Happy Valley

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by Eavan Moore

When the city of Happy Valley first incorporated in 1965, it was to fend off the threat of annexation by Portland and any resulting urbanization. Since 1999, however, growth management has been a theme in Oregon’s fastest-growing city, which increased its population by almost seven percent between 2016 and 2017.

The new center of Happy Valley is based on Metro’s “town center” concept, a vision of mixed uses and multimodal transportation serving tens of thousands of people within a three-mile radius. City Hall, which was built with LEED certification in 2008, sits directly northeast of the Happy Valley Town Center, a commercial development on SE Sunnyside Road anchored by New Seasons and served by TriMet bus 155. Townhouses and single-family homes surround both this commercial complex and a second one recently completed to its east. Zoning in the town center discourages drive-throughs and encourages construction in the “Happy Valley Style,” which emphasizes pedestrian-friendly elements and draws on Craftsman, Oregon rustic and prairie architectural styles for aesthetic inspiration.

Happy Valley’s Transportation Systems Plan envisions a network of neighborhoods linked by walkable, bikable roads. As subdivisions go in, the developers build out these roads — and there are many subdivisions going in. Rock Creek Meadows added 96 lots north of Fred Meyer in 2014. Grand View Meadows, Pine View Meadows, and Scouter’s Meadow are all under construction at the north end of the city. Another housing development next to Scouter’s Mountain Nature Park will result in a total of 600 single-family homes on 223 acres over the next decade. Still another development will add about 1200 multifamily and single-family units on the former Pleasant Valley golf course.

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Happy Valley has grown in acreage as well as population. After Damascus ended its seven-year experiment with incorporation in 2011, the owners of more than 1,000 acres opted for annexation by Happy Valley, which as a result is now working on the Pleasant Valley/North Carver Integrated Land Use and Transportation Plan. 

Density requires roads, and that poses challenges. Elected officials are interested in making major improvements to 172nd Avenue that would allow people to walk from homes to shops. The question is: Where will the money come from? Happy Valley has a relatively low property tax rate and typically relies on developers for capital improvements.

Then, too, the hilly topology is challenging for road-building. Roads and hills are a couple of the reasons Happy Valley has seen little industrial land use, though Metro’s Urban Growth Management Functional Plan requires some industrial zoning. The land currently zoned for this purpose has seen no new development beyond its existing agricultural uses. Industrial zoning may complicate planning for the North Carver area, because it is far from any highway.

Very steep slopes are protected, as are wetlands; this is another facet of the city’s managed growth approach. At the Rock Creek Meadows development, a large wetland has been set aside and the houses will be built on smaller lots to compensate. Slope protection means that it will be possible to enjoy some natural areas without seeing signs of the rapid development taking place all around.

With thanks to Steve Koper and Mark Hurlburt.