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SoloPower fallout continues two years later


by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The extension of Barber Street, shown above where it terminates in Villebois, is on this years list of Wilsonville Urban Renewal projects.On paper, the newly formed Wilsonville Urban Renewal Strategic Task Force has been tasked with a formidable job.

The 17-member group consisting of economic, real estate and financial experts from both the public and private sectors is in the midst of a detailed analysis of the city’s current urban renewal districts. From that, the task force will formulate a plan to tie together current districts with future needs.

The task force held its first meeting Sept. 25 at Wilsonville City Hall. The session was primarily informational, while a planned Oct. 17 open house set for 7-9 p.m. at Wilsonville City Hall will give the public a more detailed glimpse of the issues at stake. It also will allow for public input.

The latter is a direct result of the 2011 SoloPower debacle. At that time, city voters soundly rejected a single-site urban renewal district intended to benefit that company.

“This all kind of stems back to SoloPower,” said Wilsonville City Manager Bryan Cosgrove. “How do you want to characterize that?”

“It didn’t work,” came one quick response.

“OK, lesson learned,” Cosgrove said. “It seems that Wilsonville was very well vindicated by not going forward with that venture.”

The city currently has two large urban renewal districts, the Year 2000 Plan and the West Side Plan, as well as six, single-property tax increment financing zones approved earlier this year by voters.

In the near future, the city envisions potential urban renewal districts covering all or part of the 181-acre Frog Pond study area in east Wilsonville as well as the 216-acre Coffee Creek study area in north Wilsonville. The former will be residential in nature, the latter is already master planned for industrial development.

Before any new districts can be created, however, existing districts, projects and financing will need to be sorted out.

“The big issues,” said lead consultant Elaine Howard, “are figuring out how to complete existing projects with existing resources; and once that’s done is it possible to start phasing out those UR areas?”

The city’s oldest district, the Year 2000 Plan, or East Side District, was formed in 1992 with the goal of finishing the plan by 2000. Over time the district was maintained as it returned tax increment revenue to the city and other taxing districts. It remains in place today having accounted for more than $75 million in projects to date. There is roughly $10.68 million in debt to be paid off, while the original plan still calls for two significant projects to be completed within the district: a $4.3 million extension of Canyon Creek Road and a $3.2 million Old Town streets project.

West Side Plan problematic

By contrast, the West Side Plan is somewhat problematic for planners in that only $8 million in allowable debt remains in the district while almost $40 million in projects remain to be completed. This, the task force was told, was caused by a significant underestimation of future project costs when it first was released.

Further complicating matters, the city is contractually obligated within certain limits to complete those projects, which consist entirely of infrastructure and street improvements such as extending Barber Road west to Villebois.

“In reality,” Howard said, “the West Side Plan does have the biggest issues, and it will drive other decisions.”

Options include increasing the maximum indebtedness of the West Side District above the current $40 million. This, however, requires the consent of at least 75 percent of the other taxing jurisdictions covering the district, such as Clackamas County, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.

Yet another complication hovering over the task force is the fact Wilsonville is very close to the maximum acreage it is allowed to place in urban renewal under state law.

Wilsonville has a total of 4,712 acres within city limits. It is allowed to place up to 25 percent of that land into urban renewal districts. Presently, however, a total of 1,136.56 acres are contained in two urban renewal districts and six single-property TIF zones. This means the city could add just 41 more acres to existing or new urban renewal zones before reaching that 25 percent limit.

The problem becomes glaring when considering the Coffee Creek and Frog Pond study areas. Those two areas contain 397 acres between them. If they were considered for inclusion in a new or existing district, an equivalent amount of property would need to first be taken out of urban renewal.

Determining which land to remove is the challenge. But it’s something the city has grown adept at doing, largely because it has allowed the city to stay within a self-imposed $4 million annual limit for tax increment revenue derived from urban renewal.

“With this it’s more about deciding when this acreage could become available to add to urban renewal,” Howard said. “It’s far enough out that a lot of the other decisions don’t need to be made at this time. But if, at some point, you want it to be in the urban renewal area you have to move acreage or terminate districts.”