Westside development sparks ideas, concerns
At its May 30 meeting, the Forest Grove Planning Commission listened to testimony on the Westside project, which will develop a large area around Thatcher and David Hill roads with homes and, in some places, commercial enterprises.
We heard pleas to treat the area above 440 feet of elevation as separate from the remainder of the project due to its challenges and the expense of development. A new reservoir would be required in order to provide water for this area, which could make the homes there much too expensive in a city where affordable housing is one of the key goals.
Along those lines, another witness drew our attention to the city's mission statement on having a sustainable city, with the advice that the upland area — and its unaffordable housing — could well violate our mission in regards to having a sustainable community. It should be noted, however, that this new source of water would also help strengthen the water system for the entire city.
Commission members also heard testimony from representatives of the Green Grove Cohousing project on Thatcher Road. In researching options for their own project, group members discovered a new method of treating sewage that could save millions of dollars in development.
A Septic Tank Effluent Pump system (STEP) system uses traditional septic tanks, but with city maintenance and a system of small pipes that drain off the liquid to the main sewer system. The tanks would need emptying about every 7-10 years. This system is being used in several cities in Oregon and Washington where the topography makes it more efficient that the normal sewer system.
We heard opposing views on whether to have a commercial zone along the lower part of David Hill Road. One person worried about the traffic, one saw it as a distraction from going downtown, while one wanted a commercial area near the high school instead, especially to service the many visitors to the school for various events.
Concerned about fees
The position of the fire station location on David Hill Road near Highway 47 also was questioned. City staff informed us that Fire Chief Michael Kinkade personally selected this site to allow close access to Highway 47 as the fire department is responsible for areas outside the city limits.
Also, there was a request to expand the Neighborhood Commercial zone along David Hill Road to include one more parcel above the current proposed area across from Thatcher Park.
Finally, several witnesses noted that development of the entire area would cause a very sharp increase in system development fees, which are paid by every type of development to cover the costs of basic road, water and sewer infrastructure. Some suggested the area between Thatcher Road and Highway 47, where these infrastructure costs are much lower than west of Thatcher, should be treated as a separate area in determining these fees.
The Commission discussed this testimony with some sympathy for many of these ideas. We asked the staff to think about dividing the Westside project into three separate projects — one between Thatcher and Highway 47, one from Thatcher west to the 440 elevation line, and one above the 440-foot elevation line. This would allow System Development charges to be set in line with the expected price of housing in each area.
We also discussed the idea of asking the STEP system to be investigated for the area above 440 feet. Finally, we suggested that input from the Sustainability Commission could be helpful when we are doing long-range planning. This entire exercise is just that — a plan.
Commission makes changes
At our June 5th meeting, we received feedback from city staff on the previous meeting's suggestions and heard one more witness on the STEP system.
Commissioners then discussed the various issues and basically agreed with the staff presentation of the Westside Project with the following changes:
n We divided the project into three parts: the area east of Thatcher Road; the area from Thatcher Road up to the 440-foot elevation level; and the area above the 440-foot elevation level. This allows the city to better adapt to the probable timetable for actual development and also to apply infrastructure costs to each part separately.
n We altered the one-acre lots' zone to apply to the entire area above 440 feet rather than just along the tax lot lines in the upper reaches of this project. If a property owner has property in two zones, they have more flexibility for developing it.
n We added language urging future planning related to water systems to seriously consider sustainability issues and cost issues when looking at the area above 440 feet in elevation.
n We included enough flexibility so that Plum Hill Road could remain a local street while a separate collector street (carrying a higher traffic volume) could be built in the same area along Thatcher, running west.
n We agreed to expand the Neighborhood Mixed Use zone, which allows higher density housing and some commercial development, in the area along David Hill Road just above Thatcher Road, with the caveat that this area could be built entirely with residences.
n We kept the fire station as planned along the lower part of David Hill Road and we removed any minimum commercial development in the Neighborhood Mixed Use area next to the fire station.
With these changes we recommended this project to the City Council.
Tom Beck writes a column on the activities of the Forest Grove Planning Commission, which he chairs.