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A new downtown vision

Gresham city planners are set to develop new urban design standards for the city's core
by: John Klicker, The mix of eras is obvious in this view of downtown Gresham over Main City Park. A new downtown development plan that includes an architectural review board is meant to help the city maintain its character while it modernizes.

The Gresham City Council on Tuesday, March 4, gave its blessing to city planners to create a new downtown development plan - which will include a new architectural review board and urban design standards.

'Maintaining the character, yet coming into the modern age if you will - that's going to be one of the toughest challenges,' said Mike Bennett, city councilor. 'Because people, myself included, like the character of the downtown area, it's small-town America, but we need to modernize it, invigorate it and how do you do that and still maintain that character is a very delicate balance.'

The city used a state grant last year to do preliminary work for a downtown plan - a sort of 'field analysis' - and city planners will build on that over the next year to create the new downtown plan, including:

• Revising the downtown plan adding a land-use and urban design framework

• Creating an Architectural Review Board

• Developing mandatory architectural/urban design standards to achieve quality design

In essence, they will re-think the whole downtown area (bordered by Hogan, Eastman, Division and Powell) looking at land-use issues, zoning, residential and commercial mix, retail and other development issues.

'The downtown Main Avenue in particular is a very unique district and yet many people don't even know it's there,' said Mike Abbate, city planning director. 'One of the challenges is how do we take what we have that's already an asset - light rail, good locations, historic buildings, a lot of good things downtown - and help developers, but also visitors know that the neighborhood is here.'

Three 'vision themes' will guide the development of the new downtown plan.

• Downtown is the focus of the community.

• Downtown is seamlessly connected to the civic neighborhood to form the regional center.

• Downtown is a success due to effective public/private partnerships.

One proposed idea is adopting downtown districts, such as arts, industrial transition and historic districts, among others, in order to guide the planning process.

'Like all land-use planning efforts, we are trying to decide what general categories of things are appropriate in what area,' Abbate said. 'The districts will help describe it, but (with) flexibility.'

The city planners will also form a new Architectural Review Board, which unlike the current Downtown Civic Neighborhood Architectural Review Committee, will have decision-making authority.

The planners will also be developing new urban design standards - things like sidewalks, window space and building heights. The review board will eventually use the new design standards to assess development proposals.

Once the downtown plan is developed - which is expected to take a year - city planners will then revamp the city codes to reflect the changes.

'The new plan will facilitate what we really would like to see happen downtown,' Abbate said. 'That it would be a vibrant place, people would want to live there, would want to go there on Friday nights, to be really seen as the hub of Gresham.'

Reporter Michael Ureel can be reached at 503-492-5117 or mureel@theoutlookonline.

com.