Learn to live with population growth
As one drives along one of the country roads around Hillsboro, strolls along Pacific Avenue in Forest Grove or stops in at a store in Cornelius, it's easy to forget the hustle, bustle and boom on display elsewhere in Washington County.
Our part of the county may feel like a land out of time, but make no mistake: growth is coming, and it's coming soon.
Last year, demographers at Portland State University found that Washington County had experienced the biggest annual population growth of anywhere in Oregon. The largest single gain happened in Hillsboro. The largest gain relative to the total population was in North Plains. Forest Grove and Cornelius trailed behind the overall growth trend, but they probably won't for long.
Just last Tuesday, as the Cornelius City Council met with the city's planning commission at Centro Cultural, the Hillsboro City Council was convening a few miles to the east. The topic that dominated those meetings was the same: population growth.
In Hillsboro, it's easy to see. On Southwest Tualatin Valley Highway at Cornelius Pass Road, construction crews have been hard at work for months on a massive planned development called South Hillsboro. So close is this long-planned residential area to becoming reality that it has been selected to host this year's NW Natural Street of Dreams.
One of the issues before the Hillsboro City Council last week was "Block 67," the former site of Hank's Thriftway in downtown Hillsboro. The supermarket, a Hillsboro institution for 80 years, was demolished last year. Now, the city and a developer are planning a mixed-use project that could see hundreds of families make their homes where generations of Hillsboroites once did their grocery shopping.
But in Cornelius, the signs are there if you look. Well off the main routes through the city, work is underway to build the Laurel Woods neighborhood. The largest residential development in the city's history, Laurel Woods covers about 138 acres and is expected to include close to 900 single-family houses once it is fully built out. That could mean well over 2,000 new residents of Cornelius in that neighborhood alone. And that's just one of several housing projects happening in "Oregon's Family Town" right now.
Cornelius city officials know what's coming, too. The council and planning commission met for a special joint work session last Tuesday; in the coming weeks, they are expected to approve a transportation system plan update that calls for millions of dollars in road and multimodal transportation projects, many of them on the eastern end of town toward Hillsboro, between now and 2040.
Don't think Forest Grove is immune, either. The largest apartment complex in the city, the Jesse Quinn, is expected to open for occupancy at the corner of Pacific Avenue and A Street this summer. Another is under construction east of Ace Hardware.
More projects are planned throughout town, but the largest is the 375-acre Westside Planning Project in the northwest corner of Forest Grove. It's a considerably longer-range project than many of the others happening in Washington County, but it could ultimately rival huge developments like Tigard's River Terrace neighborhood, with as many as 2,000 homes — along with some commercial development — planned for the area.
Even little North Plains is booming. After growing by nearly half again its former size in 2017, according to the PSU report, the city is on track to keep adding population due to new development on its outskirts. Mayor Teri Lenahan told the Hillsboro Tribune last year that rapid growth is just something North Plains residents are having to learn to live with.
That's true of all our communities, actually. We can't stop these changes. We have to accept them with grace.
Our communities will have to adapt to growing populations and changing demographics. That's nothing new. Forest Grove has never topped 30,000 residents before, as it very well might once those planned developments are built — but before last decade, it had never reached 20,000 before, either. The population only hit five figures in the 1970s. People who lived here then adjusted.
All these changes need not mean that Hillsboro, Cornelius, Forest Grove and North Plains sacrifice their identities. These are special places, and just as we must protect our most sensitive habitat areas and our most valuable farmland, we must preserve our unique traditions, keep emphasizing our unique histories and maintain our manners.
In some ways, our communities will change. There's no reason that in other ways — the most important, truly essential ways — they cannot remain the same.
In the opening pages of their book "Walking to Forest Grove: The Life and Times of the Prettiest Town in Oregon," authors and occasional News-Times contributors Ken and Kris Bilderback write beautifully of how Forest Grove was, at its heart, founded on kindness and charity.
Tabitha Brown, the "Mother of Oregon" who took in orphaned pioneer children, "spent her life teaching, and loving, children, whether they were her own, her grandchildren or total stranger," the Bilderbacks write. "While she could have walked away from Forest Grove, Tabitha Brown chose to stay, and her legacy is her love for children and education, which planted the seeds for a great university and a great city."
That's a remarkable legacy indeed, and it's exactly the spirit we should embrace.
Yes, the lines at Bi-Mart and Fred Meyer will get a little longer. Yes, the traffic on Highway 26 and Cornell Road will get a little worse. Yes, we might have to vote on new bond measures and levy options to ensure that our school districts, public libraries, city governments, fire districts and law enforcement agencies have the funding they need to keep up with the changes. But no matter how far back our roots in this county go, we wouldn't be here if someone hadn't made room for us or our forebears.
Last week, Hillsboro unveiled its first official welcome signs with a city population above 100,000. That's a milestone, to be sure — but it doesn't stop here. Get ready for growth, practice optimism and tell your new neighbors, "Welcome to where I live. You're going to love it here."
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