Panel addresses possible isolation at future transit center housing development
Concerns among Wilsonville planning commissioners about the possible isolation experienced by residents of a proposed affordable housing development at the Wilsonville Transit Center resurfaced during a meeting Wednesday, Nov. 10.
When the project initially was brought up, certain commissioners worried about the lack of housing and amenities near the proposed development.
The city and consultants have since worked more intently on bringing it to fruition — with the overarching goal of realizing Wilsonville City Council's commitment to adding more affordable housing in town. This time, the commissioners viewed the concern more as something to keep in mind and address over time rather than a reason to discontinue.
The city owns the 1.3-acre property at the transit center and is hoping to use a partnership with a private entity as well as grant funding to create multiple stories of housing units for people making below-average incomes to go along with a ground-floor community space.
The city has noted that while the site is located near industrial buildings and away from other housing, it is within relatively close proximity to Town Center, Villebois and, obviously, mass transit. However, the tenants won't live near other housing, which certain commissioners saw as a drawback — at least until bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is added and, more speculatively, nearby houses are erected.
"I always worry when we start talking about affordable housing, but then it's isolated from the rest of the community," Planning Commission Chair Kamran Mesbah said. "When we talked about this maybe at the end of last year, we talked about, 'Wouldn't it be nice for Barbur Street to be a corridor?' This could be an anchor that extends east and west into the future and connects Town Center with various mixed-use activities all the way to Villebois.
"Until that happens, it's sitting in an industrial area, a light industry. I understand that it has jobs, but it's also really isolated."
Brian Vanneman, with Leland Consulting Group, said at the meeting that his team also had wrestled with this issue. He noted that they have proposed adding certain gathering spots and greenspaces to develop a sense of community. The city also is planning to increase connectivity in that corridor by adding a bridge into Town Center near the transit center, as well as an adjoining plaza.
"I think developing Barbur (Street) as a more placemaking-oriented, walkable corridor with other mixed-use development would be fantastic," said Matt Brown of YBA Architects at the meeting.
For his part, Commissioner Jerry Greenfield thought that the character of the area will change significantly as the bridge is built and planned Town Center redevelopment occurs.
South Metro Area Regional Transit Director Dwight Brashear also said his team and the city are looking into the possibility of hosting events like a farmers market or concerts at the transit site, which the city manages but is owned by TriMet.
"There is so much potential. I have a bus rodeo once a year on that lot. It's plenty big," he said.
Further, Wilsonville Senior Planner Kimberly Rybold said the city is looking into working with TriMet to create shuttles from the site to the other side of the future bridge. And she suggested that TriMet also could play some role in developing the area.
"They are thinking in the long term about possibilities here as well. They are really looking to see how they can convert some of their underutilized pieces of pavement into opportunities for housing and mixed-use development," Rybold said.
Some commissioners also expressed a preference for the housing facility to be a single building with four or five stories, two- or three-bedroom units and a community space, rather than a commercial space on the bottom, the latter of which would create challenges in terms of grant funding. The city also hopes to use TriMet's park-and-ride facility for parking.
The city wants more say in Aurora Airport planning. This is why it's proposing the adoption of policies within its comprehensive plan outlining its interest in the state-owned facility.
According to Assistant City Attorney Ryan Adams, to be considered an affected jurisdiction by state code, an entity must acknowledge the airport in its comprehensive plan. The hope is that the addition of these policies will give the city more standing to request participation.
"This is one of the ways to make that happen because, historically, the (Oregon Department of Aviation) has sort of made it difficult, in the city's opinion, to have our seat," Adams said. "That's frankly why we were in litigation in the first place and one of the reasons at this point we want our voice to be heard."
City representatives have long lamented that Wilsonville was not considered an impacted jurisdiction in the airport's intergovernmental agreement. Wilsonville also is in the midst of litigation over the most recent update of the airport master plan, which it says violated land-use laws. City leaders have opposed the proposed extension of the runway at the airport, which could make it easier for larger flights to fly in and out while also safer for pilots.
Wilsonville Planning Commissioner Ron Heberlein said he is a pilot at the airport and hoped that the city would take an even-handed tact in this process, acknowledging both the concerns and benefits of its location near the fourth-busiest airport in the state.
"My goal is, to use Chair Mesbah's words, that this is more of a symbiotic relationship and that we don't use this as a defensive tactic but we use it as a vehicle to ensure the needs of both sides are being met," he said. "I want to make sure we don't focus so much on the negative that we lose sight of the positive. Because I'm even getting some of that from the project team, that there's more negative than positive."
Greenfield said encroachment onto rural land as well as the purported pressure to bring urban services to the airport without incorporation should be among the city's concerns.
The city will seek feedback on both benefits and concerns stemming from the airport.
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