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Developer considering Pacific Avenue apartments

Zoning would allow mixed-use project on long-vacant site in Forest Grove

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JOHN SCHRAG - The empty lot where 190 apartments might stand in 2016 sits just east of Ace Hardware on Pacific Avenue in Forest Grove.For nearly 20 years, an 11-acre lot on Pacific Avenue in Forest Grove has been nothing more than a swath of dirt and weeds.

Hanging above the street, a traffic arm with no signal is a totem to Haggen Foods’ plan to build a store there in the mid-1990s, when it bought the land and helped move its then-occupant, Ace Hardware, one lot to the west.

The important commercial strip has been developing around the empty site ever since, but in November, Salem-based general contractor Larry Sharp approached city officials with a plan to turn the vacant lot into a 190-unit apartment building.

“A formal application hasn’t been filed and we don’t expect one for at least a month,” Community Development Director Jon Holan said. “Assuming they go forward, we’d be looking at a predominantly residential project with some commercial space on the ground floor.”

Though Pacific Avenue has been developed almost exclusively for commercial use, Holan said, the area is a community-commercial zone, which would allow for a mixed-use project.

Like Holan, Economic Development Manager Jeff King was careful to say that discussions are in a preliminary stage. But he was quick to also point out the boon the project would be to Forest Grove if it goes forward.

“They still need to do their due diligence,” he said, “but if they come back — and I think they will — they have a pretty ambitious timeline.”

King said that Sharp hoped to have his contractors breaking ground in mid- to late-2015.

If that happens, King believes the project will fill both commercial and residential needs for Forest Grove.

“It will certainly add jobs,” he said, “both during construction and after. Whether the commercial portion becomes a restaurant, shop or whatever, it could bring in service and maintenance jobs. They’ll pay a significant property tax and add population. We really see this kind of vertical, mixed-use development as positive growth.”

King could only speculate why Haggen abandoned its plans for a grocery store.

“They assembled the land into a single lot, cleared it and put in a retaining pond,” he said, “but maybe they saw something in their market studies, or their model changed. For whatever reason, they decided not to go forward.”

The interest in developing the site for residential use, however, seems perfectly clear to him.

“Portland has had a pent-up demand for rentals,” he said. “There are a lot of people who, after the recession, were no longer homeowners. As developers have filled in the need in Portland, they’ve started to look to smaller communities and are now making their way out into the suburbs where housing is a little more affordable.”

There are similar mixed-use projects in Milwaukie, Hillsboro and Sherwood, King said. And with Forest Grove growing quickly, this project can help fill the city’s residential needs — as well as some commercial needs.

“Given our population,” he said, “we don’t have nearly the retail we should.”

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