County looks for consultant to help guide region's growth

On one side of Northwest Springville Road are rows upon rows of identical, triangle-roofed homes. Identical trees, planted in perfect alignment, mark each, identically paved driveway.

On the other side of the road are large plots of lush, green vacant land whose geography varies as frequently as the seconds pass.

Cows graze. Salt licks are set out for the elk and deer. Birds fly over a cemetery on a small hill, next to a nursery by a pond.

Across the street, a sign warns 'No hunting.'

'One of the first years we were here, my daughter was walking home from school and a bobcat frightened her,' said 55-year-old Mary Carol Britt, who lives in a two-story house built far back on a gravel path that winds through trees and is lined by a wooden split-rail fence her husband built more than a decade ago.

'The elk still run through here, at least 20 of them. It's quite a spectacle,' she said. 'It's neat to know it's a little bit wild out here.'

But it's only for a little bit longer, and Britt is resigned to the fact.

'The pressure is to come across Springville Road,' Britt said. 'I'm not excited about it. (But) we're going with the flow.'

In early June, several dozen land-use planning consultants sat in the auditorium in Hillsboro where the Washington County Commissioners usually hold their weekly board meetings.

A large screen in front of them displayed a satellite image of the 800 acres of North Bethany - including the acreage the Britts own. All of the land, zoned for agricultural use and forest use, was brought into the county's urban growth boundary in 2002 by Metro.

During the next two years, the county will plan and zone the land for new development according to Metro's rules, in an attempt to keep up with the region's demand for new housing supply.

Friday is the deadline for the consultants to file their proposals for what the North Bethany area should look like developed. According to the request for proposals county officials sent out earlier this month, officials envision the North Bethany area as a 'community of distinction.'

What's that mean? The region should have a higher level of service for parks and open-spaces than other unincorporated parts of Washington County, and a variety of housing choices and community focal points, according to the county request.

County commissioners will pick one of the consultants' proposals by August.

Commissioner John Leeper, who represents North Bethany residents and the surrounding communities, told the group gathered that June day that he intended to be vocal throughout the planning process about how the new area should look.

'I am not interested in having a separate North Bethany community,' he said. 'I would like to see North Bethany viewed in context of being part of a bigger community.'

Beautiful land

Craig Brown, vice president of Matrix Development and Legend Homes, said the public can expect that North Bethany will end up being a relatively dense residential neighborhood.

Density requirements imposed by Metro require at least 10 units per developable acre.

'You simply end up with small lots. It's not our preference,' Brown said, adding that he, along with the residents of the area, sees the beauty of the land. 'There was some beauty to the south of it before it was developed, I'm sure. There is a cost to development.'

Brown, who will serve on a 12-member work group formed by commissioners to advise the consultants on the planning work, said his primary focus on forming a 'community of distinction' will be to make the homes affordable.

'If people can't afford the homes, (the planners) haven't served the public good,' Brown said.

Roy Kim, general managing partner of Central Bethany Development, the company that designed the Bethany neighborhood across Springville Road, said he is worried that the charge to form a 'community of distinction' will result in impractical demands.

'It's a difficult process, a lot of parties are involved,' Kim said. 'There's a risk that whoever has the louder voice will affect how the planning turns out and sometimes that's not to the interest of the greater good.'

Kim is also serving on the advisory work group that will guide the planning. He said the group will have to be mindful that mistakes made will affect the new community for a long time.

After 14 years of living in North Bethany, Britt isn't staying to see what becomes of her neighborhood. There's no bitterness. She loves it where she is, she said. But it's time to move on. The community is changing.

Cars drive down Kaiser Road faster now, more impatient with the tractors on the road.

It's seems silly, she said, the cows grazing behind the house. But she understands. She and her husband, Fred, have already contracted their 11 acres of isolated, quiet wilderness to Craig Brown's Matrix Development.

The company has agreements to buy more than 100 acres in total in the North Bethany area.

'We're hoping that part of our property will remain green space,' Britt said. 'I don't know if they can do this area different, but there is a big interest in keeping a wildlife corridor.'

She won't know how it turns out. When the county plans are in place and the zoning issues are settled, her and her husband's land will be turned over to the developer. Then they will move to San Juan.

'There's one stop light there,' she said. 'It's very slow-paced. We've enjoyed that here. We want to have a real quiet lifestyle.'