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Form-based codes would give developers an easier path to project approval

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - The intersection of Day Road and Grahams Ferry Road, shown here, is the northwest corner of the proposed Day Road Design Overlay District. A new means of streamlining the development application process is in the works for Wilsonville’s Coffee Creek Industrial Area.

Using so-called form-based code, city planners would have much more authority to give proposed development projects the green light than under standard, zone-based processes.

“This is a really innovative project, and we’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the background,” said Katie Mangle, the city’s long range planning manager. “We’ve been massaging the themes and the concepts over the past eight months.”

At its essence, form-based code is a method of regulating urban development to create a specific form, or appearance. In Wilsonville, this will be applied to the northern strip of the 216-acre Coffee Creek Industrial Area in the form of the Day Road Design Overlay District.

As envisioned, the overlay district will provide a series of design standards that will give the area an uniform appearance and ensure that the proper type of development occurs. For developers, the attraction is the certainty that comes with simple, clear and objective standards, as well as the streamlined process that can be administered by staff.

“What we’re trying to do is create a lot of flexible options for developers to use,” Urbworks consultant Marcy McInelly told Wilsonville city councilors at a July 21 work session.

Those options will be found in a so-called pattern book that details alternative design approaches. In short, development applicants could meet either the form-based code standards, administered largely by staff, or the flexible, subjective guidelines of the Pattern Book, with compliance administered by the city’s development review board.

Mangle told councilors the expected results will support economic development and job creation in Coffee Creek using the new streamlined process and new industrial projects that city officials hope to attract to the area.

Transportation and other considerations will play a role in the Day Road Design Overlay District, but the primary aim is to facilitate new businesses looking to locate in the Coffee Creek area in north Wilsonville.

“Developers like certainty and timing,” City Manager Bryan Cosgrove said. “If you can build that into your code I think it gives us a competitive advantage.”

The Coffee Creek Industrial Area is already designated a regionally significant industrial area by the Metro regional government, and the city has high hopes for its employment potential. The Coffee Creek Industrial Area Master Plan was completed in 2007 and, combined with the new form-based code, will provide the blueprint for the area’s development.

In the meantime, the city will be engaging the public this summer and fall as it seeks to finalize design standards for the area.

“The schedule is now extended out to October, and we’re looking at this with a devious eye, trying to make it work in different ways that maybe we haven’t thought of,” Mangle said. “It’s really important, if we adopt this, that we have the appropriate public input into this document.”

City staff and Urbworks consultants already are getting help from a technical advisory committee made up of city staff and private citizens. In coming weeks, a new city website explaining the changes and asking for input will go live, while a public neighborhood meeting will be held before the end of the summer.

Once all that is complete, city staff will carve out a final draft of the new overlay zone and send it back to the City Council, probably in November, for adoption and final inclusion in the Coffee Creek Industrial Area Master Plan.

While the overlay district will be limited to a narrow strip of land along Day Road for the present, current plans call for its expansion in the future to cover the entire 216-acre Coffee Creek area.

Council reaction July 21 was muted, although Mayor Tim Knapp worried about the new code being specific enough to ensure desired development. The city, he said, wants jobs that pay well and come in significant numbers.

“We can’t be everything to everybody,” Knapp said, pointing out that the city is not looking to replicate other industrial areas based largely on single-story warehouses with relatively few jobs attached.

“Are we capturing that within our expectation and vision and whole concept?” he asked. “Yes, flexibility; yes, adaptability; yes, standard deviation. But all of those outcomes need to be what we’re trying to achieve.”

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