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Metro program moves to create 'transit villages'

Daily Journal of Commerce

March 30th 2005

With projects such as The Round in Beaverton, Buckman Terrace in Portland and Central Point in Gresham as showcases for what the program can do, the regional government Metro's Transit Oriented Development program continues to help develop urban-style projects outside of the city's downtown core where they would otherwise most likely not occur.

The program, which is supported by the Portland Metropolitan region's adopted growth management plans that call for the region to grow up rather than out, helps stimulate the construction of what are becoming known as "transit villages" at light-rail and transit stations throughout the region.

"We're trying to push the market as to what would normally occur," said Marc Guichard, senior joint development specialist with Metro.

According to Guichard, the primary use of funds through the program is for the acquisition of sites. When property is acquired, Guichard further explained, it is planned and re-parceled, then sold to private developers with conditions for constructing transit-oriented developments.

Projects developed through the program are typically dense, mixed-use, mixed-income developments that concentrate retail, housing and jobs in pedestrian-scaled urban centers. One particular TOD project that is currently underway in Gresham is The Crossings at Gresham Station.

Developed through a partnership with Peak Development and designed by Myhre Group Architects, The Crossings will be completed in the summer of this year.

"It is just a really amazing project," said Brian Laramee, an associate with Myhre Group Architects. "I think it is going to succeed."

The project contains all of the elements of a TOD project, including ground-floor retail, market-rate apartment units and underground parking, all of which will be located in a dense village type area located adjacent to transit amenities.

"I think it is going to be great for the Gresham Station area," Laramee said. "It is really trying to nurture this idea of urban villages outside of the downtown core."

In addition to The Crossings project, there are a variety of other TOD projects either planned or currently being constructed throughout the region, including Hillsboro Central, Metro Access, Lloyd District MXD, Russellville Commons, Candice Commons and Gresham Civic S.W. and N.W.

According to Guichard, the program helps to develop all of these projects by closing the funding gap on projects that ordinarily in a suburban-type setting would not be built to include stacked uses.

Because of real estate economics, these kind of projects are not feasible in most of the region, Guichard explained. The rule of thumb is that stacked uses occur when the land is more expensive than the structure, which in Portland is somewhere between $40 and $60 per square foot, Guichard further explained.

Guichard also noted that the benefits of the program can be seen from Metro's Travel Behavior Survey of 1994, which indicated that mixed-use development with good transit service had nearly 10 times more transit ridership than the balance of the region and nearly two times more walking and biking.

"You have to give people options," Guichard said. "When you start creating environments where people can not have to use a car, they don't."

The TOD program operates through a Steering Committee comprised of representatives from the Governor's office, five state agencies, TriMet, the Portland Development Commission and Metro and uses cooperative agreements with local jurisdictions and development agreements with developers to ensure the projects are transit supportive.