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The proposed Metro UGB expansion into South Cooper Mountain

In this month’s open thread, it was noted that Metro was considering an expansion of the urban growth boundary, which will be voted on at Thursday’s council meeting. Metro staff proposed a recommendation containing a list of ten sites (three industrial, and seven residential/commercial); of these ten, three were initially endorsed by the acting Chief Operating Officer: An industrial parcel in North Hillsboro, and residential parcels in South Hillsboro (or if you prefer, West Aloha) and South Cooper Mountain. Since the Open Thread was posted, Metro has also published a FAQ on the process.

(In late-breaking news, a 49-acre parcel west of Bull Mountain, along Roy Rogers Road, has been added to the proposal to be voted on tomorrow; and the cities of Cornelius, Wilsonville, and Forest Grove are voicing displeasure about parcels adjacent to them not being included.)
Many commenters in the open thread were troubled by the proposal for one of two reasons: 1) Some though that expansion of the UGB, particularly for residential uses, was not necessary at this time, given the current state of the housing market, and the ability of the region to add density within the UGB. 2) Others questioned the wisdom of putting higher-density development out on the urban fringe.

We may consider the issue of industrial expansion at another time; and Portland Transport looked at the South Hillsboro site last year. Today, we consider the South Cooper Mountain site (and to a lesser extent the Roy Rogers site, which is located nearby), and ponder the issues involved in the second question. I don’t intend to ignore the first question–it’s an important one, and there is plenty of infill development going on as we speak; but the readily observed phenomenon of “high-density suburbia”, with urban levels of density but a lacking of urban amenities, is a problem which needs to be addressed.

South Cooper Mountain: Where is it?

The South Cooper Mountain parcel is located on the southern flanks of Cooper Mountain (and the eastern flanks of the Progress Ridge, another landform in South Beaverton), pretty much to the south of Aloha, to the west of Murrayhill and the Progress Ridge development, and to the northwest of Bull Mountain. It is bounded on the south by OR210 (Scholls Ferry Road), on the west by Tile Flat Road, and on the north and east by the aformentioned hills. This map shows in detail where it is:

View Beaverton UGB study area in a larger map

Metro has published a more detailed report on the parcel, which would be annexed into the city of Beaverton as it urbanizes. In addition, a Metro staff report provides additional information. Likewise, the Roy Rogers West parcel is described in further detail here (the report describes a larger parcel of which the 49 acres are a subset).

The South Cooper Mountain parcel consists of 543 acres, of which 361 are deemed buildable; Metro foresees construction of ~4350 dwelling units in South Cooper Mountain, along with various commercial properties. In addition, the parcel is being eyed by the Beaverton School District for the future construction of an additional high school. Currently, the parcel contains some agricultural uses, though is located on a slope, and is in close proximity to existing development, in particular Progress Ridge.

Transportation links

Transportation in the area is likely to be problematic with existing services and infrastructure. The main thoroughfares which serve the South Cooper Mountain area are Scholls Ferry Road, running east to Washington Square and the bulk of the metro area; and running west to rural Washington County (and to Hillsboro via River Road); Roy Rogers road, running south to Sherwood, with connections to Bull Mountain and King City via Bull Mountain and Beef Bend roads, and SW 175th, which connects to west Beaverton and Aloha. Other important thoroughfares in the area include SW Murray Road, which provides access to the remainder of Beaverton, and SW Walnut, which provides access to Tigard. The Roy Rogers Road parcel is flanked on the west by Roy Rogers Road; nearby east-west streets are Bull Mountain and Beef Bend roads.

Scholls Ferry Road is a 5-lane facility between the intersection with Roy Rogers and the Progress/Washington Square area, except for a short stretch west of Murrayhill which is presently three lanes (though a widening of this stretch to five lanes is planned in 2013). It currently is at or near capacity during rush hour, with backups frequent; in addition to local traffic, it serves significant amounts of regional traffic (being a state highway). Roy Rogers Road is a high-speed, two-lane rural highway for most of its length, including where it abuts the parcel named after it.

Murray has more tolerable traffic in the immediate area, though is frequently a parking lot further north, in the stretch between Farmington (OR10) and TV Highway (OR8). 175th over Cooper Mountain has numerous sharp curves and steep grades, and is unsuitable for high traffic volumes (and would likely be an undesirable route for bus traffic).

TOD without transit?

Even without the addition of high-density development in South Cooper Mountain, the area already has a fair bit of higher-density housing. The Progress Ridge neighborhood, sandwiched between Scholls Ferry and SW Barrows, has numerous townhouses and apartment buildings, along with the Progress Ridge shopping center. This shopping center is unusual in that despite having several destination tenants (including an upscale movie theater and a New Seasons market, along with a Big Al’s across the street), it isn’t located on a major thoroughfare–Barrows Road functions as a two-lane collector. Bike access is rather good, though some of the steep slopes may be an impediment to bicycle use–the Powerline Trail runs nearby, and the city of Beaverton does take bicycle infrastructure seriously.

But despite all of this, transit use (and service) is limited. No transit serves the South Cooper Mountain parcels directly, and no fixed-route transit is in the area. The only seven-day bus service is the half-hourly 62, which starts at Washington Square, proceeds down Scholls Ferry to Murrayhill, than heads north to the Millikan Way MAX station and the Cedar Mill neighborhood before heading back east, ending at Sunset TC. The South Beaverton Express (92) also provides service to the area (and the South Beaverton and Greenway neighborhoods), connecting to downtown, and reaches as far west as SW Teal. As a peak-hour express service, however,, it only provides inbound service during the AM commute and outbound service in the afternoon and evening. The 45 also ventures near the area, coming as far west as SW 121st before heading south to Tigard TC.

None of these services is of sufficiently high quality to attract many choice riders; and the real estate in the area is too expensive for the poor to afford.

Similar criticisms have been made about other TOD/high density projects in Washington County, such as Orenco Station–which has disappointing transit share, despite being located close to MAX. However, other than the MAX line, Orenco has poor transit connections, and many of the Washington County employment parks where Orenco residents work, likewise are not easily reachable other than by automobile or bike. As South Cooper Mountain presently has worse transit service than Orenco, it would be folly to expect better outcomes without a focus on better service. Of course, the development plan for SCM has not been realized, and nobody has claimed that it will be TOD of any sort–but higher-density housing generally is improved by good transit service, and currently the level of service is not great. (It’s better than other parts of Washington County, but that isn’t saying much).

The Roy Rogers Road parcel presently is rural in nature, and has no transit service.

What could be done?

At the present time, there doesn’t seem to be plans in the works to improve the quality of transit in the area. The Washington County Transportation Plan does not include any new transit lines in the area. (The City of Beaverton would like to widen Scholls Ferry to seven lanes, however; a notion which is seconded in the RTP).

Given the demographics of the area, it might be tempting to suggest playing the streetcar card–there are probably a lot of residents in the South Beaverton area who will board a streetcar, but would rather ride in the back of a hearse than in the back of a bus. Both the Murray and Scholls Ferry corridors have major anchors such a line could connect to, and lots of useful destinations along the way. That said, it’s hard to justify such a project in a corridor which currently does not merit frequent bus service.

However, development of South Cooper Mountain (and possibly of the Roy Rogers parcel, though it appears to be of lesser import) may provide an opportunity to improve and/or reconfigure bus service in the area. The current shape of the 62 limits connectivity between Beaverton and the southern parts of Washington County–it heads south down Murray, takes a hard left at Murrayhill, and then heads northeast to Washington Square where it ends. Having the 62 instead serve Walnut and/or Gaarde streets and connecting to Tigard TC (and extending the 56, 45, or 43 out to Murrayhill and the SCM parcel) would greatly improve connections between Beaverton and Tigard.

Having a transit “anchor” south of Cooper Mountain might encourage other regional routes as well–such as a route between Sherwood and Beaverton along Roy Rogers road (which would connect the two parcels under discussion), or possibly even a route to Hillsboro along Scholls Ferry and River roads (these routes are popular shortcuts among knowledgeable Washington County commuters seeking to avoid traffic on the area freeways).

It also should be noted that part of the SCM parcel lies outside of the TriMet service district. (All of the Roy Rogers parcel lies within; Roy Rogers Road is the service boundary in the area).

One other factor to consider: Both parcels are “on the edge” of the Southwest Corridor plan map–while they aren’t likely to receive any sort of high-capacity transit as part of the corridor (or otherwise), development of a high-capacity transit line in the 99W corridor would make good transit connections for these to-be-developed areas more important.