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Whats next for the Grove?

Survey reveals conflicted views about growth while indicating an overall sense of optimism

f you ask Forest Grove residents what they think of their city, the answer isn't too surprising: It's a small town, with all of the charms and challenges you'd expect.

But go deeper with that group and you'll find a broad - and often conflicting - variety of views about what the city is, what it needs and where it should be headed.

Over the past week, more than 300 News-Times readers have weighed in online on the topic of Forest Grove's future. The results give a fair, if unscientific, snapshot of what residents want (more restaurants) and don't want (the loss of the town's character) in the coming years.

'I think growth is inevitable, and could be a good thing,' wrote one respondent. 'But all growth must be managed. It has to be planned with an eye to the long-range future.'

That sentiment is shared inside City Hall, where officials are preparing for Saturday morning's Annual Town Meeting (See page 4A for details.)

This year's public forum will focus on the future, as a citizens' taskforce wraps up a year of work on a vision statement and staffers embark on a review of the Comprehensive Plan. Both documents will help shape Forest Grove over the next few decades, as the population is expected to steadily rise from its current level of 21,000 to 30,000 or more.

The good news for city officials is that most survey respondents see growth as more of an opportunity than a liability, hoping new businesses can anchor downtown and service the city's west end, where a housing boom over the past 10 years hasn't been matched by commercial development.

'I watch as McMinnville grows and has options for different foods and shopping opportunities,' wrote one respondent. 'I'd like to have some things close to homes. We have all those new houses on the west side and they have to travel clear across town just to get milk at our one grocery store, Safeway.'

Another said, 'It would be nice to not have to drive in to Hillsboro for shopping and dining.'

Jeff King, the city's economic development coordinator, agrees. 'In general,' he said, 'for products and food we are under-retailed.'

Forest Grove's relatively small size and distance from U.S. Highway 26 combine to make commercial growth a slow-go.

Major fast-food outlets like Taco Bell and Jack In The Box (both of which are eyeing parcels in Forest Grove) prefer high-traffic intersections such as Highway 47 and Pacific Avenue, King said, but such land is hard to get.

'Some of our biggest developers are sitting on our best parcels,' King said.

Many respondents wanted more food options in town. While some wanted additional homegrown diners or independent high-end restaurants, others pine for fast food and chains. 'Bring on Shari's or something similar,' wrote one survey respondent.

Others wanted more options for groceries, such as Trader Joe's or New Seasons.

King wouldn't rule out a New Seasons outlet, but said Trader Joe's, which targets high-density areas such as Northwest Portland, would be a tough sell.

But not everyone is happy about growth.

'(My) number one concern is crime and safety and the encroachment of gang activity in our neighborhoods,' one respondent wrote.

Some complained about a perceived increase in drinking establishments in town. King said that concern is more a perception than reality, as most of the new liquor outlets are more restaurant than bar. 'We have maybe two or three that are just a traditional tavern,' King said.

When asked if the city should accommodate growth by increasing density in the city limits or seeking to expand Forest Grove's boundary onto surrounding forest and farmland, the spread got tighter. About 55 percent favored expanding the city limits and 45 percent chose higher density.

'Density is not the answer to growth,' one person wrote. 'Density breeds conflict and crime.'

Many respondents advocate a mix. 'Both approaches are likely required,' wrote one. 'I would like the goal to be to balance the load as much as possible on infrastructure and preserve to every possible extent the small-town look and feel of Forest Grove,' wrote one respondent.

While some readers said Forest Grove needs a change in leadership to handle the challenges of growth, many more respondents expressed optimism about the city's ability to solve problems.

'The people of Forest Grove have a growing sense of pride in their community,' wrote one.

To take the survey: Go to the story, 'I want YOU to take our survey,' at www.fgnewstimes.com and follow the link at the bottom.