Citizens make voices heard in Frog Pond West middle housing debate
In preparation for Wilsonville City Council to once again discuss adjustments to housing density in the Frog Pond West residential neighborhood, a slew of residents decided to weigh in.
Most who submitted written testimony for a meeting Monday, June 7, were opposed to the city's current proposal, which is likely supported by the majority of the council and the Wilsonville Planning Commission, to require 10% of future development in the community currently under construction include middle housing such as duplexes, triplexes and cottage clusters.
The city projects this change could result in the addition of around 30 housing units in the neighborhood. City officials have said that number could increase because developers may want to build more middle housing if they are forced to construct some, but it could also decrease if more single-family development proposals are approved prior to the city amending the plan.
The city is in the process of tweaking housing requirements throughout town and already has to increase density allowances in Frog Pond West due to House Bill 2001, which abolished the creation of future exclusive single-family neighborhoods and created additional requirements for existing neighborhoods and those that are under development in large Oregon cities. City staff have projected that little-to-no middle housing would be built in the neighborhood if it's simply allowed and not required.
Those who oppose the middle housing requirement harken back to the process that led to the creation of the Frog Pond West master plan, during which the city agreed to designate the land north of Boeckman Road almost exclusively for single-family homes due, in part, to community preference and also because the city has a much higher percentage of multifamily housing (apartments, not middle housing) than many nearby communities.
Some also felt that the added density will exacerbate traffic issues and overburden schools.
"I am shocked to hear that the city would go back on these promises and plans that have been made. Our city is lovely and beautiful but rapidly becoming bigger and crowded and not the same place we all love," Alys McKnight wrote.
During the council discussion at a work session, Councilor Ben West reiterated his belief that the city should not amend the Frog Pond West master plan a few years after it was created. He said an alternative would be to add middle housing to the future Frog Pond East and South neighborhoods on the other side of Advance Road. The city is required to do so as a stipulation for the neighborhoods' addition into the urban growth boundary.
"That (House bill 2001) is not a mandate or some opportunity for us to go back and not remember the process we went through," West said.
Other councilors noted that amending master plans is not atypical and the city has tweaked Villebois and Old Town planning documents.
"Like they say: No city is ever done. This isn't the finished product and it will continue to evolve and continue to change depending on the circumstances," Councilor Charlotte Lehan said. "This shouldn't be thought of that, 'You made a commitment now and forevermore and future councils have to make that commitment,' because future circumstances may be different than they were at that time."
In previous meetings, Wilsonville planning commissioners posited that the 10% requirement balanced the previous Frog Pond West process with the city's Equitable Housing Strategic Plan, wherein the city established a framework for creating more affordable housing options locally. The commission decided against recommending the imposition of a 15% requirement.
Some residents who submitted testimony felt that the added middle housing was a way of honoring the equitable housing plan commitment.
"As we all know, home ownership is an extremely powerful means of generating not only family wealth but intergenerational wealth, and extending this opportunity to a wider segment of the population can be a similarly powerful catalyst for equity," Jay Edwards wrote.
The median home price in Wilsonville is unaffordable for most people and city officials say middle housing also will likely be out of reach for most. However, Mayor Julie Fitzgerald and Planning Director Miranda Bateschell told the Spokesman in an interview Monday that adding more housing diversity can pave the way for affordability. The city currently has a low percentage of middle housing, potentially creating an inefficiency in the housing market.
"Getting families into homes that better meet their needs opens up housing at other price points," Bateschell said.
She added: "A broad spectrum of housing needs requires a broad spectrum of housing types."
Planning Manager Dan Pauly also pointed out that the city matches any additional housing with enhanced transportation infrastructure. And he was confident that the current transportation system could accommodate a few dozen additional housing units.
"We're set up to continue to plan our infrastructure and our road system as well as we ever have," Pauly said, adding that local schools would do the same in terms of planning future school sites and enrollment to accommodate more residents.
Some perceived the city's push to add middle housing in the neighborhood as part of a larger trend: The city bringing in more residents, and, in their eyes, congesting roads and increasing crime. Wilsonville has been one of the fastest growing communities in the state over the last two decades due in large part to the creation of the Villebois community (which has townhomes and apartments, as well as single-family homes). Traffic has continued to be a top community concern, according to city surveys over the past few years.
"Wilsonville already provides more apartments and lower income housing than Lake Oswego and West Linn," Kat Budiao wrote in public testimony. "West Linn hates that we are a part of their same school district because their community feels we aren't 'good enough' for them. We finally got another Street of Dreams, which was a step in the right direction. Please don't step backwards and instead, listen to what the families of this community want for their kids and the future of our town."
The council has yet to finalize changes in Frog Pond West and the city will likely bring forward a proposal at a later date.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.