OPINION PIECE– Proceed with Caution. This article does include many of my opinions as well as a serious level of facts which may be difficult for some people to internalize.
A Potential Project Was Announced
The pending redevelopment of the US Bank building on the corner of 2nd and Main Street was first announced in the media by the Hillsboro Herald on March 4th, 2021; US Bank Property Under Contract & Planning For What Is Next
In this March 4, 2021 story the Herald disclosed that the City had agreed to give a $25,000 dollar grant to Henry Point Development LLC and Redside Development LLC for them to study the property. The Herald provided our readers with diagrams, pictures, and copies of the approved grant. We stated emphatically in the story we were totally in support and that the project; Downtown needs continued investment and vibrancy.
To quote from that first story we stated, “The mixed-use proposal sounds right on target for what is needed and residential rooftops will support our business community and that is a very very desired outcome! “
In the presentation to the Hillsboro City Council, the city staff at the Economic Development Team made the following statement: “Downtown Hillsboro is regarded as the historic heart of the greater Hillsboro community. With its rare and unique turn‐of‐the‐century urban form and retail frontage along Main Street, Hillsboro has retained its small-town charm and character even as the City has expanded dramatically in other areas.” Retaining and enhancing that historic look and feel is very important, but while such words are nice, they are rarely followed with any policies or conditions when properties are developed.
Second Story Promotes The Project
On November 14th, 2021 the Herald completed a second story on the project. Downtown Hillsboro Poised For Historic Return With US Bank Redevelopment
“These are 4 strong tenants, and all seem to fit very nicely with our existing base of local businesses. It has been many decades since Main Street has seen this sort of excitement and investment. This is very rewarding for anyone who has spent their lives and money building the brand of downtown Hillsboro.
A cursory read of that story will clearly show anyone that the Herald was the biggest and most vocal supporter of the redevelopment project. Over 4,000 people read that story and many became invested in the success of the project as well. After all, who wouldn’t want to eat and drink on a rooftop deck supported by a 1950s bank building?
City Sends Notice Of Development
On December 1st, 2021 the City of Hillsboro planning department sent a public notice to the property owners within 200 feet of the US Bank property. In the notice, they introduce the developer/applicant as Henry Point Development, LLC. The project is a Type 2 Development review and does not require a hearing with the Planning Commission or the Hillsboro City Council. Nothing in that notice raised any concerns, but no specific plans were given.
The Herald has offices inside 222 East Main Street which shares a party wall with the US Bank building and has for over 100 years. The owner of the building asked if we could look closer at the development plan. We obtained a much more detailed plan and immediately had a concern. Travis Henry, the owner of Henry Point and his team, had placed very large garbage dumpsters facing the back entrance of the 222 East Main building. It may be the back entrance but it has windows, a main access door, and signage with the potential for redevelopment. That placement lead to a December 15th, 2021 meeting with the planning staff where myself and 2 building owners met with the planning staff.
Here is where the garbage dumpsters were proposed to hold tons of garbage from 4 new restaurants.
Imagine rotting food sitting in those dumpsters in the Summer. The area already has a severe rat problem- so this was alarming to us, and others, after we saw it on the detailed plans; plans which we would not have seen had we not asked for a meeting and more information.
In the 12/15 meeting, we asked the city planner if that could be moved? She was not sure but said she would take it under advisement with the developer.
Another topic was the design elements which are very modern and not at all in keeping with the Historic Downtown concepts. Beyond that, the building is going through a 4,000 SF addition, having a 3,000 SF rooftop bar installed, an elevator, new windows and doors on both frontages, and 4 news restaurants being placed inside the space. The staff, despite seeing that 70% or so of the space is “new”, is processing the building as a rehabilitation project. The code requires some strict design aspects of the project is new, versus a rehab. We felt this was being done to conveniently allow the developers to skirt some code sections that would require a more historic look. That “rare and unique turn‐of‐the‐century urban form and retail frontage along Main Street” look that was pitched in the $25,000 dollar grant request.
Photo Courtesy of the City of Hillsboro- notes in yellow added for clarity. Only a small portion of the 222 East Main building is higher than the bank. The rest is lower.
As we looked through the file and the electronic documents that the planning staff at City Hall provided, we began to note that the developers cleverly included sketches to minimize the impact and scale of what they are doing. On the left, you will not that the building we work in (222 East Main) appears to be 6 to 10 feet higher than the US Bank building, and in reality, it is several feet lower on much of the roof. The developer also cleverly showed a Phase 2 building which will no doubt happen, but it is not there now. Based on what we know a 4 to 6 story midrise building will be placed there; and we are all in favor of that if it is done correctly.
Another point we discussed was this large orange wall panel. There are several spots on the exterior walls that have these long sections. The codes of our city have rules against long blank walls on what are called Active Use Streets. Both 2nd Street and Main Street are Active Use Streets by what information we reviewed. If they are Active Use Streets then the code says: “Building façades facing an Active Use Street shall have windows, display areas or doorways for at least 70% of the length and 50% of the ground-level wall area. “ The frontages of this new proposed building do not comply with this threshold. Despite our attempts to gain clarity on this issue from the staff, none has been offered. The developer has a note indicating these wall sections may be used for public art, but that is not required.
Let’s review where we are so far.
- We all supported the development.
- The Herald ran the first 2 stories- both praised the property and made the case the project could change downtown forever to the positive. And we still support them and believe that.
- On December 15th, we went with two Main Street building owners and met with the City to discuss garbage, design, and codes. Staff did answer what they could but nothing could prepare us for what was revealed next.
The Buildings South of Main between 2nd and 3rd are Doomed if a Fire Happens (mind you this meeting was 16 days before the Weil Arcade Fire happened).
It is common knowledge in the development community that public services and roads are almost always extended to adjoining owners when new developments happen. Our group assumed the developer would be conditioned/required to continue to provide access through the parking lot to the 13 buildings to the East. After all US Banks had been a valued community partner for 70 years and had consistently allowed and encouraged people needing to access the back of their buildings to come through their lots on 2nd Street. And the bank drive-throughs also had been used for years. Our group went in to learn more about the project and boy, did we.
When we began to discuss the access and continued use of the access, the city planner raised the issue that Henry Development would be blocking off all access to the alleyways off of 2nd avenue. She also informed us that when that happened, there would be no safe way for fire trucks to enter the back of the buildings. After much discussion and what turned into a tense meeting, we all left.
So let me show you what has existed all these years.
One alley (SE Elkmont Lane) allows access off of SE Washington Street. 3 pass through lanes have been open to the East since the 1950s and have never been posted to deny access. On the contrary, my mother-in-law worked at US Bank for 30 years, and it was always acceptable and never questioned that members of the Hillsboro community could pass through to the alleys and buildings.
The other alley, SE Fork Lane, extends from the eastern edge of the bank drive-through to the western edge of the Indian food place on SE 3rd Street. But the project being executed by Travis Henry and his company is going to change that forever.
In the meeting on December 15th, 2021 the planner told us that the developer will not agree to provide access any longer. She also indicated that all of the buildings to the East could not develop further because the fire trucks can not turn into SE Elkmont Lane, which is only 14 feet wide at Washington and impossible to turn down’; if you own a building in this block you best attend the appeal meeting next week and say your piece. Furthermore, the only safe access which is now available from the West will be gone forever when Henry et al builds Phase 2. Here is what could happen in the next few years.
If this Phase 2 potential happens or something like it, a fire or earthquake or natural disaster ever strikes, these buildings, their employees, and customers are going to be put at extreme risk.
With all of this information in our possession imagine how sick we felt on the morning of January 2nd when we saw the Weil Building burning to the ground. The worst fear we all have had actually happened. Luckily for our neighbors on North Main, the Weil Arcade has excellent access from Lincoln and adjacent access from the Hillsboro Pharmacy and Venetian driveway, as well as the parking access at Decadent Creations.
Photo courtesy of AnneMarie Cowley; The morning of January 2nd, 2022, Hillsboro Fire Department officers access the back of the Weil Arcade to attack the fire right behind the building. This will not be possible when the US Bank/Henry Development projects are completed. Not unless he or the City engages with us.
On December 15th, 2021 a group of us, consisting of 3 adjacent building owners and 4 business owners, provided the City staff with our formal concerns that included the concerns we had as outlined above. With a careful analysis of the City of Hillsboro Community Development Codes, the comments preserved the legal standing of all who submitted.
On January 3rd, 2022, as the Weil’s Building was still burning, the City of Hillsboro issued an approval for the plans submitted by Henry Development; refusing to incorporate any of our concerns. If you are interested here is the document. Staff Notice of Decision
On January 4th, 2022, as the Weil’s Building was still smoking, The Hillsboro City Council halted their regular meeting at about 10:30 PM and went into the Private Meeting of the Hillsboro Economic Development Council to pass a resolution brought to them by the Hillsboro Economic Development team. The meeting, held in secret using ORS 192.660 (2)(e)- lasted about 15 minutes. What was presented by the Ec-Dev team was a pitch for Henry Development to receive much-needed cash to assure the project could move ahead. When the Council came back in they took less than 2 minutes to pass Ordinance 29-22 to give Stone Fly Investors, LLC an incredible $720,000 of grant money, never to be repaid, for coming to Hillsboro. See That Ordinance and the pitch by Ec-Dev here. Stonefly Investors, LLC is not the actual applicant/developer, but hey, who cares right?
THE CITY OF HILLSBORO HOLDS THE KEYS and can resolve this in one meeting. While the Developers can resolve the primary issue in 5 minutes, they have stated to members of our group they do not want to and do not have to. This is who we have coming to town? Awesome.
In 1950 the Hillsboro City council met and took action to create the alleyways we have now behind our buildings. That meeting was an emergency session and was done because the access to the back of the building, and fires in the area, had become a public safety hazard/risk. Our codes and laws, including the Hillsboro Downtown Urban Renewal District, allow for the money needed for our officials to buy an access strip from the developers. Here is a section from the HURD plan.
From our view, the same gift money the city tapped in that 15-minute meeting ( we believe it to be over $1 million) can be rightfully used to buy a 12 to 20-foot section of land to make sure that all of us are safe. This would take common sense and leadership but the question is does that exist right now?
Here is a carefully designed alleyway dedication plan that we presented in our appeal. The developer is proposing to remove a row of trees and an old planter strip just South of the drive-through. Because they have not applied for Phase 2 yet there is nothing but time. Phase 1 and Phase 2 will not connect and must have spacing between the buildings. If a 10-15 foot easement/alley/fire lane is too much to ask then maybe this group is not fit to be in Hillsboro where we value public safety. I do not believe that because I have seen their work and it is excellent. When lawyers get involved in these matters everyone puffs their chests up and acts tough. They have indicated they have lawyers; I expect that having been involved in at least 10 appeals over the last 40 years. We don’t, not yet. But if we do not work this out, all sides, then we will.
The Planning Commission will hear our arguments on February 23rd, 2022. If you have concerns your voices can be heard as well. If nothing is resolved at that point we must consider and are preparing for an appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals in Salem. That process would take around 7 months should it come to that.
Conclusion- There are many details I have not told you all as these matters are far too complex. Because the codes of our City are not protecting us, and in consideration for how we have been treated and the insensitivity and timing of all of this, not to mention the $720,000+ gift to the developer, our group exercised our rights and appealed this application to the Hillsboro Planning Commission.
We have reached out to the Mayor, to the developer, and to the planning staff for an onsite meeting. All have been denied. We have tried to meet with any or all of them with a focus on public safety at the forefront of our intentions. We are willing to release the appeal if common ground can be found on some of these issues.
Here is a quote from our group appeals summary to the City.
“At any time during the appeal, we will operate in good faith and consider reaching
common ground. However, we have struggled with this appeal at great length and are
committed to seeing it through to a conclusion and protecting our properties and our
businesses; and even more so the future residents and customers of downtown
What sort of developer wants to come into a tight-knit community like Hillsboro,
especially downtown, and have a project put people at risk? We do not believe that is
what they mean to do, but it is what is happening.
We support the project, the exciting group of tenants, but we simply could not agree on
the Staff Decision and Final Notice. It is not correct and not just.”
Not just, indeed. Travis Henry and his company have the key to solving this dilemma. They can be a champion for a City that they are not that involved with yet. They can orchestrate the best Win-Win in a long time here downtown. Our group has been told that an alley connection is not going to happen from 2nd. We have heard that from the staff and from Travis Henry. We have been told that a future connection may be conditioned on “Phase 2” when the bank parking lot is developed. But that is something we can not wait for, not now. Not after our City has burned.
HERE ARE SOME HEARTFELT COMMENTS FROM THE APPELANTS
It would be very frightening if my building, right next to US Bank on 2nd and Main would burn and the fire department could NOT bring the trucks to the back of the building. We MUST have an access for fire, emergency vehicles, utility trucks, maintenance vehicles for the tenants, public, and building safety. We must care about each other now and for the future of our city. Thank you to the Hillsboro Fire Department and others for containing the fire and saving our city. Thank you.
I moved my business from Beaverton to downtown Hillsboro with hopes for continued growth. I rented a small space at the back of 222 E Main St. with the knowledge that there was parking and pedestrian access so that my clients could park on Main St or 2nd Ave and walk to the back door of the building where my office is located. Learning more and more about how these developers Henry Point Development (Travis Henry), Stonefly Investors (Garrin Royer), and the City of Hillsboro have acted towards those of us that have just moved in and those that have a very long history in the downtown district has been appalling!!! Not willing to meet to discuss our concerns of Fire and Access and work on win-win scenarios so that we all can feel safe. What about building maintenance? What about utility services? For instance, PGE, NW Natural, Hillsboro Utilities (Water & Sewer), etc. all of these are serviced at the back of these buildings. It would take such a small gesture to make things right.
First, we want everyone to know that we are not opposed to this US Bank project development. We feel it will provide some additional vitality to Downtown Hillsboro and we’re excited for it to happen, however not at the sake of taking away our Safety access from 2nd Ave. The City Planning Dept. in their response to our initial comments regarding this project has already said that Elkmont Lane, the alley that connects the back of our properties and the bank drive-through is NOT wide enough to accommodate Fire & Emergency Service vehicles, let alone garbage services, utility service and even large trucks which our business uses for delivery and pickup of furniture.
I’d like to ask the City of Hillsboro Planning and Community Planning/Economic Development how they could possibly allow a project to endanger the adjacent property owners & businesses that currently rely on this easement which has been used for more than 60 years. Can they in good conscience just allow this access to disappear as the only real access to Safety Vehicles in the backs of these properties? This is on the heels of the largest fire in Downtown Hillsboro in recent years. And might I add, we’ll be looking at the front of our buildings – Main Street – to be closed off & on for up to the next 2 years for the demolition and rebuilding on the Weil property.
I’d like to ask Henry Point developers how they feel about taking away the only adequate access to the properties of your adjoining neighbors – access that is essential to employees, utilities, and most importantly Safety access to Fire and Emergency Services.
I’ve spoken to each of the major players in this project – The Mayor, the City Manager, the Planning Director & the Community Planning Director and asked them to consider what’s at stake for their own Downtown Stakeholders. We’ve also attempted to meet with the developer – Henry Point – but they have not had the courtesy to return our calls. That our City Leaders could even consider allowing such a project to move forward without addressing the needs of all of the affected property and business owners seems completely unbelievable! If there are no City Codes to prevent such a potential disaster to occur then I’ll state for the record that the City of Hillsboro needs to address this flaw – it’s truly Common Sense.
If a potential out of town developer can come into Hillsboro and feel OK about moving forward with their project fully aware of the danger that this project puts those of us nearby, then I’m sure that I for one would question if this developer would be a very good neighbor here in Downtown Hillsboro.
My wife Sandie & I have spent the past 22 years investing our lives in our property and our business and we do not want to see ourselves landlocked by a City allowed project. This would undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the value of all the properties involved and also perhaps stop any potential growth opportunities for our properties in the future.
The city is giving the investment group & developer of this project nearly a Million Dollars to help and that money should go to providing the adequate easement necessary to provide Safety to our properties. This is only Common Sense in addition to the fact that it’s a major component in Hillsboro’s Urban Renewal Plan – provide connectivity and safety. And the use of Urban Renewal Funds is also cleared to be used to purchase appropriate easements as necessary and if this is not necessary then I don’t know what is!
Jeff & Sandie Nelson
As a responsible, concerned forward thinker for Downtown Historic Hillsboro I am searching for clarity for the safety access for all buildings at Main Street and Washington Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets.
New development brings great excitement for Historic Downtown Hillsboro which I wholeheartedly support. What does not make sense is being asked as an individual or group of individuals by the city or developer to buy a safety easement so that fire, emergency, utilities, garbage have adequate access to the buildings between Main Street and Washington Street at 2nd and 3rd streets in lieu of city planning to resolve the problem now.
Called for the Mayor of Hillsboro to walk the site and discuss with concerned property owners, tenants, and service providers to create a “win-win” resolution. Never received a response from the mayor. It’s time for answers and action. The city has the power to condition new developments and projects to provide a safe environment for businesses and customers.
This appeal is a Civics lesson for us all. When we see inequity and bad decisions we do have some power. It exists in this form in this case, an appeal. These very public procedures bring things done in the dark to light. They expose weaknesses in our codes and rules. In this case, they bring people with a common cause together and perhaps send a message to newcomers that we expect more than the worst option. People from Hillsboro get it- we get things done but we do it fairly and with safety and public benefit in mind.
Stay tuned folks.