THPRD increases landscape budget to provide buffer for neighbors of The Bluffs

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Cedar Mill resident Bill Booth talks about his frustration with the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, over its new Bluffs Park development. Booth feels officials didnt pay enough attention to neighborhood oppostion of leveling trees and paving a concrete trail.About a year ago, a Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District plan to clearcut the wooded hillside above his backyard had Bill Booth fit to be tied.

Now that the overhaul of The Bluffs Trail and Park is mostly complete, the Northwest Blackhawk Drive resident is willing to admit the project delivered some improvements to the neighborhood.

“People walking dogs are good neighbors,” he observes of the paved, 5-foot-wide asphalt trail that snakes up a steep hill between Blackhawk and South Drive. “It was good to see the (Bonny Slope Elementary) schoolkids, during the last six weeks of school, walking through. It’s better than having their mom drive them.”

He’ll even concede that certain sections of the path, which leads down behind a row of townhouses to a small park with children’s play equipment, are improved. While Booth is less pleased with the amount of buffer vegetation the park district planted behind his and his neighbors’ homes, he believes it was his and others’ outspokenness that made the project more palatable in the end.

“If we hadn’t made that blitz, and put in the effort we did, they wouldn’t have increased the landscape budget,” he said of the overall $414,817 project.

Part of the park district’s master plan laid out in 2002, and funded through the $100 million bond measure voters passed in 2008, The Bluffs trail project — originally budgeted at $335,400 — got under way in late August 2012 and was mostly completed by the end of the year. The hillside behind Booth’s house was cleared of mostly non-native vegetation and relatively young trees to make way for a paved pathway, which maintains a grade of about 10 percent on a series of switchbacks before sloping off on its way to the play area.

The path replaces a wooded, dirt trail that descended sharply between houses from the residential street into a wood-chipped corridor behind the townhouses near the park.

Booth, who collaborated with neighbors on a wooden fence to create some semblance of privacy, said while he likes the cedar, pine, holly and magnolia trees, along with rhododendron plants and native grasses, he expected a bit more from the district in terms of a buffer between his yard and the path area.

“It impacts me pretty significantly,” he said. “I said, ‘Guys, this comes so close to my property line. Could you buffer it and put some more dirt here?’ They said, ‘Absolutely not,’ that it would take a Washington County permit change.

“If they had just buffered it like they promised,” he added, noting he waters the new vegetation several times a week. “This could’ve been an easy fix if we’d worked together. A huge lesson learned here, the reality is that THPRD doesn’t listen to the community.”

Hal Bergsma, THPRD’s director of planning, said he and district officials did their best to communicate the scope and purpose of the project to the neighbors. In response to concerns, the landscaping budget was increased, while changes Booth requested to the pathway’s alignment came too late in the process to implement.

“It just wasn’t possible at that part of the process, to go back and change it,” Bergsma said. “Instead of changing the alignment of the path, we tried to work with him and the neighbors and planted more vegetation than we would otherwise. Some of it is fairly tight to the fence line, but we did the best we could to provide some screening.”

Bill Hagerup, a neighbor of Booth’s, said he’s pleased with the outcome of the project, which he can see from his back deck.

“The new trail turned out great,” he said. “My family walks it, and it gets lots of use from the Bluffs and Ironwood neighborhoods. The park playground is also getting more use since it is much more accessible now, especially by parents with strollers.”

Hagerup, who organizes the Bonny Slope Walk/Bike to School Day in October, said the new pathway will mark a vast improvement for the event.

“We have used the trail in past years due to lack of alternate routes, but some years it has been a muddy mess,” he said. “Now, it will be a nice usable path for walking or biking, come rain or shine.”

Bob Wayt, the park district’s communications director, said it may take some time for the improved path access to draw the mostly neighborhood-based traffic initially projected for the park.

“It’s up to the people to decide how and when to use it,” he said. “Some places will be used more than others, but as time goes on, more people are going to use it. It’s going to be a viable, positive amenity for that area.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bill Booth says park district officials didnt listen to local residents' concerns about a buffer zone for their properties, causing them to pay hundres of dollars for privacy fences.

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