that at its next business meeting June 6.
The city has discussed development of the waterfront area — the land situated along the Willamette River from Old City Hall to the historic Willamette area — for years and in 2021 officials moved forward with the feasibility study.
Urban renewal, also known as tax increment financing, is a funding tool local governments throughout Oregon use to finance large public development projects. The city currently does not have any urban renewal districts. Nearby communities Lake Oswego and Wilsonville have used urban renewal for their own redevelopment projects.
Representatives from Elaine Howard Consulting and Tiberius Solutions, which the city hired for the feasibility study, presented their findings at a West Linn City Council meeting Monday, May 16.
Though the city did not yet have exact details mapped out for the waterfront development , the urban renewal district could fund infrastructure necessary for development like road improvements, bike and pedestrian facilities, public utilities and park space.
Nick Popenuk of Tiberius Solutions explained that urban renewal does not raise the property tax rates for people living within the taxing district. It instead works by freezing the amount paid to taxing districts of the area at a certain point in time. This frozen amount becomes "the base" paid to those districts for 20-30 years depending on the duration of the urban renewal. If assessed values for properties in the district rise over time, those incremental increases in taxes go to the urban renewal program.
According to Popenuk, forecasts showed that such a district supported $41 million worth of projects in today's dollars. This figure accounts for interest and inflation.
The taxing district proposed by consultants spreads from Highway 43 to the Historic Willamette District, sandwiched between the Willamette River and I-205, and juts up to include the River Falls Shopping area on Blankenship Road.
Deputy City Manager John Williams told the council that the city could change this boundary.
Councilor Mary Baumgardner asked the consultants how to implement urban renewal while not gentrifying the area.
Elaine Howard explained that historically, gentrification has occurred with urban renewal projects, particularly in Portland, but that the area under consideration for West Linn is mostly unpopulated. Popunek added that an eminent domain law passed by Oregon voters in 2006 means that governments can't take privately owned property on behalf of other private parties. However, governments can still condemn private property for public use.
Because urban renewal impacts revenues for other taxing districts in the area like the county, Metro and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Williams said that the city would begin working with the affected agencies immediately if the council decided to move forward with urban renewal. He added that most of the agencies are already familiar with the urban renewal process.
According to Popenuk, other taxing districts are often open to forgoing revenue to the district for the duration of the urban renewal project because of the increase in the tax base expected once the urban renewal process sunsets. The public investments in the area lead to higher property values and, over time, a larger revenue for the taxing districts.
The projections from Tiberius Solutions show the tax base freezing at $2 million in 2025 and the area generating nearly $10 million after a 30-year period.
Williams explained that if council adopts the ordinance in June, the city would begin conversations with the community and other taxing districts about the district boundary and potential projects.
Local business organizations Historic Willamette Main Street and the West Linn Chamber of Commerce wrote to the council to voice support for their creation of the TIF District.
"With approval, this program will offer West Linn businesses vital opportunities to cultivate and thrive," Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shatrine Krake wrote. "This area will become a connecting point, linking all of West Linn together, creating an even greater synergy throughout our community and small businesses."
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