Wilsonville ‘crushing’ single-family housing records; one of metro’s hottest growth areas
While cranes assemble imposing towers crammed full of apartments in Portland and push forward on the biggest construction project in state history in Hillsboro, Wilsonville has quietly become one of the hottest development spots in the metro area in recent years. But there, the push is almost entirely around single-family homes.
Realtors, developers and city representatives attribute Wilsonville’s growth to years of planning and an industrial center that officials want to expand in the coming months through a proposed urban renewal district.
“The demand has just been astounding,” said Mayor Tim Knapp.
Most of the new development has happened in western Wilsonville’s Villebois area, the former site of Dammasch State Hospital slated to eventually have nearly 2,700 new homes. Villebois, which covers nearly 500 acres and was built with urban renewal dollars, is over halfway there now, said Chris Neamtzu, Wilsonville’s planning director.
On a recent evening, David Swartwood and his wife, Katie, played with their two kids in a small park that doubles as the front yard for the couple and a handful of neighbors. Swartwood, a mechanical engineer at aviation company Rockwell Collins, used to commute to his Wilsonville job from Northeast Portland. He and Katie, a teacher in theBeaverton School District, bought their Villebois house in 2011 – just before the neighborhood exploded.
“There’s probably three times as many houses as when we got here,” Swartwood said.
In addition to an easier commute, Swartwood said, Wilsonville offers a lot of other young professionals, many of whom have children for Grant, 3, and Eleanor, 1, to make friends with. During the summer, a weekly farmers’ market is held down the street from their house.
“It’s a lot easier down here,” he said.
Wilsonville realtor and Villebois resident Andy Green has been setting records along with the city. Green Group Real Estate, he said, is on pace to double its sales for the second year in a row.
“By June of this year, we had closed more… homes than we did all of last year,” Green said. He expects to eclipse $50 million in sales by the end of the year.
Green attributed his success in part to the “very wide mix of housing products” available to consumers.
City leaders, Knapp said, enacted so-called “rules of adjacency” that prohibit homes across or next to each other from looking exactly alike, thus avoiding the “cookie-cutter” feel for which suburbs are often derided. He added that to offset many of the homes’ “smaller” lot sizes, the city made room for amenities such as Piccadilly, Sofia and Palermo parks, which align themselves to separate two sides of a residential area.
That’s not to say Villebois doesn’t look suburban. It certainly does. But it differs from other outlying single-family developments with small touches such as the placement of driveways and garages behind houses such as Swartwood’s, allowing front doors to open directly onto sidewalks and green space.
Not far from the Villebois community pool, tennis court and fitness room sits a public square and a mixed-use apartment building that wouldn’t look out of place in the Pearl District. (Wilsonville added 376 multifamily units in 2011 and 288 in 2012, city data shows.)
Jim Chapman, the president at developer Legend Homes, called Wilsonville one of the region’s “hotspots lately” and said the city has been “very good for us” since 25 years ago, when only about 7,000 people lived there. Now, the population is near 21,500.
Chapman estimated that Legend is approaching 200 homes built in Villebois alone.
“I think they’re a very experienced government there now,” Chapman said. “And they have a good handle on what’s going on and what their needs are and why. … They’re one of the few jurisdictions out there that I think is doing a good job of planning and executing.”
The fast-increasing supply hasn’t slowed a rise in prices, however. The real estate website Zillow estimated that the median home value in Wilsonville was $384,300 at the end of July – a 7.6 percent year-over-year increase and significantly higher than Beaverton, Tigard, Vancouver, Hillsboro and Oregon City – and predicts that prices will keep rising.
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Chapman’s buyers are attracted, he said, by the city’s transit options, such as the WES Commuter Rail and shuttles to Salem and Portland. Wilsonville is also a “job center,” Chapman said. “It has an industrial and office section of town that’s pretty sizable.”
Businesses in Wilsonville include Mentor Graphics, Xerox and the Coca Cola Bottling Co. And through an advisory vote, the city will ask residents in November what they think about attracting more companies to the Coffee Creek area through another urban renewal district, this one industrial.
“The challenge, of course, is to maintain the qualities and amenities of a smaller community that I think many people have come to Wilsonville to expect,” Knapp said. “And there’s always a tension between that and the pressures to grow.”