The Chronicle -

By Noel Nash
Publisher 

Mixing it up downtown

 

September 5, 2019

A site off Main Street and within the business district is available in downtown Creswell. City leaders are working with government and community leaders across the area to address Creswell's growing population and need for affordable housing.

The nature of change is more different today than ever.

It's constant. It's exponentially faster. It's unavoidable.

Sure, it's always been a little scary.

An unpleasant surprise can be waiting around the corner of change; bad news, bad people, regrettable choices all could be part of the change experience.

Scariest of all: Can our values survive the change? Will the things we treasure about our family, homes, lifestyle, faith and friends remain the same through the transformation?

All legitimate feelings and concerns, and articulated by people smarter and with more expertise on the topic than me.

I have been listening to many sides representing thoughtful perspectives on the issue. I've had access to small-business owners here, thanks to being on a "Downtown Team" committee. I hear the same themes at City Council workshop sessions and reports from the Planning Commission. And in casual conversations at restaurants and bars with informed, longtime residents.

The City paid a company called ECONorthwest to evaluate the future of housing in Creswell, and the final report was shared at an open house last month. Key findings include:

Creswell's population is forecast to grow by about 2,000 people over the next 20 years.

Creswell is planning for about 850 new dwelling units.

Creswell will need to plan for more single-family attached and multi-family dwelling units in the future to meet housing needs.

Creswell will need to plan for development of a wider range of housing that's affordable to low- and middle-income households. And for seniors.

Accommodating population growth doesn't have to be about expanding our urban boundary to open up more room for single-family homes.

"I've always been a fan of density over sprawl," Counselor Martha McReynolds Jr. rightly noted at the last work session.

We're growing, and not in an east-vs.-west, new town-vs.-old town way. We need a strategic plan for families, for low-income folks and seniors, and for middle- and higher-wage earners who choose to live here and commute to work in bigger cities.

A few more interesting nuggets from the ECONorthwest report:

Creswell's median household income was above that of both the county and the state.

A smaller share of the population in Creswell makes more than $100,000 as well as less than $20,000 as compared to the county and state. Therefore, Creswell has a larger share of middle-income residents than the county or state.

Adjusting for inflation, Creswell's household income increased by 11%, from $50,067 to $55,728, between 2000 and 2016. Again, better than the county or state.

To paraphrase Willie Nelson, "we've got the money, honey; who's got the time?"

It's become clear how important a mixed-use zone is for downtown Creswell, truly making it a destination for all of the southern Willamette Valley.

With a nod to height restrictions based on our proximity to Hobby Field airport, two- and three-story buildings that have residences on top of street-level businesses downtown would change everything for Creswell. And, developer-extraordinaire Dave Loveall says, it only takes one.

"You get the right developer who understands the community, the heart and soul of the town, others will follow," said the guy most responsible for Springfield's Main Street rejuvenation.

Another key component, he said, is having a partnership with City and community leaders, with a shared vision around objectives, policies and actions.

The "right" developer is one who understands Creswell's culture, and is able to bridge its past and future in a way that sustains and perpetuates our values.

Those who want to save the most precious things about Creswell – its small-town feel, "friendly city" collegialism, rough-hewn, old mill town character featuring integrity and honesty – are the ones who should be most active in helping shape that future.

Talking, without action, is akin to standing in the same spot, jumping up and down, convinced you're getting closer to the sun.

Turning Oregon Avenue into a "destination" is only one way to generate revenue that would enhance our entire community. Successful examples bracket our city along I-5. Cottage Grove and Springfield both have vibrant, revitalized downtown districts, the result of a strategic and well-planned mix of residences above businesses.

Like the old days in Creswell.

These aren't linear choices. It's not "develop downtown" or "create affordable housing for seniors." It's essential to our survival to do both, and to develop the single- and multi-family homes necessary to serve our surging middle class. Of course, choosing all of the above would be nice.

More likely, there will be gut-wrenching decisions. We can talk all we want to about progress, financial survival and the overall community good with a more robust downtown business zone ... but when we're moving our grandparents out of the only homes they've ever owned to make it happen -– with no affordable equivalency in town – we're no doubt conflicted.

City Planner Maddie Phillips summed up the essential conflict during her outstanding presentation at the workshop: "Folks don't want to leave, but Creswell can't accommodate them."

Progress, without leaving anyone behind, is our great challenge.

Noel Nash is publisher of The Chronicle.

 
 

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