Washington County commissioner says adjacent landowners should help pay for sidewalks, bikeways

Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski.

In a ringing reminder that the ballots arriving May 2 in Washington County will offer residents a choice between two very different futures, a county commissioner is calling for what sounds like a big change in the way street infill projects are paid for.

District 2 incumbent Greg Malinowski, who represents northwest Beaverton and the nearby unincorporated areas, suggested in an Oregonian op-ed Monday that the county should be able to bill property owners for at least some of the cost of “sidewalks and bikeways” along their property.

Here’s the heart of Malinowski’s essay:

If a single new house is built on a lot, the owner is exempt from installing sidewalks regardless of how busy the street is. Once that new house is complete, the owner isn’t prompted again for a sidewalk unless the new house is torn down. Or they’re built only after the county decides that taxpayers have the money to purchase the right of way and build the sidewalk at taxpayer expense. In fact, one of the biggest obstructions to fixing sidewalk gaps in Washington County is the need to purchase rights of way, which can make projects too cost prohibitive to consider.

This is unsustainable. It’s time for the county to change the code and require sidewalks and bikeways. Costs to complete these projects should be shared by landowners/developers and taxpayers. At the very least, we must work with landowners to obtain rights of way more reasonably so we can at least build safety infrastructure at county expense.

It’s an interesting and somewhat vague idea that would have its ups and downs, but there’s no question that it’d help the county connect its fractured active transportation network.

Malinowski writes that his position is motivated by the simple fact that when these facilities are built, people are eager to use them. He tells the story of a sidewalk that was built along 119th Avenue near Cornell Road, where a boy had been killed by a car while walking along the fog line with his sister.

“Even as we were putting it in, planners told us that it wouldn’t be used,” Malinowski writes. “They were wrong. If you make your way over to that part of Washington County, you’ll see large groups of children using that sidewalk daily to get to school.”

Malinowski is opposed in the May 20 election by business consultant Bob Zahrowski, who doesn’t disagree greatly with him on these issues. But the other two races on the ballot, which pit auto-focused incumbents Andy Duyck and Bob Terry against anti-sprawl challengers Allen Amabisca and Elizabeth Furse, will decide whether ideas like Malinowski’s will have a chance of consideration in Oregon’s second most populous county.

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