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Its time to starting thinking about the ‘I’ word.

Posted by Peter W on December 10, 2007

The Oregonian had an article about Washington County thinking about the ‘A’ word: Annexation. The county will be having discussions in 2008 to talk about how to provide urban services and so far it sounds like they’ve just been discussing annexations (which of course Beaverton and Hillsboro are happy to talk about too).

Might it also be time to start talking about the ‘I’ word: incorporation? Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to have just two sprawling cities. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to have Aloha, Reedville, South Hillsboro, and North Bethany urbanize and become towns or cities.

The advantage of incorporation over annexation is that citizens would have more voice in what their tax money goes to (which seems to be people’s biggest reason to resist annexation – they don’t want the cities to siphon off tax money without providing something valuable in return).

Of course, people may not even feel the need to be incorporated, since they currently get ‘urban’ services from non-city sources such as the Parks District (THPRD), the Fire District (TVF&R), the county’s enhanced sheriff patrols in urban areas, Clean Water Services (sewage and storm water management), and a county wide library service. In addition, the county provides urban transportation infrastructure and is now doing urban planning for North Bethany and West Bull Mountain.

It seems like the two options are:

1. Combine all the currently urban, unincorporated area into a new mega-city.

Basically the county would spin off its urban services into a new city that would serve all of the urban unincorporated area in the county.

2. Encourage incorporation of separate cities.

The best way to encourage this would be to make it known that the county wants this, let people know what they need to do for this to happen, and most importantly, the county would scale back the urban services it provides. I think scaling back services would have the biggest effect. What if the library system only served people within city boundaries? What if the sheriff patrols were equalized between urban and rural areas? What if when the county planned for new areas, they also planned for them to incorporate as a new town? Finally, what if the county declared that only areas inside cities would be eligible for urban transportation infrastructure improvements?

The main advantage of having many smaller towns or cities is that they could each be designed to be self sufficient, with a good jobs/housing mix and a town center with grocery stores and markets, restaurants, a library, fitness centers and other things people use often. That would make peoples communities more livable, make it easier to walk or bike to commute or for errands, and would reduce cross-county automobile trips.

This is wishful thinking now, but they could also link up each town or city center with high speed and frequent rail service to make getting around easy for folks who need to. This is even more wishful thinking, but if there was green fields between towns, you would be just a short walk away from the country, and people could get food from very nearby local farms (can you imagine what will happen when we run out of oil, gas costs $30 a gallon, and our society still depends on trucking in food from even just 20 miles away?).

I’m looking forward to bringing these ideas to discussion next year.


Posted in beaverton, hillsboro, north bethany, parks, planning, washington county | Leave a Comment »

Climate Change, Transit Development in the News

Posted by Peter W on October 29, 2007

We’ve got to do something about climate change:

The planet is in danger of crossing a “tipping point” of irreversible damage to its atmosphere, climate, water and ecosystems unless governments can develop comprehensive strategies to promote growth and sustainability, warns a new report released on Thursday by an environmental advocacy branch of the United Nations.

(full article)

California is trying – with the recently passed Global Warming Solutions Act they plan to “reduce the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020.” But hybrids alone won’t solve the problem.

We need to do a lot more if we’re actually going to reduce our emissions. We’ve got to reduce the amount we drive.

To do that, we need to build in a way that makes it easy to get around. We need to build more homes near jobs, and make sure people can afford those homes. We need to build neighborhoods with shops, services, good public transit, and parks – all within easy walking distance of homes.


It’s time to turn the Bay Area’s innovative talent to the question of how to use our land well. Instead of saying, “We have to drive, but maybe we should drive a different kind of car,” let’s ask, “How can we make it easier to get where we want to go?” Let’s envision a better way to live for people and the planet, and let’s start making it happen.

(see full article in the San Francisco Chronicle)

Luckily it isn’t just a few newspaper editors that favor smarter growth (more compact cities served by more transit).

Three-fourths of Americans believe that being smarter about development and improving public transportation are better long-term solutions for reducing traffic congestion than building new roads, according to a survey released today by the National Association of Realtors® and Smart Growth America. […]

As evidence of the traction the issue has gained in the last few years, nearly three-quarters of Americans are concerned about the role growth and development plays in climate change. Traffic congestion is still a concern to many Americans as it continues to worsen in most cities in the country. Half of those surveyed think improving public transit would be the best way to reduce congestion, and 26 percent believe developing communities that reduce the need to drive would be the better alternative. Only one in five said building new roads was the answer.

Eight in 10 respondents prefer redeveloping older urban and suburban areas rather than build new housing and commercial development on the edge of existing suburbs. More than half of those surveyed believe that businesses and homes should be built closer together to shorten commutes, limit traffic congestion and allow residents to walk to stores and shops instead of using their cars. Six in 10 also agree that new-home construction should be limited in outlying areas and encouraged in inner urban areas to shorten commutes and prevent more traffic congestion. […]

The 2007 Growth and Transportation Survey was conducted by telephone among 1,000 adults living in the United States in October 2007. The study has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

(via Planetizen).

If Oregon is such a green state, and the majority in the US understands that better transit and smarter development can help combat climate change, why is Washington County continuing to build bigger roads that serve greenfield subdivisions on the urban fringe instead of focusing on better transit, more bike and pedestrian traffic, more compact centers, and urban renewal[1]?

1: Note that I mean urban renewal in the traditional sense: “renewing aging urban places”, not the Washington County Planning dept.’s definition: “supporting greenfield development in future suburban places”. If you don’t already know… the County is considering using “urban renewal” as a source of funds for the North Bethany development, which is a suburb on former fields at the North edge of the county.

Posted in climate change, hillsboro, north bethany, planning, transportation, washington county | Leave a Comment »

North Bethany School Costs Go Up

Posted by Peter W on October 19, 2007

The Beaverton School District has done new projections for the cost of providing schools for kids in North Bethany, and it doesn’t look good.

The first thing they’ve found is that people North of Hwy 26 have more kids:

Read the rest of this entry »

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North Bethany won’t have high level of transit service

Posted by Peter W on August 20, 2007

I wanted to make sure that people in the North Bethany development could easily get to their destination by transit, so I asked the county:

I noticed that TriMet has been involved in some of the discussions about N. Bethany and I was wondering if they (or any other source) has said how much density is required to support frequent bus service? If so, will N. Bethany be built to that density?

Ideally, North Bethany would be dense enough to support a frequent bus to the Willow Creek MAX stop, Sunset TC, and even downtown Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Portland. But it looks like we’ll be lucky to see the #52 serving any of the area. According to Washington County Planner Laurie Harris:

Phil Selinger, TriMet’s representative on the TAC, gave a presentation at the April 12, 2007 TAC and SWG meetings. The discussion is summarized in the following documents:
SWG meeting summary (page 2):
TAC meeting summary (page 2):
Phil said that North Bethany likely wouldn’t achieve densities to support high transit service [my emphasis. -peter] throughout North Bethany. In addition to density, there are urban design and development strategies that support transit, such as pedestrian-friendly amenities, sidewalks, and street connections. There is potential to extend Line 52 from PCC into one of the North Bethany neighborhood nodes or community center.

According to papers I’ve read (1, 2, 3) , there are some generally accepted guidelines for densities required to support transit. Here is what I’ve seen (note, the papers didn’t usually say, but I assume they are in units / gross acre):

  • bus service becomes feasible at 7 units per acre
  • frequent bus service becomes feasible at 15 units per acre
  • rail transit becomes feasible at 30 units / acre

If Metro requires that new land brought into the Urban Growth Boundary be developed at 10 units / net acre, how come most of North Bethany won’t support at least infrequent buses? The reason is that the density they are looking at works out to be about 5.75 units / gross acre (equivalent to 10 units / net acre, when you don’t count land used for open space and roads), which isn’t enough to support transit. However, they plan on concentrating higher density development near the main civic center at Kaiser Rd so they can build low density sprawling suburbs on the rest of the site – this might be enough to support transit to that area.

I think the county needs to think more about the proper density for the site. Here are some questions I still have:

  1. Is there enough office/commercial to generate mid day trips to sustain frequent (or even infrequent) during non-commute times?
  2. If a certain level of transit becomes feasible at a given density, how much higher does the density need to be before that level of transit will usually be successful, or even pay for itself?
  3. How much of a given density is required? If most people will only walk 1/4 of a mile to a bus stop, how many people should be within 1/4 of a mile to support that stop, and how many such stops are needed along a service corridor?
  4. I’m guessing that if driving were more expensive, even lower densities would support transit. How much more would driving need to cost for 5.75 units / gross acre to support frequent service?
  5. Can we prove that for the lifetime of the houses (say 100 years), we will always have cheap personal transport? Oil sure looks like it is running out and nothing else promises to be as cheap or easy. If we know we’re running out of cheap oil, is it really appropriate to build at such low, automobile dependent, densities?

Posted in north bethany, planning, transportation, washington county | Leave a Comment »

Problems with “urban renewal” in North Bethany

Posted by Peter W on August 13, 2007

People in the Portland metropolitan region are concerned about the environment and stopping sprawl so much so that they are willing to take a personal hit – having more development in their own neighborhood instead of in former farms and forests (according to this Metro Study [PDF]. So does the idea of using an “urban renewal” funding source – created by Oregon to promote redeveloping centers and increasing density – for the purpose of enabling development to sprawl out over 800 acres of green space make sense to you? I didn’t think so.

An article, “Diverting Funds to help new area ruffles officials” in in the Oregonian’s Metro section today talks about the problem with using “urban renewal” in North Bethany, and there are a number of officials in the county who are either opposed or worried about the effects of this.

Here are a list of problems they didn’t cover: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in north bethany, planning, transportation, washington county | 1 Comment »

North Bethany Open House 3

Posted by Peter W on August 10, 2007

Last night was the third (and final, I believe) open house for the North Bethany Conceptual Planning process. What they presented was essentially the same stuff they’ve been saying before: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in north bethany, planning, transportation, washington county | Leave a Comment »

Parking requirements a problem for North Bethany

Posted by Peter W on August 9, 2007

I’ve been reading Washington County’s parking requirements codes (and others). There are a number of problems I found, mainly with parking, and I think the whole project has some road problems as well. Those are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in north bethany, planning, transportation, washington county | 1 Comment »

Bethany Community Network Disappeared?

Posted by Peter W on July 25, 2007

I’m curious what the heck is happening with the Bethany Community Network? Their website address has expired, and I can’t find anything else about them online. I sure wish I had gotten contact info for one of them earlier! Hopefully they are continuing to keep up the good fight. If anyone knows anything, let me know. [Update: Cool, its back up!]

Read the rest of this entry »

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Open letter about affordable housing sans parking in North Bethany

Posted by Peter W on July 18, 2007

I sent this on Tuesday, July 12 to the North Bethany study group:

This is about affordable housing for Sam Galbreath and the Housing Focus Group.

Say I’m a student at PCC, or a teacher at one of the schools in North Bethany. I don’t make a lot of money, but one way I save money is by biking or taking public transit. I’d like to live in North Bethany – either rent a place or buy a small condo. I don’t have a car, so will I have the option to save money by *not* paying for a parking space or having a garage attached?

I’ve been reading that housing with parking can be much more expensive – like tens of thousands of dollars more expensive. I’ve also read that if the cost of parking is unbundled from the cost of housing – so people buying houses can opt out of buying parking – then suddenly 20% more people can afford mortgages.

In a development which is promoting alternative transit, I believe this could work. It has been done successfully in other cities, including San Francisco, New York, and Portland. It may not be an obvious fit for North Bethany due to its suburban nature, but I definitely think there’d be a market for this among people looking for affordable housing.

Please let me know if this will be an option for North Bethany.


p.s. references:

Posted in north bethany, transportation, urban planning, washington county | Leave a Comment »

Cookie cutter development coming to North Bethany?

Posted by Peter W on July 18, 2007

When I heard that North Bethany only has a handfull of developers for the 800+ acre site, I was worried that it would lead to ugly cookie cutter suburbia, and from the planning team’s developer interviews (“Development Plans, p.3) it looks like that is the case:

The developers acquiring land in the north Bethany project site are predominantly production builders, meaning they want to buy, build, sell, and conclude their investment as quickly as possible. This influences the type of housing product that they sell.

The developers relayed that their plan is to design and build product similar to what exists in the adjacent neighborhoods, build during the 1990s: single family residential (SFR), on small lots of 3,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet. townhomes and condominiums are also a product-type option, but on a smaller scale. It was noted that some of the developers like to build two products for diversity and thus reach a larger share of the market; it also enables projects to hit the density zoning requirements in places. The large developers (and primary landholders) are production builders. They have a formula that works and they stick to it. Thus, the product type planned for the area will currently have little diversity. A few developers are open to more product diversity, but they would likely partner or sell those parcels to a company that has experience doing something else, such as multifamily or mixed-use development.

It looks like the only hope for a real “community of distinction” is that if the plan calls for the kind of greater density and mixed use that these developers (like the giant West Hills Development aka “Arbor Homes”, Matrix Development aka “Legend Homes”) can’t do themselves, then they may sell it to someone with more experience and better architects / planners.

Posted in architecture, north bethany, urban planning, washington county | Leave a Comment »