Councilors, residents ponder how to reverse trend toward denser housing

While Wilsonville’s housing needs analysis may just be getting started, there are plenty of local residents who already know exactly what should be done.

Wilsonville currently has the highest percentage of multifamily residential dwellings in the metro area, with roughly 57 percent of housing stock composed of apartments, condominiums and row houses.

Many local homeowners are not pleased with that trend. They see an influx of apartments as a negative that brings with it increasingly crowded schools, traffic congestion and escalating demands on public services.

“I’m the father of four children,” Wilsonville resident Phil Resbrook told the Wilsonville City Council July 15. “We moved here when our twins were born. We were escaping Portland, and schools were an important consideration for us, so it’s important to us that those things remain. I love this community, but I’m not sure I agree with the direction of the community.”

The city’s housing needs analysis complies with a statewide planning goal, which addresses the needs of local communities and requires that cities maintain an adequate stock of a range of housing.

“It’s a 20-year plan for housing to really identify what Wilsonville has and what we estimate our needs will be to accommodate 20 years of growth,” said Planner Katie Mangle. “That’s what this is really about.”

Together with consultants from private planning firm EcoNorthwest, city of Wilsonville staff members are in the midst of compiling data on the city’s existing housing stock, land supply and possible future trends in housing, lending and other variables that affect where people live and in what types of homes.

This, in turn, will guide the city in planning for future growth (i.e., what type of housing and how much). This spring, city staff and consultants spent time gathering raw housing data. From now through September, they expect to expand their work to analyze Wilsonville’s future needs based on that data.

One of the most unpopular aspects of state goals requires cities to achieve density of eight or more dwelling units per acre for new developments.

To give a sense of that figure, consider that the new Brenchley Estates development in Wilsonville will contain more than 750 apartments and single-family homes at full buildout. This provides roughly 12.1 units per acre on 59 acres of land. Not all of those 59 acres of land are buildable, and so the true density figure is higher.

Data compiled as part of the study thus far shows that Wilsonville is experiencing historically faster growth than other cities in the metro area, spurred in large part by the city’s role as an economic hub along Interstate 5. Its population is just as diverse as other metro area cities, and Wilsonville boasts a larger percentage of young, employed residents and a higher-than-average percentage of single-person households.

The figures are one thing. Determining what the future will look like is another matter entirely. Will Wilsonville continue to attract jobs at its current rate? Will current demographic trends continue apace?

“There’s a considerable debate in the planning community over whether current trends will continue in the future,” said Bob Parker, a planner with EcoNorthwest.

Parker noted that if existing trends hold true, Wilsonville can expect to see a growing proportion of retirees, younger single adults and Latino households in future decades.

Many local residents, however, feel Wilsonville currently is on the wrong track with respect to housing. They would like to see the recent explosion in multifamily housing reversed and replaced with a similar emphasis on larger lots and single-family homes as the Frog Pond area on the east side of Wilsonville was planned and built.

They point to 2012 figures that show Wilsonville now has the highest percentage of multifamily housing in the metro area, with 57 percent. This compares with 12 percent in Happy Valley, 22 percent in West Linn, 25 percent in Sherwood and 31 percent in Lake Oswego.

City Councilor Scott Starr said Metro planning policies emphasizing density have led to the current imbalance in Wilsonville, which is known more for its high-tech companies and entrepreneurs than demographics that show falling per-capita income and homeownership rates.

“We need to be strategic about what we’re looking for and what we desire,” Starr said. “That will be the answer to what happens over the next few years. If we want to change the trend or do something different, it’s going to have to be because of the policies we put in place for the types of housing we have. Is it any surprise that Wilsonville per-capita income is going down when we have all these apartments going in? No. It’s up to us now to decide how we want to tweak the bar graphs that you’ve shown us. It’s not the market — that’s all I’m trying to say. It’s what we created.”

A look at housing numbers

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