The future use of one of the largest parcels of undeveloped land in east Multnomah County was the topic of a briefing for Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners on March 15, 2022. County staff and community members briefed the Board on proposed uses for the nearly 90 acres of land known as the Vance properties, in the Rockwood and Centennial neighborhoods of west Gresham.
Vance Vision is a multi-year effort to plan the future use of the property. It currently includes several county buildings, Vance Park managed by the City of Gresham, open space, and large former industrial parcels that include landfills and a former gravel quarry. The properties present challenges related to past industrial uses but great potential for new uses.
County Commissioner Lori Stegmann grew up across the street from Vance Park. At the meeting, she noted that the neighborhood is one of the most diverse in the County, home to many recent immigrants and low-income residents. Commissioner Stegmann has worked with the Vance Vision project team for five years and introduced the board briefing. She said the property has the potential “to become a transformative community asset beyond my wildest dreams.”
The County’s Department of Community Services (DCS) oversees the Vance properties today, which house the County’s Transportation and Land Use Planning divisions, Records and Archives, Fleet and several other programs. Department Director Jamie Waltz said the purpose of the Vance Vision is to create an overall vision for the properties. “Until now there were lots of puzzle pieces scattered about, but we had no plan.”
Both Commissioner Stegmann and Waltz credited the late DCS director Kim Peoples with sparking the effort to create a vision for the properties’ future. Peoples was a long-time Gresham resident who helped kickstart the planning effort in 2017.
To develop the Vance Vision, the County worked with a consultant team led by Cascadia Partners. DCS Strategic Initiatives Manager Cate Schneider described project principles that guided the team’s work. These include meeting the County’s current and future needs for facilities while also centering future plans on the desires and priorities of local residents who have been most impacted by the properties’ past and current uses.
Project manager Brett Taute with the County’s Facilities and Property Division described the Vance site, which includes a steep slope above a former quarry. The slope is an example of both a site challenge and an opportunity. Taute described how it could be re-contoured to provide a new east/west connection between the existing Vance Park to the west and a new recreation or open space area in the quarry.
In developing the Vision, the County project team worked with Cascadia Partners and one of their team members, the non-profit Verde, to develop an innovative outreach team based on a Community Leader model led by people with a strong connection to the diverse neighborhood.
Three of the leaders shared their experiences working with local residents. Willie Chambers is a former Northeast Portland resident who moved to the neighborhood about 10 years ago and manages a community kitchen at the Sunrise Center in Rockwood. “We came out here because of the potential,” Chambers told the Board. “Now we are seeing a fulfillment of that.”
Cate Schneider said that the project conducted extensive community outreach despite the pandemic. Community leaders surveyed more than 150 residents in seven languages. More than 600 local high school students shared their priorities in a survey. And an online open house in 2021 brought input from another 83 residents.
Schneider said that outreach results showed that the community’s top priorities are:
- Access to parks, open space and nature
- Recreational areas
- Safe access to the Vance site
- Safe and affordable housing
- Job opportunities and training
- Affordable childcare
“We also heard a theme around gathering and community-focused spaces,” Schneider said. “There is a real desire for places where the community can celebrate cultural events, hold celebrations, performances, share traditions and food.”
Project Manager Brett Taute said the project team developed visions for three sub-areas of the property based on their unique locations, topography and transportation access.
One sub-area is the 190th Ave. Employment Corridor, where current county buildings are located. Future county facilities, including an Animal Services shelter, might be located along this north/south corridor, Taute said. New pedestrian improvements would support additional employment and community access to the corridor.
Another sub-area is made up of Vance Park, the former quarry to the east and the slope in between. Taute said the concept for this sub-area is “much more park space and open space, including the quarry pit. The community would like more open space, places to gather and recreate.”
The third sub-area is the 182nd Ave. Corridor. This is a major north/south arterial with heavy residential, commercial and retail development. “Here we propose affordable housing and mixed-use development,” Taute said. “We also know that gathering places are a priority for the community here, as well as pedestrian improvements to improve access.”
Taute shared an implementation road map designed to bring the Vance Vision into reality. “We’ve identified near and long-term strategies and next steps for the next five to thirty years,” Taute said. These include working with agency partners such as the City of Gresham, which maintains Vance Park, and the regional Metro government, which supports development within the urban growth boundary. Community-based organizations will also play a big role, he said.
“This plan will allow development to take place along multiple pathways,” Taute said. “We want to allow for development to happen in different sequences as opportunities arise.”
County Commissioners were not asked to vote on the plan, but commissioners made their support for the Vance Vision clear.
Several commissioners thanked Commissioner Stegmann for her leadership and department director Jamie Waltz for picking up the project from her predecessor Kim Peoples. Commissioner Sharon Meieran thanked Commissioner Stegmann for noting the project’s early leadership from Kim Peoples. “I miss him, and I felt like his spirit was here today,” Commissioner Meieran said.
“The Vance Vision is a result of a true multi-departmental and multi-jurisdictional partnership,” Commissioner Stegmann said at the briefing’s close. “This is a plan that acknowledges the environmental challenges of the site, the historical context for its development, and the deep needs articulated by our community leaders. This plan is not an end point; it is a beginning.”
In closing, Commissioner Stegmann referenced the TV sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” where a running gag was how the small city could make a hole in the ground into a new park. “If there are any “Parks and Recs” fans out there: Leslie Knope, this pit is dedicated to you,” she said.