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Chelsea Gardens ready for development. But is the city ready?

First published in the March 26 print edition

Spencer West of SERA Architects show design ideas to participants at a May 2019 charrette, including former Community Development Director Kevin Cronin, in green. (Courtesy City of Warrenton)
By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, April 1, 2021

Developing a cohesive master-planned community in an area with 22 property owners – each with their own interests -- is a challenge, city officials are finding.

Three years ago, the city rezoned the 20-acre Chelsea Gardens – formerly known as Spur 104 – from residential and industrial zoning to commercial mixed-use. The city’s former community development director organized an elaborate “charrette” over several days that brought planners, property owners and other stakeholders together to determine what should go in Chelsea Gardens and what it should look like.

The results were stunning, if a bit of a reach.

At a work session Tuesday night, Scott Hess, the city’s new community development director, and Public Works Director Collin Stelzig asked city commissioners for clarity.

“The plans are … conceptual in nature,” Hess said. “Think of it as a very miniature comprehensive plan. … There will be many onesie-twosie decisions over the next 20 years.”

Normally, zone changes and master-planned communities come at the request of a single developer. But conditions at Chelsea Gardens were instigated by the city.

City standards put in place for Chelsea Gardens allow up to 350 housing units and 50,000-square-feet of commercial space.

Trillium House, a four-story 42-unit affordable housing project, is the first development proposed in Chelsea Gardens.

And it’s unclear how much the city should ask the builder to pay for improvements that will benefit everyone in the area.

There are some essential elements missing from the master plan for Chelsea Gardens, Mayor Henry Balensifer said.

“Namely, how to ensure the master plan is realized and costed fairly,” he said. The plan needs to ensure “the first and last developers aren’t bearing the brunt of the costs. It should be assessed according to the impacts and size -- fairly.”

City planners need to figure out how much the streets, parks, paths, lights and other amenities will cost and devise a fee scheme for each developer to ensure everyone is charged equitably.

The city needs to figure out where to put and how to fund a park within the development, Hess said. Otherwise, “we’ll wind up as we did on Juniper (Avenue). The scrap heap will become the park and it never gets developed.”

A second problem centers on traffic.

Ensign Lane at Highway 101 – the intersection that hosts traffic from Wendy’s, Home Depot, Costco and Walmart – is likely to see more vehicles after Chelsea Gardens is built out. Other intersections, including the one at Ensign and Alternate Highway 101, will require improvements.

A July 2018 traffic impact study conducted on behalf of the city found that, under the new zoning, the area could generate an additional 359 morning peak-hour trips, 750 evening peak-hour trips, and a total of 8,396 weekday trips.

Seven nearby intersections are projected to exceed what Oregon Department of Transportation considers the maximum allowable traffic load.

Commissioners agreed the intersection improvements need to go in the city’s 10-year Capital Improvement Plan and that those who develop in the area pay an equitable share for amenities built within the area. Ultimate property owners will be expected to contribute to funds for the upkeep of parks, trails and utilities.

“It’s important to note that this is not to raise revenue,” Balensifer said. “It’s to pay for the improvements.”

Trillium House, which is proposed on 14th Place near Alternate Highway, is expected to come before the Planning Commission at its April 8 meeting.

Planning Commissioner Mike Moha and City Commissioner Rick Newton look over proposals during a charrette in May 2019. (Cindy Yingst)

An artist's design for Trillium House, complete with community gardens and playground.

The Chelsea Gardens concept plan for a mix of housing and commercial.

Framework recommendations for Chelsea Gardens showing the basics, where trails, roads and parks would go.


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