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North Bethany is finally ready to roll


Construction set to start in July after years of planning

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Undeveloped North Bethany property along Brugger Road sits adjacent to the Arbor Oaks subdivision, which is currently under construction. Such new homes will begin sprouting in the largely-vacant 691-acre tract this summer. Work is scheduled to begin this summer on North Bethany, one of the most complicated and controversial suburban developments ever attempted in the region.

North Bethany is a 691-acre tract of former farms and wooded hillsides on the northern edge of the Urban Growth Boundary in unincorporated Washington County. When completely developed, it will accommodate between 3,800 and 4,700 homes and up to 10,000 new residents. As the result of a lengthy county planning process, it is also designed to have a Main Street area, neighborhood commercial centers, several parks and a trail system.

Land-use watchdogs like 1000 Friends of Oregon opposed development in North Bethany, arguing it costs too much to build on the edge of the UGB, where most residents will rely on automobiles to commute and run errands. Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski agrees with many of these concerns.

“I think the public will subsidize North Bethany too much, and many people won’t be able to afford to live there,” says Malinowski, a farmer who represents District 2, which includes North Bethany.

But Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck says those concerns were addressed as much as possible in the planning process. Among other things, the North Bethany Concept Plan requires a mix of housing, and the North Bethany Funding Strategy requires developers to pay for most of the new roads to serve the property.

“If anything, I think we took too long and got too far into the weeds by requiring where all the parks and difference types of housing will be located,” says Duyck, noting that 11 years have passed since the UGB was expanded to include North Bethany.

Ethan Seltzer, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, praises the county for addressing the problems inherent in traditional suburban subdivisions, including their remoteness from commercial centers.

“They are not simply revisiting a bygone era. We need a mix of residential developments in the region to meet future needs. There’s a large segment of the market now that wants to live in a more urban environment, but that doesn’t mean they all have to live in cities,” says Seltzer.

Pay benefits

North Bethany is bordered by the Multnomah County boundary on the north and east, Springville Road on the south, and farmland and Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus to the west. As the name implies, North Bethany is north of the earlier Bethany Community Plan area located north of Sunset Highway in incorporated Washington County. It is 1,935.7 acres large. Planning on it was completed in 1983.

Successful development of North Bethany could pay benefits for local governments in the county. The property is currently assessed at $26.3 million. It generated $363,043 in property tax payments this year. The value is projected to increase to $800 million when development is completed in 30 years, potentially generating nearly $14 million a year in property taxes for the county, school districts, special service districts, Metro and the Port of Portland.

The start of construction had been threatened by a dispute between two developers in the area. K&R Holdings has accused West Hills Development of blocking construction of a sewer line to one of its potential subdivisions. Duyck was so concerned about the allegation that he threatened to block a $2.3 million county loan for the first residential road into the property. But after meeting with West Hills Development representatives and county staff last week, Duyck decided the dispute will not interfere with the county’s detailed plans for the property.

“It could have been an issue, but it’s not,” Duyck says.

Work on the first 85-unit subdivision will begin this summer. Called North Bethany Creek, it will be built by Arbor Custom Homes, an arm of West Hills Development. Company Chief Operating Officer Brad Hosmar expects it to appeal to employees of Intel, Nike and similar companies in Beaverton and Hillsboro.

“It’s been a long time coming, but we’re excited to finally be getting started,” says Hosmar.

Long and contentious

The planning process for North Bethany was long and contentious. Metro expanded the UGB to include it at the request of the county and many of its property owners in 2002. Despite the local support, many obstacles had to be overcome for planning to begin. The UGB decision was in litigation from 2002 to 2005, with legal challenges brought by some nearby property owners. Then Beaverton, which had originally intended to do the planning for the area, changed its mind. The property was just too far from the city limits to be practical.

That’s when Washington County took over. At the time, land-use regulations called for agreements to be reached on who would provide urban services to such areas before they could be developed. The Washington County Commission concluded it was in the best position to coordinate the existing service providers — including Clean Water Services, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, and the Tualatin Valley Water District — to meet that requirement. Much of the planning work was funded by a Construction Excise Tax imposed by Metro.

But the commissioners also realized that more was needed to make the development a success. Among other things, a comprehensive transportation plan and funding strategy was needed to ensure the additional traffic would not clog the existing roads in the area. Springville Road is only two lanes wide along the southern border. Kaiser Road, which runs north from Springville to Germantown Road past the northern border, is an even narrower two-lane road.

The commission eventually approved an approximately $69 million North Bethany Funding Strategy. Among other things, it calls for widening Springville and Kaiser roads, and for building a new east-west thoroughfare through the property called Road A. The plan is to be funded by a variety of sources, including up to $10 million from the Washington County Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program, system development charges paid by homebuilders, and a North Bethany Community Service District for Roads approved by property owners. Developers will pay for most of the residential streets.

To start construction this summer, the county has lent the service district $2.3 million to build a new road north from Springville into the property. The loan will be repaid by the district as property values in North Bethany increase. The district is expected to ultimately generate $13.35 million over 30 years.

Other elements of the North Bethany Concept Plan grew out of the lengthy public involvement process the county held. It included a Stakeholder Working Group, a Technical Advisory Committee and numerous open houses beginning in January 2007. Many of the recommendations were incorporated into the North Bethany Concept Plan and implementing ordinances approved by the commission. Although state law prohibits the county from requiring affordable housing, the plan includes density bonuses for affordable lower-priced units.

“There were a lot of community concerns that needed to be addressed, both inside and outside of the North Bethany area,” says Seltzer.

Since the UGB was expanded to include North Bethany, land-use regulations have changed to require such developments to occur in cities, which will provide the urban services.