Milwaukians have long wondered what could happen with about 12 acres of empty lots in the middle of their city.

About a quarter-million dollars in Metro grant funding could again support a community process for looking at the urban-renewal potential of commercial stretches near the two sites, including 32nd Avenue, Highway 224, King Road and Harrison Street.

During the Sept. 4 City Council meeting, Kenny Asher, Milwaukie community development and public works director, said that the two sites, including one brownfield where Eugene’s Murphy Plywood once made telephone poles, would be “key” parts of development studies and proposed code amendments.

“We’d be working with zoning professionals; we’d be working with development professionals; we’d be working with neighborhoods,” Asher said.

Asher will recommend that the City Council accepts funding for the Metro study on Tuesday, Sept. 18, and adds $30,000 from Milwaukie’s general fund in a budget amendment. The city would also have to commit more than 1,000 hours of staff time to help study issues such as potential parking facilities, rule changes and downtown master plans.

For the city to obtain funding, Metro is requiring an intergovernmental agreement with Milwaukie by Sept. 28.

Lawsuit dismissed

In 2010, Metro announced it was doling out $224,000 in excise tax receipts for the city to begin an extensive planning process that includes the potential for urban-renewal zones. But the Home Builders Association had claimed that the Metro Council overstepped its authority in extending the tax in 2009 to include infill development, rather than just using the $3.7 million pot for developing lands newly acquired on the edges of the urban growth boundary (“Lawsuit put projects in limbo,” Nov. 4, 2010).

In June, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed a Multnomah County Circuit Court dismissal of the lawsuit, and the grant funds are available. Metro taxes construction at 0.12 percent of value, exempting projects of less than $100,000, while projects more than $10 million pay a flat $12,000 permitting fee.

Councilor Greg Chaimov, who is not running for re-election, predicted he wouldn’t be on the council to see the projects completed.

“It would behoove us to have that type of information,” Chaimov said. “We’ve been chipping away piecemeal at things we know we can do to try to make the community one that’s more hospitable to businesses, but if we could do it in a comprehensive way so that the council, however constituted, could look at it and say, ‘Yeah, I like this part; let’s do it; I don’t like that part; let’s not do it,’ I think that would be a good thing to have.”

An urban-renewal redevelopment plan in 1987 focused on development of the Riverfront Park and downtown infrastructure, claiming that the previously rejected urban-renewal plans in 1970 and ‘79 had not given sufficient consideration to potential benefits of proximity to the Willamette River. After voters twice rejected the urban-renewal district, in 1988 and 1989, the 19-year-long plan was shelved.

Opposition possible

Councilor Mike Miller said he wouldn’t support creating an urban-renewal district and wondered why tax-increment financing has to be included in the study.

“It’s a philosophical thing with me,” Milller said. “It puts a burden on anyone who lives outside of the district.”

Asher said he asked Metro “point-blank” whether urban renewal would have to be included in the study. Metro officials, according to Asher, insisted.

“We wouldn’t want to go through a very contentious public process, I would say as well, because it would take down the works,” Asher said. “There wouldn’t have to be an overwhelming majority on council to support urban renewal, but we wouldn’t be able to modify that part of the (study’s) scope.”

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