It’s a common story: couple moves to Corvallis for Oregon State University; by the time their university commitments are over, Corvallis’ charm has lured them to settle permanently. With the town’s natural spaces, art and music, walkability, bike love, coffee love, free bus transit, family friendliness, well-maintained parks, economic harmony, local food (not to mention beverage) production, and small town vibe, of course they would do everything they can to make roots. The question is, as our town’s population grows, will it be able to hold onto the qualities that make it so attractive? Or will the added population demands chip away at the charm that draws people here?
The U.S. population is expected to grow from 315,949,295 (as of May 30, 2013) to 365,307,000 in 2033. For Corvallis, that means an expected growth from today’s 55,055 to a population, according to Portland State University’s Population Research Center, approaching 80,000 people in 20 years. As we’ve already seen thanks to OSU’s sudden growth, more people means more—and different—housing. Here’s what to expect.
Zoning and the Urban Growth Boundary
“In Oregon, we have what I consider to be a very progressive land use planning program,” says Kevin Young, one of Corvallis’ planners. “And what that program does is it says that cities in the state of Oregon need to determine their urban growth boundary—the area in which they will accommodate growth in at least a 20-year span.” Accompanying the urban growth boundary is zoning, put in place as the boundary was developed. Zoned gray? Industrial. Magenta? Professional office. Some shade of orange, ranging from a pale almost-yellow to terracotta? Residential, from low to high density. This comprehensive map is freely available here: www.corvallisoregon.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=5743.
Potential Areas of Expansion: North, West, South
While our current city limit bounds Jackson-Frazier Wetland and Timberhill Natural Area to the north, veers in just shy of 53rd Street to the west, the Willamette River to the East, and Herbert Avenue and Kiger Island Drive to the south, the planned urban growth boundary encompasses quite a bit more area. County planner Greg Verret details: “Corvallis has three directions of expansion and development that the city can really go. For example, South Corvallis has a lot of flat land, wide open for development. Out west there are pockets of residential land to be developed, and some industrial land as well. Then up north, Crescent Valley is mostly residential, and that’s where you get into the neighborhood center idea, where you have some commercial/mixed use, and then radiating out you have decreasing densities of residential, and maybe some commercial.”
Crescent Valley and ‘New Urbanist’ Development
The Crescent Valley High School neighborhood center idea—the area is zoned for commercial development, such as retail shops, around the school, with residential radiating out from that—is one of the most dramatic plans, but also a perfect example of the foundation behind the zoning. “The thinking here is what you call ‘New Urbanist,’” says Young. “The theory is that we want to move away from an automobile-centric community to one where people can walk and bike to commercial centers.” That type of zoning, which reduces sprawl and encourages more compact neighborhoods, helps preserve more of the open and green spaces that Corvallisites know and love, even as it accommodates more people. Although the developments abstractly represented in the urban growth boundary are well thought out and fill a need, they do still entail drastic changes to parts of town. For instance, Highland is currently the most direct traffic route to access Crescent Valley, but may not be best for accommodating an increase in traffic. One potential additional route could be found by way of an extension of Kings Boulevard all the way north to Crescent Valley Drive.
Another dramatic change could be development of the land south of Wakerobin in South Corvallis. Everything directly east of Highway 99 is zoned residential with a few commercial centers mixed in, while the whole west side, stretching down to Airport Road, is zoned industrial. The hope is that the people who live on the east side of South Corvallis will work on the west side. However, says Young, “Corvallis has a jobs-housing imbalance: we have more jobs than we have housing. So when you look at the data we have more people that come into work and leave at the end of the day than we accommodate in the city.” And that means Highway 99, already a major thoroughfare that cuts through the heart of South Corvallis and slows down traffic with a 25 mph speed limit, could become even busier, as people from out of town commute in to work at newly developed industries.
Obstacles to Development
All of this growth hinges on myriad details: property owners with land adjacent to current city limits wanting to develop, and applying for annexation; Corvallis residents voting for the annexation; and the property owner of the land adjacent to the new city limit also wanting to annex. As an example, incorporating the Crescent Valley area into Corvallis would mean a domino-like effect of annexing and developing one property, then the next adjacent property, then the next, until finally there is a direct route connecting greater Corvallis to Crescent Valley Drive.
“[Change] happens incrementally, with redevelopment,” Young emphasizes. “It’s not something that the city really has any means of requiring or compelling that change to occur; it happens when property owners decide to redevelop, and at that point they need to follow the plans.” An added complication? “Corvallis is notoriously difficult to annex into,” says Verret. Which works for the city at its current population. But if Corvallis city limits don’t expand in the face of population growth, the result could be higher-density redevelopment—building up, instead of out, and that’s when we’d likely see changes to the small-town atmosphere as apartments and condos start to replace ranch homes and bungalows. This is already visible near campus, where large new complexes like Tyler Avenue Townhomes are being built.
Greenspaces and Recreational Trails
Counter-intuitively, an increase in population, commercial sites, and housing won’t necessarily degrade our access to parks and greenspaces. “In fact,” says park planner Jackie Rochefort, “in some ways I think it could be strengthened, for two reasons: One—the city did a natural features inventory and so we have areas that are protected. Two—with Parks and Recreation looking at our park master plan and trails plan, we’re trying to connect to those natural areas and we’re trying to bring people to them.” The Parks and Recreation department has a policy of ensuring one park for every half mile, accessible without crossing a major street. Rochefort is now hoping to include commercial areas in that half-mile standard. Parks are not zoned in the urban growth boundary plan, because their locations and specifics are proposed as areas grow. “With every development that comes through the city, we have a development review team,” says Rochefort. “If our master plan shows the need for a park or a trail or natural area near a development, then we’ll work with the developers to make that happen.”
“What I envision is an interconnected trail system with levels of hierarchy, so that it’s accessible to all,” she says. Greater growth may mean greater opportunities for green space connectivity. “I envision natural areas that people can access in a controlled way, so that the resources aren’t damaged but the people can get to it and use it…And then, yes, with annexations, with growth, I would expect our system to grow.”
We can’t speak of growth in 2013 without touching on the challenges represented by OSU’s expected increase in enrollment. Thankfully, the much-ballyhooed number of 35,000 OSU students may actually be closer to 28,000 physical students living in Corvallis, thanks to extension campuses and online classes. The Corvallis-OSU Collaboration Project was formed to resolve issues presented by the university’s growth, and has committees addressing Planning, Parking and Traffic, and Livability. One of the most formidable challenges is parking.
“One of the things that we have to consider is that concept of ‘If you build it, they will come,’” says Young, who participates primarily in the Planning committee. “So if we go to great lengths to accommodate the automobile, we’re drawing more and more vehicles into the campus area. Is that the most efficient way to get people in and out?” He continues: “The work groups are working on these things, they’re putting forward recommendations that then go forward to the steering committee, which will then forward those on to OSU administration, or the city council, depending on who’s able to address those issues. Then ultimately, the changes would occur.” He adds, “You have to balance the problems we’re hearing about today with the longer term vision. Where we’re ultimately going to settle as a community is anybody’s guess, but it’s definitely a vigorous conversation.”
Maxing Out? Nowhere Close
Thankfully, a Corvallis with 80,000 people is nowhere near “maxed out.” That’s estimated to occur once our population nears 120,000—in other words, more than doubles. “Corvallis has been—at least since about 1970—a very slow-growing community. We’ve grown at about a 1% growth rate,” notes Young. While an increase of 15,000 to 20,000 people may sound scary, our current growth rate allows our city to adapt to changes accordingly. “In some ways we’re lucky to have reasonable rates of growth,” says Verret. “Where other places have to deal with astronomical rates of growth, it’s much harder to plan and stay ahead of it.”
Corvallis 2033: By The Numbers
~We’ll expand to have more than 200 miles of bike lanes and 41+ miles of bike paths.
~Public transit rides will jump to exceed three million per year.
~A light rail connecting Corvallis and Albany would cost between 500 million and 2.3 billion to build. With the current state of government funding, a light rail looks dubious.
~The city’s operating budget may exceed $250,000,000; a large jump from the current $112,000,000.
~Following current trends, the State of Oregon may end up allocating less than 25% of its budget to K-12 education, compared to the 38.7%, roughly $53,000,000, it has reserved now. Would local taxes be expected to rise in order to pick up the slack?
~OSU’s student population is currently 26,393, and is expected to raise to about 39,000 by 2020 alone.
~Roughly 20% of our population will be under 18, 70% aged 18-65, and the rest aged 65+.
~Paid fire fighters will increase to almost 100 from the current ~50, with volunteer firefighters close behind.
~Police will follow suit, with numbers similarly raising from ~50 to 100.
~Total Corvallis population will be somewhere between 75,000-80,000.
By Mica Habarad