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City seeks funding to reinvent arch bridge area

by: VERN UYETAKE - The city is seeking a Metro grant to help fund planning for a new vision of the arch bridge and Bolton area of West Linn.The city of West Linn is looking for some money to help fulfill its vision to redevelop the arch bridge area.

Last year the city conducted surveys and meetings to create a vision of what the city should look like along Highway 43 and Willamette Falls Drive in the next 20 to 30 years.

The vision included several projects and spanned citywide. Of the envisioned projects, city staff wants to pursue developing a master plan and strategy for the arch bridge/Bolton center first.

To begin the process, staff is applying for a $220,000 grant from Metro, the regional government for the metropolitan Portland area. This year, Metro is giving $3.7 million in grants funded by the construction excise tax. Of that, $1.85 million is available for planning, such as what West Linn wants to do. The grants are applicable for planning developable land, removing barriers to private investment and development and improving livability.

According to the city, Metro assesses the excise tax on construction permits throughout the Portland area to fund planning projects. The tax is assessed at 0.12 percent of the value of the improvements for the projects that exceed $100,000. This tax went into effect in 2006 and has spent $10 million over the course of two cycles. As of yet, West Linn has not applied for a grant and staff thinks the timing is right.

Staff chose the $220,000 amount because, since the inception of the tax, West Linn construction permits have generated $223,000 toward the fund.

Grant criteria the city must meet for consideration include proposed outcomes from development, regional significance, location, use of best practices, fund matching potential, equity and public involvement.

According to the city, a master plan for the arch bridge area has potential for growth in West Linn due to good transportation accessibility, the amenity of Willamette Falls, proximity to Oregon City and underused land in the area. The city sees potential for bringing in more jobs and businesses to that area and higher-density housing. There is room for even more growth when the new police station is constructed and the old one is vacated.

According to the Metro 2040 plan, the arch bridge/Bolton area is identified as West Linn’s town center.

West Linn Paper Company, a key property owner in the neighborhood, has already expressed support for changes in the area.

Proposed changes to the area would create a town center feel and may include more pedestrian and bike paths, mixed business including more restaurants and small shops and a variety of housing options. An esplanade running from Willamette to the arch bridge area is also in the works.

Staff looked for city council direction during a Feb. 4 work session to proceed with the grant application.

“It was a 2012 council goal to pursue economic development,” Economic Development Director Chris Kerr told the council, adding the area could be a gateway into the city. “We think the arch bridge area ... has a lot of potential.”

Kerr envisioned historic attractions, a hotel and meandering walkways and bike paths to attract people to West Linn.

“We really think the stars are aligning for West Linn,” Kerr said.

“I think this is a very exciting opportunity,” Councilor Jody Carson agreed. “I think there’s a lot of synergy with what’s happening on the other side of the river (in Oregon City).”

“Overall I’m really supportive of this. I’m excited about it, too,” Councilor Thomas Frank said. “Really, this is a diamond in the rough.”

To proceed, the city had to turn in a letter of intent to Metro by last Friday. The city should hear a response from Metro by March 4, the full application is due April 18, Metro will make decision in June and an agreement for funding, if approved, could be initiated later this year.

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