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Dry times for Gaston may be nearing an irrigated end

A new water tower could prompt growth, officials predict

A planned million-gallon water tower may be a harbinger of potential growth and development for the City of Gaston, whose water storage capacity is currently insufficient, city officials say.

'We're approximately 25 percent short of the water that we need,' Margaret Bell, city recorder, said last week.

It would have been unfeasible for the town of 600 to expand without the new reservoir, said Gaston Mayor Rick Lorenz. 'It's a necessity if there's going to be growth.'

At roughly $1.6 million, the city's recently approved budget is nearly 30 percent larger than last year's. Capital outlay for the water reservoir is a chief reason for the increase, Lorenz said.

The water tower will be financed by a $600,000 federal Community Development Block Grant, as well as $100,000 from Gaston's water reserve funds. Water for the future reservoir will be provided by the City of Hillsboro, and it will operate in conjunction with Gaston's current water tower, which is two-thirds smaller.

Bidding for the project was delayed until after July 1, when federal funds were expected to be officially allocated.

'The purpose of the grant is to provide services to low- and moderate-income people,' said Peggy Linden, program manager for Washington County's Office of Community Development. She added that Gaston will have until June 30, 2007, to complete the project or file for an extension.

'They're hoping to have it done as soon as possible, barring any problems they may face,' Linden said.

Growth 'inevitable'

Although there are no immediate plans to annex more property into the city and the outlook for specific new development remains uncertain, Gaston city officials say growth is all but inevitable.

Boosting the water supply is one way the city is bracing itself for the eventual change.

'It's not that we're just deficient. You can tell we're going to grow,' said Richard Williams, Gaston's director of public works. Because the city has a very limited number of jobs, new citizens are likely to be people who work outside Gaston and are looking for a quiet town to call home, he said.

'It is not necessarily people who live in Portland, but people who live in Beaverton or Hillsboro who want to get a little bit farther away from that,' Williams said.

Builders eye school land

Talk about impending development in Gaston is more than mere speculation - developers are already eyeing portions of buildable land near the city. In 2005, Beaverton-based homebuilder Riverside Homes, Inc., offered to buy land owned by the Gaston School District for $200,000 an acre. The nine-acre parcel is located at the south end of the district's football field.

Public hearings on the matter elicited both excitement and concern, as reflected by Gaston school board documents. On one hand, the sale would bring income for the school district's capital improvements, increase enrollment and improve the town's overall economy.

At the same time, the development would increase traffic and strain already scarce resources, such as water.

Although prospects for the land sale seemed bright in early 2006, negotiations stalled and the board decided not to move ahead with a deal in May. The district will postpone any ruling on the sale until development plans for an adjacent 90-acre parcel become clearer, according to school board documents.

Tax lot records indicate the bordering property is owned by Steven and Donna Metzler, who could not be reached for comment.

A proposed feasibility study, to be conducted by Riverside Homes, was also called off because it would have required a contract between the district and the homebuilder.

No commitment

'The board never made a commitment to any specific developer,' said Marie DuRette, district business manager, noting that other companies have also approached the district about the property.

For neighbors of the land in question, the delay may be a blessing in disguise. Gaston resident Colleen Glynn has a full view of both the district's nine acres as well as the Metzler property. Right now she can step outside and enjoy the openness of the farmland and natural areas right outside her home - and she admitted to 'mixed feelings' about the possibility of development.

'The noise level will go up, but on the other hand, my property value will go up,' she said. 'I've been here since 1984, so I've gotten used to the peace and quiet. This has been like a land frozen in time for the past 20 years.'