Looking back at the last decade in Wilsonville
This story was updated from its original version
In a way, life in Wilsonville in the 2010s was paradoxical.
The city grew exponentially and industry was in flux. However, whereas the 1990s and early 2000s featured rabble-rousing controversy and catalytic decisions, the last 10 years were steadier and emergences were often the result of strategies, trends and decisions that came to the fore in the first 40 years of the city's history.
With that being said, chapters did flip and some new ground was forged.
Here are some of the issues that defined the decade:
10 years of Knapp as mayor
The 2010s marked a full decade of Tim Knapp as the mayor of Wilsonville. After earning the position in 2008, the Old Town property owner and former councilor staved off a few attempts over the decade from candidates who were critical of some of the city's policies.
In 2013, Knapp defeated second-place finisher Richard Goddard by a relatively close margin of 52% to 43%. Goddard ran in opposition to zoning policies that have led Wilsonville to have one of the highest percentages of multi-family housing in the Portland metro area and received financial support from longtime conservative candidate backer Doris Wehler and former Council President Scott Starr. Members of the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce also supported Goddard.
In 2016, after the race was seemingly uncontested, current Wilsonville City Councilor Ben West forged a late write-in bid, ultimately losing to Knapp 81% to 19%. West has similar opinions to Goodard about density and clashed with Knapp on his first year on the council.
Meanwhile, Wehler and Starr began distributing a petition this year to establish term limits for city council, which, if instituted, would bring an end to Knapp's reign. Whether that petition will become a ballot measure has yet to be determined.
During the last 10 years, Knapp has spearheaded many of the initiatives mentioned in this list while consistently maintaining backing from the majority of the council. He also played significant roles on the regional level, including serving on Metro's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation and Metro's Transportation Funding Taskforce. And it's Knapp's preference for policies promoted by Metro, such as denser housing, that has drawn the ire of his critics, including West and Goddard. Yet, despite efforts to remove him, he remains in power — at least until the start of the 2020s.
In the 2010s, Wilsonville's upward trajectory from small town to medium-sized city continued. And in shaping its growth, the city eyed rural and agricultural land for development in Frog Pond while vociferously opposing redevelopment in French Prairie.
Wilsonville's population was 19,509 in 2010 and now sits around 26,000. Most of this growth can be attributed to the Villebois neighborhood, which has added more than 5,000 people to town. The Villebois planned community was the culmination of a decades-long fight to prevent the area that was formerly Dammasch State Hospital to incur anything but residential development. Meanwhile, the city, with the help of Metro, planned to develop rural land east of Stafford Road and north of Boeckman Road as its areas for future growth via three Frog Pond neighborhoods. The city planned for the Frog Pond West residential neighborhood, which began to be developed this year, as a single-family-home neighborhood after residents objected to an initial proposal for more density. The other two neighborhoods will have more mixed housing, as required by Metro.
Though Wilsonville's growth slowed a bit recently, according to a Portland State University estimate, the new Frog Pond neighborhoods should propel the city's population close to or above 30,000 once the areas are developed.
At the same time, the city voiced opposition to development in the French Prairie area, which is south of Wilsonville. Specifically, the city has staunchly opposed development near the Aurora Airport and Langdon Farms, citing traffic issues and wanting to preserve agricultural land, among other concerns.
The city argues that Frog Pond growth is warranted because its located within Metro's urban growth boundary, has less valuable rural land and can grow with the guidance of a local municipality, i.e. Wilsonville. On the other hand, the city says French Prairie rural land is more valuable, is not within the UGB and that there isn't infrastructure set up south of the river to accommodate urban development.
In the late 1990s, the city of Wilsonville was in a pickle. Its wells were drying up and it needed another water source as soon as possible.
This predicament precipitated a contentious fight between those in favor of collecting water from the Willamette River and those who abhorred the idea and posited that the water wouldn't be safe to drink.
Despite a failed recall effort against then Mayor Charlotte Lehan, the pro-river side prevailed and the city subsequently built the Willamette River Water Treatment Plant.
This decade, the city's decision was in some sense validated, as cities like Sherwood, Hillsboro and Beaverton agreed to begin collecting water from the Willamette River as well to quench their own thirst for a drinking water source. The city will receive $17 million in prepaid rents in 2026 from other entities along with seismic improvements and five million gallons per day in increased capacity as part of the agreement. In exchange, it will allow these other entities to use the city's water intake facility and incur the hassle of having a pipe run through town.
It's hard to say what would have happened if Wilsonville had chosen another source for its water (Bull Run Watershed, which is owned by Portland, was once considered). But city leaders have touted the value of having ownership over the plant, the intake facility and water rates as a major advantage. And contrary to the assumption that collecting water from the river would be unsanitary, there haven't been any major issues.
In the 2010s, the city of Wilsonville was a major thorn in the side of an airport that is not within the city's jurisdiction or even its home county. And the issues related to the airport were fought many times over without resolution.
As early as 2010, then Oregon Aviation Board Chair Mark Gardiner accused the city of spreading misinformation about the Aurora Airport master planning process and rumors that airport planners were eyeing expansionary measures that would lead to more flights, development and traffic.
Since the master plan was seemingly completed in 2012, the city has consistently questioned the validity of the plan, saying that public process rules were broken during the effort. And while the Oregon Department of Aviation tried to garner funding for an extension of the airport runway through a few different avenues, the city advocated against the proposal at every turn. Recently, the city agreed to go to court over the validity of the plan.
Wilsonville officials have been steadfast in opposition to the runway extension and supposed airport expansion in part because Charbonneau residents have complained about noisy planes flying over their community, even though pilots are supposed to avoid doing so. But they also worry that expansion could lead to traffic issues and dwindling agricultural land.
Similarly, the city opposed the owners of Langdon Farms Golf Club's plans to urbanize agricultural land in French Prairie and some Clackamas County Board of Commissioners' push to re-designate 1,600 acres of rural reserves to land designated for employment use. On the other hand, the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce has supported the Aviation Department's plan.
So far, the city's preference for minimal development south of the river have held.
Traffic and connectivity
In many ways, marked growth can be a good thing. It brings tax dollars to town, provides housing to a region that is bereft of it and likely increases the city's clout and influence.
However, many Wilsonville citizens believe that growth also has accelerated the city's traffic issues. According to Wilsonville's community survey, traffic is the No. 1 issue citizens are concerned about.
City officials have consistently pointed outward as a cause for congestion. They say that Interstate 5 and Boone Bridge snarls are largely to blame and have lobbied hard for the State Legislature and the federal government to fund a project that would add a southbound auxiliary lane from the Wilsonville Road exit to the Canby-Hubbard exit and widen the Boone Bridge. And a study it conducted to address this concern in 2018 showed that such fixes would significantly reduce traffic on I-5, thus potentially leading to less traffic on city streets. The city also has made progress on the "Old Town Escape" to connect Boones Ferry Road and Kinsman Road via Fifth Street and the Barber Street Bridge connecting the city center to Villebois.
At the same time, the city has frustrated some Wilsonville residents by planning a pair of bicycle and pedestrian bridges — one over the Willamette River (the French Prairie Bridge also is designed for emergency vehicles) and the other over I-5 — who believe officials should focus more on mitigating car traffic. Neither of these projects have garnered funding.
Other major things that happened in the 2010s:
Wilsonville was hit hard by the Great Recession. At one point after the 2007-08 economic collapse, the city had one of the highest industrial vacancy rates (48%) in the region.
However, the local economy recovered throughout the 2010s and now, according to Economic Development Manager Jordan Vance, the city's industrial vacancy rate is about 4%. In 2013, to incentivize industry to come to town following departures during the recession, the city asked voters whether to approve a tax incentive program for large-scale manufacturing businesses. Though voters approved the measure, the program was never used potentially due to its high standards.
Wilsonville's economy recovered anyway. The Nike distribution center was replaced with a Pacific Foods distribution center, the Xerox campus was replaced with Energy Storage Solutions, while Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits and Dealer Spike also were welcome additions, according to Vance.
However, Microsoft and Convergys left town during the decade and the buildings they used to occupy remain vacant. The city is considering whether to expand a tax increment financing program to all industrial land in town.
The city also brought aboard two areas that likely will bring ample new industrial businesses to town: the Coffee Creek Industrial Area and the Basalt Creek Industrial Area. Coffee Creek should begin buildout in the coming years while Basalt Creek likely is further out than that.
In March 2019, the Villebois community was hit hard by a fire at a condominium complex under construction that led to more than 20 homes being destroyed and about two dozen people displaced.
In June 2013, thousands of bees were found dead in a target parking lot in Wilsonville. It was the largest amount of native bee casualties from a single event ever recorded, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The mass deaths were caused by the wrongly timed application of the neonicotinoid dinotefuran. The event led the city to start a bee stewards program, which included creating a plan to limit pesticide use and developing pollinator habitats.
In 2011, former residents of the Thunderbird Mobile Club received $750,000 in compensation from the city of Wilsonville related to the park's closure in 2007. Meanwhile the Creekside Woods subsidized housing facility opened in 2010 to make up for the affordable housing lost from the closure of the park.
The city spent years conducting public outreach and formulating its plans to reimagine Town Center commercial district. In 2019, the plan was finalized.
In 2016, a ballot measure to fund a new aquatic center failed by a resounding margin of 63% to 37%.
n Frog Pond West hosted Wilsonville's second Northwest Natural Street of Dreams in 2019.
Openings: Metro's Graham Oaks Nature Park (2010), Lowrie Primary School (2012), Oregon Institute of Technology (2012), the city's Wastewater Treatment Plant (2014), World of Speed (2015) and Meridian Creek Middle School (2018).
High school sports: The Wilsonville boys basketball team won three of four state championships from 2016-19 and reached the state title game five consecutive years from 2015 to 2019. The Wilsonville girls tennis team won back-to-back state titles in 2010-11. The Wilsonville girls golf state won the state title in 2017.
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