West Linn moves forward with waterfront urban renewal
The West Linn City Council took its biggest step toward the redevelopment of the Willamette waterfront at its meeting Monday, June 13, when it unanimously approved the creation of an urban renewal agency to fund improvements in the area.
The city has considered urban renewal, also known as tax-increment financing, to develop the Willamette riverfront for several years. Consultants hired by the city last year recently concluded a feasibility study showing this tool could produce about $41 million for public projects that could promote development.
Though West Linn has never used urban renewal, it is frequently used by government agencies in areas considered "blighted" or lacking necessary infrastructure. For example, the cities of Lake Oswego and Wilsonville have used this method to finance projects like Millennium Plaza, the Lake Grove District and Wilsonville's Eastside District.
Members of the City Council will serve on the urban renewal agency. The agency is one step along the path toward creation of an urban renewal district.
In addition to approving the creation of an agency, the council also declared that blight existed in the waterfront area, which is a criteria of urban renewal according to state law, and created an advisory team with representatives from impacted neighborhood associations, the planning commission, the budget committee, the economic development committee, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District, some of the area's property owners (Portland General Electric and Belgravia, which owns property around Historic City Hall) and the Historic Willamette Main Street organization.
The school district and TVF&R are included in this advisory committee because they will be impacted by the taxing district. Tax increment financing 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 agencies for 20-30 years depending on the duration of the urban renewal district. As assessed values for properties in the district rise over time, those incremental increases in taxes go to the urban renewal program.
According to the feasibility study, the school district could forgo about $34 million in tax revenue from the district in 30 years, however this revenue would be made up through state funds.
The proposed district would sit between the Willamette River and I-205 from the Arch Bridge to the Historic Willamette area.
Though the city doesn't have plans for the area fully mapped out, the urban renewal program would likely fund infrastructure improvements like roads, bike and pedestrian facilities, utilities and public spaces.
Before voting to create the waterfront urban renewal agency, Council President Rory Bialostosky asked staff about tax-increment financing in another area of the city: Highway 43.
"In a lot of ways, the Highway 43 corridor is similar to the waterfront area," Community Development Director John Williams said. "It has opportunities. It is somewhat underdeveloped and the council has already devoted resources to a plan. In a lot of ways this area would make sense for the same consideration we've given the waterfront."
To pursue urban renewal around Highway 43, Williams said the city would need to conduct another feasibility study for the area.
"It's an underserved corridor and I think that this is a vehicle to generate revenue to build public infrastructure we want to see," Bialostosky said. "We have a Highway 43 concept plan that will cost millions and millions of dollars. Perhaps this is a way to see that come to light down the line."
Consultant Elaine Howard told the council that the city has the capacity for a second urban renewal district if it chooses that route.
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