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Proposed renewal plan could transform look of Central Beaverton

If you think of Central Beaverton as a traffic-congested tangle of intersections, stoplights and railroad tracks framing drab, outdated buildings with inadequate parking, well, it's a good thing you weren't here in 1972.

That was when the city adopted its first, $41.5 million, urban renewal district plan.

Of the many projects the designation and funding made possible, consider what today's downtown might look and feel like if key aspects of the plan had not been executed:

• Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway would not connect with a Farmington Road widened into a key traffic arterial from Lombard Avenue to Murray Boulevard.

• Fifth Street would stop at Lombard instead of continuing through to Western Avenue.

• The Burlington Northern Railroad line would cut across five arterial streets, including the now-overpassed 160th Avenue, snarling traffic each time a train chugs by.

• Center Street would not connect Hall Boulevard and 114th Avenue.

• 117th Avenue would not connect Canyon Road with Center Street.

• Without a one-way couplet approach around an island of buildings, Hall Boulevard and Watson Avenue would not provide the smooth traffic flow it does today.

• And, Broadway would be characterized by a string of shopworn buildings with four fewer parking lots.

Suffice it to say, the 1972 urban renewal plan transformed the downtown business district in ways both subtle and obvious that are easy for the modern-day resident to take for granted.

City officials are hopeful residents will appreciate the past as well as future value of urban renewal by the time they receive their ballots for the Nov. 8 election.

Funding formula

The Central Beaverton Urban Renewal Area encompasses property near transit stations, historic Old Town, the Central Beaverton office and commercial area, and what's designated an 'employment area' east of Highway 217 and south of Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

If voters approve a new urban renewal district, the Beaverton Urban Redevelopment Agency could, through a period of 30 years or less, sell up to $150 million in bonds to finance improvement projects within that area.

Rather than new taxes, the urban renewal formula is fueled through projected future property tax revenue - generated from development or redevelopment of a voter-approved area - to finance the bonds. Once a property tax assessment of the area is 'frozen' at a current rate, the difference between that and the property's post-improvement assessed value is the amount of funding the redevelopment agency has to finance public infrastructure projects.

While that, depending on one's ability to take in terms such as 'assessed value' without eyes glazing over, may seem straightforward enough, city officials don't take for granted that voters will agree.

Particularly in a lingering economic recession, many automatically associate the idea of public-project funding with government agencies pilfering their pocketbooks. Still others recall urban renewal projects in other communities where the level and time span of funding has gone far beyond what was initially promised.

Furthermore, some of those 'improvements' delivered more elaborate city halls and public arts centers than the tax-generating, private-sector investments urban renewal is intended to encourage.

To the people

Those are among reasons that city and agency officials have sponsored a recent series of neighborhood forums on the Beaverton urban renewal plan.

With an average of 60 citizens attending the three forums, Community Development Director Don Mazziotti estimates as many as 180 people turned out to ask questions about the program and learn how it might improve the city's livability.

The forums were among a bevy of presentations intended to inform voters.

'We've had close to 40 presentations with groups, neighborhood committees, internal groups and small sessions,' he said. 'We've received a great deal of support, but, who knows, we could be talking to the same people.'

While state statutes concerning urban renewal forbid public employees to advocate for a program, Mazziotti stressed that he and other city officials were 'not electioneering at all, just reporting.'

To present a balanced overview, the panels include representatives of urban renewal agencies from other communities - including Gresham, Hillsboro and Lake Oswego - as well as those from school districts and publicly funded agencies including the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue.

Impressive plan

Alec Jensen, who recently retired as executive officer of TVF and R, has found himself in a unique position in more ways than one. As a newly minted public citizen, he's free to speak his mind about urban renewal. Secondly, the self-described urban renewal naysayer finds himself impressed with what he sees as Beaverton's cautious approach to tax-increment financing.

'(Beaverton's) is the only urban renewal plan in Oregon right now that I'm really supportive of,' he said.

Weary of what he considered abuse of the urban renewal process to fund poorly planned 'pet projects' that failed to generate promised property tax revenue, Jensen said Beaverton has taken a higher road. The city is taking the matter to voters and fully involving the 'overlapping' tax districts related to schools, parks and emergency services.

Jensen also likes what the city's plan doesn't include.

'The projects contained within the plan are devoid of large public amenities,' he said. 'There are no city halls, schools, fire stations, performing arts centers or libraries. When I look through the plan, it's focused on projects that will indeed encourage private investment.'

As opposed to some urban renewal plans that anticipate tax revenue increases of nearly 20 percent, Jensen said the Beaverton plan sticks to a goal closer to 5 percent over the plan's 30-year life.

'Beaverton's plan uses much more conservative and realistic growth projections,' he said.

The 30-year timeline includes a provision to re-evaluate financing after 20 years.

'It's as close as any urban renewal plan in the state to setting an actual timeline,' Jensen said. 'If they want to extend the plan, it's subject to voter approval.'

Fulfilling a vision

City Councilor Marc San Soucie said urban renewal is the most effective way to improve the city's infrastructure and property values without burdening city taxpayers.

'It's a very elegant mechanism in that the impact on the general residents of the city is very low,' he said. 'It's simply a mechanism that allows us to borrow against future incremental property tax increases that will allow us to fund projects today.'

Voters, he stressed, should understand that the urban renewal plan is a key funding tool to help bring goals developed through the Beaverton Community Vision and Civic Plan - both sprung through citizens' input - to fruition.

'We think it will give us an opportunity to take care of challenging problems that are keeping downtown from being the vibrant and exciting place we know it can be,' he said.

For information on the city's urban renewal, Community Vision and Civic Plan, visit www.beavertonoregon.gov .