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Residents want to turn Grove green

Input - Participants at last Saturday's Town Meeting say they want the city to be thinking sustainability in the next 20 years
by: Chase Allgood, Deb Bratland said it’s difficult to go downtown from her Forest Gale Heights home without a car.

Last Saturday morning about 100 people gathered in the Forest Grove Community Auditorium to tell elected officials and city staffers what they'd like to see their city do in the future.

On everyone's mind was what growth will mean to the city of roughly 21,000. Should future housing projects focus on density? Is there a way traffic can be minimized? Should the city embrace its role as a nice place to retire?

Although no consensus emerged on what kind of development the city should welcome, there was one clear message by the end of the meeting: many residents want Forest Grove to be a lot more green.

Lucinda Hites-Clabaugh bemoaned the fact that a plan for wind power in the city had been mothballed years ago. She urged city leaders to take up the cause of environmental sustainability in everything they do.

'I think we could become one of the green destinations in Oregon,' said Hites-Clabaugh.

A number of residents echoed her desires. Some said that the city should tweak the building code to encourage or require sustainable building practices, such as using parking lot surfaces that allow rainwater to soak into the ground below.

Others urged planners to build communities with public transit in mind and get public transit to the places where people live, work and go to school.

'It's great that we have a bus line that runs every 15 minutes into Forest Grove, but it doesn't run beyond downtown Forest Grove,' said Greg Gritton, who advocated extending the route up to Forest Grove High School and into some of the newer neighborhoods on the city's west side.

Deb Bratland, a resident of one of those neighborhoods, noted that she and her neighbors in Forest Gale Heights are cut off from the city by Gales Creek Road and wondered whether a pedestrian overpass would help people like her, who want to drive less.

Others encouraged city leaders to work hard on developing a MAX line into Forest Grove, although Shirley Evers worried that the trains could bring the problems that Hillsboro has faced (primarily crime at transit stops) into Forest Grove

Barb Potter, who transports senior and disabled riders on TriMet's Ride Connection, said that the city should put more focus on sidewalks and pedestrian walkways, another suggestion echoed by others in the audience.

But not all of those in attendance were excited about a new, green growing Forest Grove.

Evers, whose family has long ties to the community, urged leaders to temper their excitement for growth by respecting the city's heritage. She doesn't like the idea of the city expanding its boundaries onto farm and forestland.

'One of the things that I don't want to see is a big sprawl, knowing that the farmers and the ranchers were what started it all,' Evers said.

Evers also said that when road names are changed it undermines the history of the town and sows confusion.

Jon Holan, Forest Grove's community development director, was all ears during the hour-long comment session.

Holan is heading up the city's effort to update its Comprehensive Plan, a document that does more than anticipate where sewer and water lines should go. The plan also outlines a vision for city councils to work from over the next 20 years, during which Metro expects nearly 9,000 people will move to Forest Grove.

The previous Comprehensive Plan was written between 1975 and 1979 and while it is not completely outdated, Holan hopes that the revision will hone it into a more pertinent, robust blueprint for moving the city forward.

The plan review process will stretch over the next three years and draw on the work of a citizens' committee which updated the city's Vision Statement last year.

In February, the city will hold meetings each Tuesday and Thursday on topics ranging from transportation to economic development.

Holan said input from the Annual Town Meeting will help give city officials a clearer sense of where to go (see box).

Some in the audience worried that the very nature of such sessions left some citizens out.

'I'd like to see something more than one meeting every so often and a little bit more participation,' said Roy Adams, who got involved in civic matters when a small high-density development was approved in his neighborhood.

Adams said that he doesn't oppose high-density housing, but doesn't want to see Forest Grove become like Beaverton or Hillsboro.

That was a notion echoed by John Putnam, who said he'd like to see some sort of design review to keep new housing consistent with the city's current look and feel.

Marian Cakarnis said she'd like to see some standard design features as well.

'I think one thing that makes Forest Grove really unique is that the lots are more proportional than they are in Beaverton,' Cakarnis said.

But in all the talk about development and housing, there was a strong undercurrent of concern for the city's economic status, with many in the audience urging more attention be focused on the city's manufacturing and retail sectors.

Hites-Clabaugh said the city should attract solar panel manufacturers into the abandoned Matsushita factory.

Michelle Aston said she'd like to see more activities and shopping in Forest Grove so she wouldn't have to travel to Beaverton or Hillsboro.

Mike Connell, an Intel employee who moved to Forest Grove from Beaverton, said the city is already functioning as a bedroom community and a retirement center.

He said city planners should try to bring in more retirement facilities in order to increase the number of jobs in town and cut down on the kind of traffic he left in Beaverton.

0'I came out here because that's traffic hell now,' he said. 'When we first moved there we lived right on the edge of farmland.'

A number of people in the audience echoed Connell's concern about traffic, but went further, suggesting that by capping development or slowing it down the city could preserve its small-town feel.

City Councilor Pete Truax, however, warned against the notion that current residents could keep Forest Grove to themselves.

'Those who think they can move into an idyllic area, and some believe that Forest Grove is idyllic, and think they can pull up the drawbridge behind them are on a fool's errand,' he said.

Mayor Richard Kidd said that growth will come, and the planning process is the key to making sure new development and residents don't overrun the town.

'It's kind of like playing SimCity,' he said, referring to a computer game that gained popularity in the 1990s. 'Except that we can't start a new game if we don't like the plan that we've made.'