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Portland neighbor readies for growth

• Wilsonville's big Villebois development will add housing for 6,000, with traffic increases to match

The area's largest residential community since Hillsboro's Orenco Station is about to rise on the fields near the former Dammasch State Hospital.

The 580-acre site in Wilsonville Ñ where scenes from the Academy Award-winning 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and Robert DeNiro's 'Men of Honor' were filmed Ñ will swell Wilsonville's population by 6,000 residents and dramatically increase traffic on nearby Interstate 5.

It also may scrap the long-vacant mental hospital's buildings in favor of housing, retail space and 30 acres of parks.

'There are concerns about traffic, but there are systems in place and (residents') needs will be met,' said Brit Adams, executive director of the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce.

'This will provide housing in a community that has more jobs than residents and generate tax revenue for the city. We have 15,000 residents to 18,000 jobs. There's definitely an imbalance. We could use some housing in Wilsonville.'

Portland-based Costa Pacific Homes, the same group that developed Orenco Station, is behind the development, called Villebois.

Costa representatives presented their proposed $400 million urban village of 2,400 housing units to the Wilsonville Planning Board last week. The dwellings would range from townhouses to single-family homes at prices running from $155,000 to near $400,000.

A deli, brew pub and coffee shop are among the proposed tenants for an estimated 35,000 square feet of retail space.

Home construction could start as early as October and is expected to spread over a decade, said Mike Ragsdale, the former state senator who is Villebois' project manager.

'One of the things Wilsonville has is an appeal to people who travel between Salem and Portland,' he said. 'There's a pent-up demand that has not been filled since the building moratorium.'

Last year, the fast-growing city lifted its 4-year-old building ban, imposed in 1999 when its aquifer supply ran low and traffic increased.

In anticipation of Villebois' construction, the Oregon Department of Transportation recently completed a study of traffic volume at I-5 exits connecting to the Dammasch site. Traffic experts concluded that it would cost less to improve the overtaxed Wilsonville exit Ñ $12.5 million Ñ than to build a new interchange at Boeckman Road.

Four new ramps and other improvements at Boeckman, which would be a direct freeway connection to Villebois, would cost $80 million.

'They thought it made more sense to fix the Wilsonville Road interchange,' said Dan Hoyt, economic development director for the city of Wilsonville. 'Now we're focusing our efforts on the work on Wilsonville Road and the need to secure funding for that.'

A development of Villebois' size will bring in resources that will allow Wilsonville to make transportation infrastructure improvements, said the chamber's Adams.

The Barber Street extension, another connector to the Villebois development, was added this week to the project request list of the Metro regional government's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation. Planners are asking for $4.2 million in federal transportation funding.

Funding for a commuter rail line between Portland and Salem is pending before Congress.

Wilsonville in vogue

Meanwhile, other residential developers also are zeroing in on Wilsonville.

Two Portland metro area builders, D.R. Horton Homes and Matrix Development Group, own property on the Dammasch site. Still other developers will be involved as Costa seeks out an apartment and retail partner.

Luring a high-tech company into setting up shop in Villebois is a possibility, Ragsdale said. But it would change the character of the largely residential community, he noted.

Disposition of the remaining five brick Dammasch buildings is still being studied. Costa hired the Portland architecture firm Fletcher Farr Ayotte to research the cost of renovating them.

'We'd like to keep them, but we're not sure we're going to be able to,' Ragsdale said.

The hospital's main complex opened in 1961 to care for as many as 450 patients with a range of psychiatric needs. The last patients left Dammasch in 1995.

Three years ago, Robert DeNiro lounged around Dammasch's main complex during filming of 'Men of Honor,' which chronicles the career of Navy diver Carl Brashears.

At one point, the hospital site was seriously considered as a women's correctional facility. Another prison site was selected in 1999.

Thumbs up from a psychic

Though Orenco has won numerous design and livability awards, many real estate brokers believe that the project has failed to turn a profit. Ragsdale disputed that but did not offer specific numbers.

Costa Pacific executives said they can apply what they learned at Orenco to make Villebois better.

'We learned there how to create a community center,' Ragsdale said. 'We're looking more at how to get that community living room. That's kind of an elusive thing to find.'

Ragsdale said he doubts that home buyers will be squeamish about moving to the former mental hospital site. However, to dispel rumors that Dammasch is haunted, the firm hired a psychic to traipse around the site.

'She couldn't find any bad spirits,' he said, although she did connect with 'an ex-custodial employee who liked the place.'û