The Gresham City Council unanimously approved the formation of a reimbursement district on Northeast Beech Street, between Third and Fourth streets, on Tuesday, Jan. 8.

The decision allows the city to reinvent the block according to its 'shared street' designation, which means it will be safe for pedestrians, bicyclists and slow-moving traffic. Plans include adding street lighting, green street treatment and landscaping. Transportation Planner Sandra Doubleday said the concept is common in Europe.

The project, with a deadline for completion of July 31, will cost about $200,000 and will be financed with Community Development Block Grant funds.

With the reimbursement district in place, the block's four property owners will be obligated to reimburse the funds at $50,000 a piece, but they will not owe anything if they develop affordable housing. Property owners would be required to pay for development of Beech Street with or without a reimbursement district.

Tom Orth, who owns a vacant lot on the northwest corner of Beech and Fourth streets, told the council that the city could develop the street for half the cost without the extra amenities.

Afterward, though, Orth said he was pleased with the council's action because it required city staff not to go over budget, and also guaranteed that property owners would not be charged for future infrastructure. Orth and other property owners were also concerned about accessing their properties. City staff guaranteed they would have no problems.

Orth said the council's approach to his concerns was 'refreshing.'

'They legitimately and genuinely heard what I was saying,' Orth said.

All of the block's property owners have said they do not plan to develop affordable housing because it is financially impractical.

Councilor Shirley Craddick offered strong support of the project despite the probability that it will not result in new affordable housing. After the meeting, Craddick said attracting new affordable housing is a region-wide challenge.

'It takes a variety of incentives to attract affordable housing,' Craddick said. 'These efforts occur across the region, but the market makes it pretty challenging.'

Other council news

The council unanimously adopted its 2008 work plan, with 33 projects in all. The top six priorities are: public safety funding; developing the Rockwood Cultural Marketplace; finalizing a funding strategy and timeline for a sports park; implementing a rental housing inspection program; preparing for an economic development summit early next year; and beginning construction of a new East County Justice Center in Rockwood.

There was one adjustment to the work plan, requested by Craddick. One of the projects will be improving the city's development code, and Craddick asked that staff review height compatibility standards as part of this project.

Also, Councilor Paul Warr-King replaced Craddick as council president. Councilor Carol Nielsen-Hood said it is healthy for the council to elect a new president on an annual basis, and praised Craddick's leadership throughout the previous year. Mayor Shane Bemis presented Craddick with an award honoring her service.

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