County adds incentives to redevelop Highway 99

Value Motel owner uninvolved in revitalization plans

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

By one measure, the Value Motel has improved over the past four years.

The 1963 motel, with its $21/$23 sign that greets northbound drivers who take the Northeast 78th Street exit off Interstate 5, has gone from being the No. 1 call-out address for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to the fourth most frequented address, with 384 calls in 2009.

Clark County commissioners would like to see other improvements.

On Tuesday, commissioners approved an incentives package for redevelopment on Highway 99 and its surrounding areas. The plan has been in the works for more than a decade, with residents, business owners, architects, developers and engineers working with county staff and the planning commission to reach compromises on the specifics of design standards and incentives.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Marc Boldt singled out the intersection of 78th Street and Highway 99 as being in desperate need of a “nice-looking” business.

The northwest corner of the intersection has the Value Motel, a shuttered restaurant and a parcel for lease.

Whether by incentives or “getting down on our hands and knees,” the county needs to do whatever it can to improve the corner, Boldt said.

But Milton O. Brown, the man who owns all that property, as well as the Totem Pole shopping complex on the northeast corner of the intersection and other parcels on Highway 99, has not been actively involved in the county’s plans.

Despite optimistic visions for a revitalized strip, commissioners acknowledge it will be a long work in progress and difficult to achieve a cohesive look with so many different property owners.

Particularly Brown, who one real estate agent said has a reputation of buying land and never letting it go.

Brown, 81, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

He owns several properties in Clark County as well as in Oregon, including trailer parks in Portland, Tigard and Gresham. He has multiple companies, including MOB Investments Inc.; Commercial Adventures, LLC; Commercial Value, LLC; Milton O. Brown Estate, LLC; and Hazel Totem, LLC.

His determination to get sole ownership of the Totem Pole shopping complex property led him to take steps that ultimately cost him his license to practice law. He was disbarred after his former business partner, who was also a client, filed a complaint with the Oregon State Bar. A panel of Oregon Supreme Court justices found that Brown had intentionally deceived his client in order to take sole ownership of the Totem Pole property in 1985.

Justices, in their written ruling, noted Brown never acknowledged the “wrongful nature of his conduct” but that he had been “disciplined for ethical violations, also involving deceitful conduct, in the past.”

Colete Anderson, a county planner who has served as project manager for the past four years for the Highway 99 Sub-Area Plan, said Brown has been kept informed of the county’s plans to revitalize Highway 99. Anderson said Brown hasn’t shared with the county any of his plans for his properties.

Under the newly adopted plan, commissioners can’t order existing property owners to make improvements.

Instead, incentives in the form of reduced traffic impact fees and a streamlined 60-day permitting process are to encourage redevelopment or new businesses to take up empty parcels. The county’s dream would be to have businesses fronted along the street and landscaping that would include trees to distract from the power lines, for which there’s no money to bury.

Commissioners hope a better-looking, more pedestrian-friendly strip will lead to a reduced crime rate.

The Highway 99 planning area has the highest crime rates in four of 12 categories (assault, drugs, burglary and forgery) compared with 10 nearby neighborhoods, according to the county. While the Value Motel ranks fourth on the sheriff’s office’s most-responded-to list, three other places on Highway 99 (Callaham’s Mobile Estates, WinCo and Walmart) rank in the Top 10.

While a few citizens testified Tuesday that the county was trying to exert too much power on business owners by setting guidelines on development, Commissioner Boldt said they have to set regulations in order to clean up the area and attract new businesses. “That’s just our job,” he said.

On Wednesday, Chairman Steve Stuart said commissioners have been trying to work with Brown. “Our goal is to keep reaching out,” he said. “Ultimately, I think the goal is to upgrade the area so it becomes profitable for him to redevelop or sell.”

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.