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After massive fire, Villebois community members express displeasure about City planning

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - A handful of residents expressed indignation about density and congestion in Villebois at the City Council meeting Monday, April 1.

Wilsonville Councilor Ben West said in an interview that even before the massive fire that destroyed or damaged many homes in the community, he heard almost daily from Villebois residents who are frustrated with the density and congestion in the planned community.

So when Villebois residents filed into Wilsonville City Council chambers Monday, April 1, to hear an update about the fire that left the community reeling and to express appreciation for the firefighters who saved lives and homes and the solidarity of the Villebois community, a handful of them voiced their indignation about City planning.

The crowd greeted their testimonies with applause.

"As a family member, a mom, a wife, a neighbor, it really takes away me wanting to stay there (in Villebois), and I've heard so many others in real estate saying what's happening is affecting and is going to affect the prices of all the homes in the area," said resident Carrie Hanson at the meeting, citing the large buildings, narrow streets, lack of coffee shops and estate homes.

"Residents feel our voices are being ignored," resident Cara Renfroe said.

Villebois features a diverse mix of townhouses, condominiums, apartments and single family homes. Those who testified criticized the community's density and its proposed tax abatement program to incentivize development in the Villebois Village Center, and they complained that neighborhood streets are often crowded with cars.

"Everyone seems to really enjoy their lives, and we're so happy we get to raise our kids in such a wonderful place," resident Patrick Rectenwald said. "Though there must be a point in time where it becomes a finished product."

Some community members claimed that fire trucks struggled to make their way through the Villebois community the night of the fire due to the proliferation of cars regularly parked on neighborhood streets.

Incoming Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Chief Deric Weiss, though, refuted the claim that the fire trucks were impeded.

"I hear a lot of pain and there was a lot of loss with this. ... I can only speak to what I know. I have heard zero reports of any issues with access or egress for any of the fire engines or trucks that responded to the fire in Villebois on March 31," he said.

Community members also said the completion of the 34-unit Polygon Homes apartment complex that burst into flames Sunday, March 31, would only add to the congestion problem.

"I think there needs to be consideration of what we're putting in our community," said Tamara Lukes, whose home was destroyed by the fire. "Putting a building of that size in again is going to clog up our streets even worse than they are clogged up."

"The congestion is a big, big, big, big issue here. You cannot have a million cars in a community like that because it impedes the functioning efforts of the fire department and the police department, said Michael Bell, whose home was destroyed by the fire. "This is what took our home away from us, displaced us."

Villebois resident Jason Downs suggested the City place a building moratorium on the community until congestion issues are addressed while Rectenwald said the community should have more stringent off-street parking requirements for developments.

"Lack of parking is most definitely a safety and security issue. Stop placing developer profits above the lives of city residents," he said.

The City shelved a work session item originally on the council agenda about the potential of implementing a vertical housing tax abatement program in the Villebois Village Center designed to incentivize retail development, which has languished for the most part. The plan would call for a partial property tax exemption at three undeveloped lots in the center and the development of buildings with a retail ground floor and three floors above for housing.

West said the program currently does not sit well with him, and community members at the meeting also criticized the idea.

"I think giving tax abatements to developments feels a little bit greedy right now and a little bit wrong," he said. "I'd like to see us look at different options and avenues."

West, a Villebois resident and the most density-averse councilor, hoped the City could come to an agreement to address citizens' concerns.

"I think there's some common ground we're going to have to find. I see new people getting engaged in government and that will affect outcomes. I think there's new people engaging in this process and that's an amazing thing," West said. "I also have great people on the council, and we all have the same goal of what's best for the community. I don't want it to be us versus them. I want to be collaborative."

Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp told the Spokesman that he was opposed to the idea of immediately replanning the community — which went through an extensive master-planning process before development — but said he was open to discussing the Villebois residents' concerns at some point.

"We'll have to have this discussion further down the line," he said. "There's a lot of information we've drawn on for Villebois design, and it's a thing many of the people newer in Villebois probably had not been a part of."

He also wasn't swayed by the idea that there is an abnor-

mal amount of density in Villebois.

"The density level that exists in Villebois is not unusual at all in communities across the country," Knapp said. "It's, in fact, part of the basis for the social continuity of Villebois, which is the fact that people interact with each other and have day to day contact with people because they are nearby."

Rep. Courtney Neron, D-Wilsonville, who lives in Villebois, mentioned to the Spokesman that increased housing density in the Portland metro area has been used as a solution to the problem of housing scarcity and rising costs.

"In terms of the density of housing, we know we have a lack of housing and it's a matter of doing it right," she said.

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