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Planning Commission wants city to provide housing diversity in neighborhoods to the east of Stafford Road

COURTESY PHOTO - The city of Wilsonville may examine the possibility of adding dense housing types like apartments in future neighborhoods to the east of Stafford Road.

Should Wilsonville stick to its initial plans, or adapt based on the need for housing diversity?

That question initially surfaced amid recent efforts to tweak zoning in the Frog Pond West neighborhood, and now it's come to the fore at the onset of the city's planning for new neighborhoods across the street: Frog Pond East and South.

Though apartments and other more dense housing options were not identified for the future Wilsonville neighborhoods to the east of Stafford Road when the more broad-looking Frog Pond Area Plan was adopted in 2015, the Wilsonville Planning Commission recommended during a meeting Wednesday, Dec. 8, that the city explore this idea as it completes more fine-tuned master plans for the neighborhoods.

"Certainly, on this issue we are in a different world in 2022 as we do this then we were in 2015 when that plan was adopted," Planning Manager Daniel Pauly said at the meeting.

The city has begun master planning efforts for the two neighborhoods, which were initially projected to have over 1,300 homes on both sides of Advance Road. Other amenities may include a future community park, the current Meridian Creek Middle School and commercial services.

During the meeting, commissioners all seemed to prefer providing diverse housing options in East and South sides of town.

"I want to see a variety and I think as long as it's done in a way that fits in with the rest of the neighborhoods in Wilsonville and the high quality, I think all those different housing types can work," Commissioner Ron Heberlein said.

And city staff viewed this planning effort as a vehicle for furthering the city's Equitable Housing Strategic Plan, which established City Council's vision for providing more housing diversity to serve lower-income populations.

Homeownership in Wilsonville is largely unattainable for the average earner in the region.

"We think we have in front of us a unique opportunity to provide a diverse mix of housing types, expanded homeownership opportunities as well as new partnerships with the development community," Senior Planner Kimberly Rybold said at the meeting.

A similar discussion broke out during recent Frog Pond West planning efforts designed to help the city comply with state legislation that required middle housing (like duplexes and triplexes) be allowed in areas zoned for exclusive single-family use. While the master plan for that neighborhood called for almost solely single-family homes, the city had considered requiring that a certain percentage of the neighborhood hold middle housing but decided against it after the rapid progress of development there meant the requirement would have been largely inconsequential. In that case, the city had already completed planning efforts for the neighborhood.

Councilor Ben West and others had balked at the percentage requirement when it was introduced, believing the city should hold true to the initial planning. The city instead approved a few measures designed to make middle housing development easier.

However, regardless of state legislation and the equitable housing plan, Frog Pond East and South were always supposed to have more density than West — both as planned by the city and as stipulated in the Metro regional government's urban growth boundary. Still, the initial plan identified townhomes but not developments larger than five units, city consultant Joe Dills said at the meeting. Planning Director Miranda Bateschell clarified that the plan included multifamily housing above commercial use as an option. (This style of development has proved challenging to get off the ground in the Villebois neighborhood without government subsidies.)

Dills said the city could modify the initial Frog Pond Area plan as part of this more specific planning process. And though commissioners nodded their heads when asked if denser housing should be explored in the neighborhoods, they said the city should be strategic and thoughtful in this effort.

"I agree we should explore this. It makes a lot of sense … I just want us to be very careful as we look at this that we're not opening up a Pandora's box as it relates to talking about apartments — whether above a commercial establishment or not," Planning Commissioner Aaron Woods said.

Commission Chair Kamran Mesbah also wanted denser housing developments to not seem isolated from the rest of the community.

On a similar note, Commissioner Jerry Greenfield worried about the possibility that neighborhoods on each side of Stafford Road — the east side potentially being much denser — would feel segregated from each other.

"In planning south and east it's really important to figure out how those two areas can be really integrated, socially integrated, economically integrated, as much as possible," he said.

This discussion is far from over. The city is planning to conduct focus groups and workshops with stakeholders and community members over the coming months, and adoption of the master plan won't come until the second half of 2022.

Commissioners and staff acknowledged the likelihood that some people in the community would not be happy with the city's direction to bring more dense housing to the neighborhoods. On that note, Greenfield and Pauly referred to the current state of land use planning in Wilsonville as an inflection point.

"I see the possibility of great things happening and I see the possibility of things falling apart," Greenfield said, adding that he hopes the commission will be bold and stick to its values.

The planning commissioner completed his final meeting after eight years in that role Wednesday. He regretted the city's decision to acquiesce to neighbors who didn't want dense housing in Frog Pond West and hoped the city wouldn't repeat that choice.

"When the time comes for my grandchildren to visit Wilsonville, as I'm sure they will, and if I'm still around, I want to be proud to say this is a place I helped plan," he said.

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