For decades, the Tigard Triangle — an area of east Tigard, bounded by Interstate 5 and Highways 99W and 217, roughly the size of downtown Portland — has languished in a state of what city officials sometimes describe as "underdevelopment."
Despite the Triangle's wealth of buildable space, ready access to major transportation routes, and proximity to hotspots like Portland Community College's Sylvania campus, downtown Tigard, and Washington Square mall, the area is home to a few big-box retailers, a couple of hotels, a handful of office buildings and not much else.
But the City of Tigard is considering a bold step that community development staff are hoping will inject new life into the Triangle, while also providing a welcome facelift to the suburban city.
Staff briefed the Tigard City Council on ongoing efforts to pare down the city code that governs development in the Triangle on Feb. 21.
The hope, explained Community Development Director Kenny Asher and his staff, is that by relaxing some of the regulations and requirements developers must meet in Tigard for construction in the Triangle, the city can encourage development that makes the area both more economically vital and a more attractive place to visit, work or live.
At the same time, they said, they are trying to discourage types of development that make for an unattractive streetscape, such as buildings set way back from the street and sidewalk with large parking lots in front of them. Asher described those "suburban-style projects" as being "rude to the street frontage."
"Generally, we are trying to make it easier for any kind of development that is not really just trying to be a suburban-style office building," he said. "And we are certainly going to make it less expensive and faster."
As drafted, the "lean code" would eliminate the need for a full land use review process for most developments in the Triangle, cut minimum density and parking requirements, and scale back restrictions on how specific parcels of land can be used, among other changes, according to Tom McGuire, Tigard's assistant community development director.
Responding to a question about the parking requirements from City Councilor John Goodhouse, Asher said builders generally want to provide as much parking as they think their development will need.
"It's an area where we kind of want to get out of the business of regulating it … and we shouldn't care that much," Asher said. "We should kind of let the market decide how much parking a project needs. And this is what we're trying to do with this whole project, is regulate the thing that we do care about. … What we care about, frankly, is the streetscape."
That makes sense, Goodhouse agreed.
"I think there is way too much regulation, and it does (hurt) a lot of smaller businesses or so forth," he said.
The lean code must be approved by the Tigard City Council before it takes effect. That approval is separate from the city's push for an urban renewal district to be formed for the Triangle, which would capture any future increase in property tax revenues and put it toward voter-approved infrastructure projects. A measure authorizing urban renewal in the Triangle is expected to appear on the May ballot.
Asher said staff are planning the lean code to function with or without urban renewal, although an urban renewal district would potentially allow the city to build and improve streets and trails, construct freeway crossings, and make other infrastructure upgrades that would aid development much faster than it could otherwise.
"The two would work beautifully together, and if urban renewal were to not happen, we are pinning our hopes on a better regulatory environment, if that's all we have to work with," Asher said.
Although it is on the edge of Tigard — a corner of the city east of Highway 217 that many who pass through may not even know is in Tigard proper — the Triangle has long been a central piece of city officials' vision for community development.
"The Tigard Triangle is the future of this city," Asher said. "And we are hard at work, and have been for several years, to try to plan that place to fulfill all the potential it has, and that everybody knows it has had for, I would say, at least a couple of decades here."
Planner Cheryl Caines said the lean code has been reviewed by the city attorney and will undergo additional checks before it is rolled out.
"We now are working with staff … to start to review that, make sure that it's where we want to be before we go totally public with it," she said.
The lean code will likely come before the council for approval in July or August, according to Asher.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times