Why can't the Tigard Triangle be the next big land use success story?

Residents of eastern Washington County should pay close attention to the Tigard Triangle over the next few months. Something big could happen.

The Triangle will either languish as a nether-place, a vast Sargasso Sea of cracked parking lots and anonymous big-box structures. Or it will become the living, beating heart of the region.

We're fearful of the former. We're energized about the prospect of the latter.

And the City of Tigard seems poised to make the potential a reality.

The Triangle, east of Tigard, is bounded by Interstate 5 and Highways 99W and 217. It is roughly the size of downtown Portland. It's a stone's throw away from Portland Community College's Sylvania Campus, from Washington Square, from Lake Oswego's Kruse Way, and from downtown Tigard. It features an immense amount of underutilized and developable land.

Many cities have tracts of land that could be developed into something vital, but they lack proximity to highways. The Triangle is defined by its proximity to highways.

There's a joke among Oregon urban planners: Washington County consists of a dozen highways and 10,000 culs-de-sac.

There's some truth to that cliché. Maybe now is the time to move in another direction.

If that were to happen, it will take a leap of faith by voters. In May, they likely will be asked to approve an urban renewal district for the Triangle, which would capture any future increase in property tax revenues and put the money toward voter-approved infrastructure projects. A measure authorizing such a project is expected to appear on the ballot.

The funding mechanism likely would be tax increment financing, which sounds arcane — sequestering current increases in property taxes to pay for the innovations that will boost future property taxes. But it's the mechanism behind Portland's Pearl District; arguably the most successful urban renovation project in the nation over the past 30 years. Those of us who have been around a while remember when the Pearl was a beer brewery, a maze of warehouses and a dog food plant. Today's, it's heralded as one of these most dynamic urban revitalization projects in the nation.

Tax increment financing is the mechanism behind Portland's South Waterfront. It's the mechanism behind Hillsboro's Orenco Station.

But the mechanism is just that: a device.

What the Tigard Triangle needs is vision.

Tigard has provided one such vision, courtesy of the Tigard Triangle Strategic Plan of 2015. The plan sets forth a dynamic wish list that includes:

• Mixed-use development, with housing and commercial zones overlaid atop each other.

• More businesses designed for neighbors, as opposed to the big-boxes that can only be reached in a car, and via vast parking lots.

• Improved connectivity for cars, bicycles and pedestrians. Right now, the area isn't easily accessible from downtown Tigard, or from PCC Sylvania. But it could be. It could include a Pearl-like walking environment with shorter blocks, pedestrian-friendly buildings and pathways between developments.

• Parks, open spaces and community gathering places.

• Protection and restoration of natural areas, including Red Rock Creek.

The post-World War II years saw people flee cities for suburbs and small towns. That outflow has been reversed in the 21st century. As such, cities are striving for innovative ways to revitalize depressed areas. Portland has come up with two such: the Pearl exceeded expectations and the nascent South Waterfront looks poised to do the same.

But Portland may be tapped out of big chunks of land for major renovation.

Why not Tigard, then?

Think innovative urban renovation only happens here? Think again. Innovation is in the offing at the Wharf Project in Washington, D.C.; at South Lake Union development in Seattle; with the Downtown Dallas 360 project in Dallas, Texas; and in former Mayor Julian Castro's SA2020 plan for San Antonio.

Which leads us to two questions:

A decade from now, could the Triangle be written about along side those projects?

And if not, why not?

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