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Forest Grove unlikely to shake 'bedroom' label

City expected to use up its residential space by 2040


NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - At the Annual Town Meeting Saturday, Forest Grove resident and Iwasaki Brothers Greenhouse employee Claudio Mata (left) said, 'I dont want to see Forest Grove completely change, but I think there is room for some change.'With a controversial luxury-apartment proposal for downtown Forest Grove heading towards approval, many residents have been wondering about the city’s future.

That was the topic at the Annual Town Meeting last Saturday morning.

More than 60 residents and city officials attended, all seeming to agree it’s time for Forest Grove to change from a “bedroom community” to a “complete community.”

But that could be difficult.

“How are we perceived?” asked City Manager Jesse VanderZanden, who then read the Wikipedia entry on Forest Grove: “’Originally a small farm town, it is now primarily a bedroom suburb of Portland.’”

Forest Grove is trending toward a bedroom community “and will continue to do so for the next 20 years,” said Community Development Director Jon Holan, noting that no new industry has come to Forest Grove since 2010.

Residential development, on the other hand, has been brisk. Holan projected the city will exhaust its single-family residence space by 2040. Without new industry, those people will be driving out of town for their jobs.

“One thing I would suggest,” he said. “Hold onto your house.”

Sherwood Planning Manager Bradley Kilby — a guest speaker at the meeting — shared his own city’s experience as a fast-growing bedroom community.

One audience member familiar with Sherwood asked Kilby if the city had considered starting a farm-to-school food program by using the corn field next to the school.

“That corn field is about to be 86 single-family units,” Kilby responded.Forest Grove City Manager Jesse Vanderzanden said a few words as Sebastian Lawler waited behind.

To be classified as a “complete community,” Forest Grove would need to make several changes — including a better balance of residential, industrial and commercial retail options, higher-wage jobs, more diverse housing options and a well-developed town center.

The city is currently lacking in many of those areas.

With a workforce of 10,665 (out of 23,000 residents) but only 6,522 jobs in the city, many Forest Grove residents must go elsewhere for a job.

And that’s a problem, said Economic Development Director Jeff King, because “people shop where they work.”

Audience members offered some solutions.

Anne Niven suggested building on the area’s unique strengths, using the surrounding farmland to bolster the wine, saki and marijuana industries.

Forest Grove Light & Power’s new Program Coordinator Brandi Walstead suggested using the retail space attached to the Tokola project for homeless and low-income service offices.

Local Farmer’s Insurance agent Matt Stone said making the city a family friendly destination by bringing in a community center or fountains, like the one at Hillsboro Civic Center, might draw in more families from other communities in Washington County.