City voters give thumbs up to renewed downtown

City leaders look forward to implementing urban renewal plan

Based on Tuesday night's election returns, Beaverton voters are comfortable with an urban renewal plan designed to revitalize the city's core business and commercial district.

Washington County Elections Division results on Wednesday morning showed 9,739 or 55 percent, voted in favor of the ballot measure, while 7,947, or 45 percent, opposed using 'tax-increment financing' to spur downtown improvements related to infrastructure, transportation and business growth.

All registered voters in the city were eligible to vote.

With the results, city officials can move forward with the Central Beaverton Urban Renewal Plan for a 997-acre area comprising historic Old Town, the downtown office and commercial district and the 'employment area' east of Highway 217.

City Councilor Betty Bode was one of about 30 city and business leaders who gathered at Bob Lanphere's Beaverton Kia dealership on Hall Boulevard to take in election results and reflect on the campaign to promote the measure.

'This is a sign that Beaverton is ready to move forward,' Bode said. 'We're going to look different in the coming years.'

Mayor Dennis Doyle called in to the gathering to check on results from Phoenix, where he's attending the annual National League of Cities conference. He said he was confident voters would ultimately decide on a new, improved downtown.

'I'm really happy,' he said, acknowledging many citizens were confused early on about the concept of urban renewal. 'The vast majority of people I talked to were very positive about it, once they understood it.

'It's so exciting to finally say we're going to wake Beaverton up and make downtown better than it is,' he added. 'We're going to move Beaverton from the '50s to this century.'

Focused revenue

Rather than a new tax or tax increase for residents, the plan's mechanism allows the Beaverton Urban Renewal Agency to invest up to $150 million in bond financing over a 30-year period.

The city, Washington County government and service agencies including Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, Beaverton School District and Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District will receive property tax revenue based on 2012 levels.

As property values increase, tax revenue above the 'frozen' level goes to the redevelopment agency. That funding is channeled to pay off bonds or other debt the agency takes on toward projects the plan authorizes.

There are 65 urban renewal districts in Oregon. Cities such as Sherwood, Lake Oswego, Gresham, Tualatin and Portland have used the financing tool in recent decades to transform the look, feel and business climate of high-visibility areas.

In 2008, Beaverton voters approved a change in the city's charter to clear the way for this year's vote on an urban renewal district.

According to Beaverton's mission statement, the plan will support projects that:

• Create an active downtown;

• Address traffic congestion;

• Support infrastructure projects including road, water and sewer;

• Promote public safety by improving response times for emergency personnel;

• Make downtown more user friendly for bicyclists and pedestrians; and

• Provide incentives for business investment and job creation;

Playing it safe

The Beaverton plan calls for a financial review after 20 years before additional debt could be assumed for the plan's remaining 10 years.

Doyle stressed the agency will take a conservative approach in implementing the plan.

'We're not going to risk any money until we see the (tax) increment (increase) that's there,' he said on Tuesday night. 'We've been so conservative in our projections. We know (development) is going to happen. So it's nice that the majority are putting their trust in it.'

Another round

Implemented in 1972, Beaverton's first, $41.5 million renewal plan led to such key transportation improvements as connecting Farmington Road with Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, extending Fifth Street from Lombard Avenue to Western Avenue and a Tualatin Valley Highway overpass of reconfigured Burlington Northern Railroad tracks.

'What we did back in '72 was so good,' said Councilor Cathy Staton on Tuesday night.

The council was unified in supporting the plan, she added, particularly with the level the plan will be monitored and regulated.

'All the constraints are in place,' Staton said. 'The biggest issue was people not understanding what urban renewal was. We're not charging any more' in property taxes.

Jim McCreight, a city resident since 1967 and a member of the current Beaverton Urban Renewal Agency, said Tuesday night that, after months of forums and voter education efforts, it was a relief to learn how citizens actually felt about the concept.

'There were a lot of questions I think we answered effectively,' he said as election results trickled in. 'So we felt people understand it. The real challenge is implementing (the plan). We're looking forward to the next step.'

City Councilor Marc San Soucie, a key proponent of the plan, said he made a point at numerous voter forums and meetings to clearly answer questions and make sure people understood what urban renewal entails.

'I tried to get people involved so they could see how it will benefit them,' he said at the Beaverton Kia gathering. 'This is Beaverton investing in itself. The voters got to say 'yes.' Now we know what we have to do, we have to succeed.'

A new look

Some of the identified projects the plan will cover include the following:

• Canyon Road: Improving the walkability, livability and safety of the thoroughfare through wider sidewalks, slower vehicular speeds, on-street parking and bike lanes.

• Beaverton's creeks: Restoring banks, creek beds and creating public open spaces and paths to incorporate hidden or neglected streams into the overall feel of the downtown.

• Central city development: Establish a clear downtown identity by focusing on opportunities where investments in infrastructure and plazas can attract and support desired commercial development; acquire land for shared parking lots and pedestrian-oriented districts.

• Citywide bike and pedestrian network: Improving insufficient or non-existent crossing facilities and unnecessary wait times, particularly along Canyon, Farmington and Allen thoroughfares; developing a non-arterial bike corridor network using low traffic volume streets known as 'bicycle boulevards.'

• Central city housing: Partner with nonprofit organizations to build affordable housing; work with landowners of key catalyst sites to demonstrate alternative ways to redevelop properties; create a 'vertical' housing tax credit and transit-oriented development tax-exemptions zones.

• Employment lands: Working toward the goal of 30,000 new jobs by 2030 by identifying urban reserves for future employment use; redevelop lower-density employment units such as older retail strip malls to higher-density sites; provide incentives such as offsetting SDC fees and building new infrastructure.

Family matter

Longtime Beaverton resident Shelley Fagin said on Tuesday night she felt voters would support the urban renewal measure.

'I thought it would go through,' she said. 'It was important for voters to be informed.'

Fagin's husband, Mark, serves as chairman of the Beaverton Visioning committee, one of the volunteer groups charged with shaping projects to fulfill the urban renewal plan.

Shelley sees revitalization of downtown Beaverton as a key factor in where her four children choose to settle as adults.

'As a parent of four children, I want them to build a better Beaverton so my children can come home,' she said. 'I'm hoping there will be a long (Fagin) family history in Beaverton.'