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St. Helens gets peek at urban renewal vision

St. Helens city councilors got their first look at an urban renewal feasibility study on Wednesday, April 2, bringing the city one step closer to its crafting of an urban renewal district.

The 10-page study, drafted by the Portland-based company Spencer and Kupper, identifies a tax base around $104 million, or 13.6 percent of the city's total assessed property value of $772 million, within a targeted boundary that could be frozen at today's tax levels.

As the plan unfolds, tax revenue generated above the frozen base, which is fed either by new construction projects or the 3 percent tax increase governed under Measure 50 tax law, would then be redirected to specific urban renewal projects.

Oregon law restricts urban renewal projects in cities with less than 50,000 people to less than 25 percent of the city's total tax valuation.

The plan is expected to extend out for 20 years.

Some of the potential urban renewal activities suggested at the city level that are included in the feasibility study are:

u Improve parking facilities in Olde Towne, requiring land purchases and improvements.

u Move overhead utility lines underground along Strand and First Street in Olde Towne.

u Improve street lighting.

u Improve pedestrian and motor traffic circulation along Gable and Old Portland roads from Highway 30 to the Columbia River.

u Make improvements in how motorists enter the Olde Towne and Houlton districts from Highway 30.

u Investigation of a pedestrian bridge over Highway 30.

u Improve the physical appearance and seismic ratings for identified buildings.

u Assist in the mixed-use redevelopment in Olde Towne, which involves adding more residential areas in what has been historically a commercial-dominated area.

u Creation and implementation of a waterfront plan, and improvement for waterfront areas such as water and beach access.

u Creation of a lineal park along Highway 30, Millard Road to St. Helens Street.

u Move the city facilities, such as City Hall, to the Houlton area to free up that prime real estate for purposes, such as commercial, that would drive economic growth.

u Improve public transportation in the city, and adding recreational paths east of 18th Street.

Skip Baker, the city's planner, said there were few public comments on the feasibility study Wednesday night, and that most of the comments were supportive of the effort.

There are 13 other tax districts that would be captured within the city's urban renewal district, including the St. Helens School District. While the urban renewal plan would freeze tax levels for the school district as well, the state provides dollar-per-dollar compensation for any lost tax revenue while the plan is active.

Also, if the urban renewal district is successful, it will bring in additional properties and businesses valued at higher dollar amounts, ultimately raising the tax base for all of the districts, including the schools.

A public comment period is ingrained in the urban renewal process, including a final hearing that would be held by the St. Helens City Council prior to approving the district. The City Council will have final say on whether to move forward with the plan, however.

Current expectation is that the plan will be advanced for a vote by the end of August or into early fall.