Council welcomes new car dealerships around Washington Square Mall

The Tigard City Council has approved zoning changes that would allow the construction of a new BMW dealership on the former Orchard Hardware site near Washington Square, as well as potential similar developments on other nearby properties west of Highway 217. (Courtesy/City of Tigard)

New BMW, Tesla dealerships poised to fill long-vacant properties

A variety of new car dealerships will be allowed on property in and around the Washington Square Mall under a new policy approved last month by the Tigard City Council. 

Councilors unanimously approved a proposal at their June 1 meeting that would allow new car dealerships to open along a swath of industrial property near the mall immediately to the west of Highway 217, as well as on property encompassing the mall itself. The so-called Cascade sub-district is part of the larger Washington Square Regional Center, which is the subject of a long-range planning effort by the City of Tigard to transform the aging mall into a densely built and walkable mixed-use center that will promote both residential and commercial development. 

The planning project started over a year ago, and since then, engagement with community and business representatives in the area has suggested that standalone car dealerships could be a good fit for the large industrial properties west of Highway 217, many of which contain vacant buildings. Moreover, that particular area is split off from the mall by the freeway and is not developed in a pedestrian-friendly manner. 

A number of large commercial properties, several of which lay vacant (highlighted in blue), would be allowed to use the land for auto dealerships and service centers under new zoning regulations recently adopted by the Tigard City Council. (Courtesy/City of Tigard)

“The Cascade area is wedged between heavy rail and 217 and Scholls Ferry Road,” said Susan Shanks, a senior planner with the City of Tigard. “And what we’ve come to determine is this area is not going to be the pedestrian-oriented area we want it to be. The mall still has great potential for that kind of dense mixed-use development, but this area does not.” 

In the meantime, the City has been approached about building a new BMW dealership and service center by the Holman Auto Group, owner of the former Orchard Hardware site adjacent to S.W. Scholls Ferry Road. Before the council acted last month, however, such auto-related businesses were not allowed in the mixed-use zone covering that area. The new rules, however, will allow those businesses while requiring that vehicle inventory and service facilities be indoor and screened from public view. 

The one exception will be the Jaguar/Land Rover dealership, which opened in 2019 and actually sits just east of Highway 217. Because this dealership is already in operation, the screening requirements will not apply. 

Michael Robinson, a lawyer with Portland firm Schwabe Williamson and Wyatt, which represents the Holman Automotive Group, said his clients were pleased with the changes.  

“We can comply with all the requirements of the subdistrict and amending the subdistrict in this way makes a lot of sense,” Robinson said. “It will create new jobs and expansion and will fill (currently) vacant properties.” 

The Benderson Development Company, owner of the former Toys “R” Us site just south of the Holman property, is also poised to bring in a new Tesla dealership on that property. Planning consultant John Southgate of Cascadia Partners spoke on Benderson’s behalf at the June 1 meeting and said that even before inking a lease agreement with Tesla, the company talked with several other potential automotive clients. 

“It will bring a long vacant building back to life,” Southgate said. “We are ready to turn the lights back on.” 

Finally, Bob Lanphere’s Beaverton Motorcycles is also in the Cascade subdistrict and will benefit from the new rules by potentially being allowed to expand or improve its facilities.

“I’ve been working on this site for 28 years, and for many decades we have battled the current zoning, which has limited our potential to grow and expand,” said Tim Brunner, an architect for Axis Design Group. “In our mind and my vision of what we can do with this property, this is going to overcome a large hurdle that we’ve had for so long.”