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City to address slow growth issues

Given the economic challenges for relocating to Milwaukie, city staff will be recommending that elected officials consider some tax incentives to boost downtown business development.

Will City Council members create an urban-renewal zone downtown or offer breaks to attract developers after seeing the findings of the city’s “Moving Forward Milwaukie” study? Associate Planner Li Alligood, who leads Milwaukie’s consultant team to discuss potential options for encouraging development, noted those discussions are scheduled for Feb. 18 and 20.

“Before that point, we need direction from Council regarding whether they want to incentivize development or not, and what type of tools they are willing to consider,” Alligood said.

City Councilor Scott Churchill said it’s going to take a smaller type of developer who’s willing to do adaptive reuse to avoid a situation such as North Main that has so many layers of financing that “it’s like putting someone on life support.” An architect by training who lives within walking distance of a light-rail station, Churchill wants to discourage overvaluing land and potential development.

“When a budget is stressed already, I don’t support saying that downtown funds can only be used for development,” Churchill said. “I tend to be more lasse faire in terms of letting the market decide.”

Milwaukie planners gathered input from more than 40 community members at a pair of workshops in late October. Workshop participants discussed the types of development and activities they envision at specific “opportunity sites.”

At the Tuesday, Dec. 3, work session City Council will see several development concepts for each site that incorporate public input, the October draft market study and from economic and development professionals.

“The market analysis found that there is a lot of opportunity in Milwaukie for housing and services for first-time homebuyers and seniors, and vacancy rates for office, retail and industrial properties are fairly low,” Alligood said. “On the other hand, property values and rents are also lower than the regional average, which could pose some challenges.”

Moving Forward Milwaukie aims to update regulations that act as barriers to development, and to have at least one project on the drawing boards by the time the city’s project wraps up in December 2014. Milwaukie’s population has been growing at a slower rate than the state average, and the city shrank between 2000 and 2010.

Through interactive instant polling and mapping exercises, participants of the Central Milwaukie workshop identified a mix of residential, retail, office and light industrial/flex space development for the McFarland and Murphy sites of central Milwaukie, and preferred more modern and large-scale buildings in this area.

Participants in downtown workshop preferred a mix of commercial and residential or office uses for each of the sites, traditional-looking buildings that incorporate brick and stone, and have an inviting and active street presence.

Some residents are resistant to Metro’s vision of increased density around light-rail stations to increase ridership and decrease sprawl. Churchill sees potential for a middle ground in building along TriMet bus feeder routes to light rail.