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Shovels and hard hats mean the Watershed is on its way

by: Jessie Kirk, Neighborhood House's Executive Director Rick Nitti and William Wilson Architect's Bill Wilson help shovel dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Watershed affordable housing development on Sept. 7.

With a shovel full of dirt, Hillsdale became one step closer to realizing its plan for affordable housing.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the 51-unit affordable housing project for seniors called the Watershed at Hillsdale was Sept. 7. The event gave community members and those involved with the project a chance to show their support and celebrate a milestone in the long process.

'It's a great relief to have it finally underway,' said Sheila Greenlaw-Fink, executive director of Community Partners for Affordable Housing, the Tigard nonprofit managing the project. 'It's very exciting.'

The development will occupy the small triangle of land formed by Southwest Bertha Boulevard, Bertha Court and Capitol Highway. The development has been in the works for about six years, largely due to the environmental complexity of the project and the additional money that had to be secured for the site because of those issues.

The land was formerly owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation and has been vacant since 1957. The site was originally part of the Fulton Dairy and later became a stop on the Red Electric line in the 1920s.

The train stop is why the project was originally called Bertha Station. Some community members felt that the name Bertha had been overused, considering two of the adjoining streets carry that name. Neighbors had a chance to submit new names for the development and the name The Watershed was selected from 25 entries by a naming committee of local representatives.

Like the name change, the entire project has been a collaborative effort between CPAH and the Hillsdale neighborhood. Representatives from CPAH have attended many neighborhood association meetings to show their most recent designs and to answer questions the neighborhood has had along the way.

During each step of the process, neighbors have given input regarding their desire to see a tower in the design, their concern for pedestrian crossing, and to ask for extra amenities like underground power lines. The inclusive process has given the neighborhood a chance to shape the future of the building in many ways-the building now has a tower and other requests are still being researched.

'There's a reason Hillsdale's neighborhood and business associations are so highly regarded, locally and even nationally,' said Greenlaw-Fink of the community's involvement. 'Amazing individuals put in the time that it takes to make good things happen. They're proactive rather than reactive and a pleasure to work with.'

When finished, the project will be a three-floor building with commercial and community gathering space and a parking structure underneath. The units will be mostly one-bedrooms apartments, though there will be a few two-bedrooms units as well.

As low-income housing, 40 units will be available for tenants qualifying for the federally funded Section 8 rental assistance and eight units will be reserved for homeless veterans.

'With the mix of much-needed affordable senior housing, community and commercial space, the Watershed will become not only a visual gateway, but a physical gateway for many who live in the neighborhood-a place to gather, work and recreate together,' said Greenlaw-Fink.

Yet before major construction can begin, work must be done to clean the site from soil contaminants. A Brownfield Assessment of the site was completed to assess the contamination of the site. The next step is for the contaminated soil to be removed by trained workers.

CPAH has a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to pay these costs. Brownfield work began Sept. 11.

Beyond being built on clean, healthy soil, the project remains a true sustainable project in the many environmentally friendly ideas that were incorporated into the design. The developers will seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accreditation, a designation that means the project meets high standards for designing, constructing and operating green buildings. Outside, the landscaping will feature native plants and will store and treat storm water to help maintain water quality in the Stephens Creek and Fanno Creek watersheds.

Other innovations proposed for this project include rooftop plantings and an energy efficient gas heating system for air and water.

Walsh Construction should begin building the structure around the beginning of the new year. Residents could potentially move in as early as October 2007, though some eager neighbors have already signed up for the waiting list.