Tiny City's Roots Date to Freeway Flap


Published in the Portland Tribune, August 3, 2007

Back in the 1960s, the quiet, tree-lined neighborhood of Maywood Park faced destruction. The Oregon State Highway Department, now a part of the Oregon Department of Transportation, had plans to build a new freeway right through the middle of the neighborhood, which is bordered to the north by Northeast Prescott Street and to the east by 102nd Avenue.

That new freeway, Interstate 205, was being planned to sit on a raised berm dozens of feet above the ground level.

Local residents saw the possible future of their tranquil neighborhood — dirt and noise from the freeway, reduced property values, the destruction of homes — and weren’t happy.

Maywood Park’s first mayor, Werner Zeller, helped lead the fight against the highway construction.

“They had visions of 30-foot-high cement walls running from 102nd to 106th,” he says. “The freeway was going to be 30 feet above grade at that point. Well, we saw those plans and said, ‘Like hell you’re going to build that!’ ”

So in 1967, in an effort to increase its political clout and stave off destruction, Maywood Park incorporated, becoming its own distinct municipality.

At the time, the area was outside of the Portland city limits. Over the next several years, the city of Maywood Park fought highway construction through state and federal courts.

Although Maywood Park eventually lost, the publicity and new public hearings forced a few concessions in the highway construction.

I-205 was built below grade to lessen the freeway noise, and a “sound berm”— a large wall —was built on the freeway’s border. In all, an estimated 80 houses were destroyed in the process.

Today, with I-205 as its western border, Maywood Park forms a triangular island within Portland. And because the boundaries of Portland have changed since Maywood Park was incorporated, it now is the only city within the city of Portland.

Current Mayor Mark Hardie, who was a teenager when the battle to save Maywood Park took place, says that he still remembers his mother going door-to-door collecting signatures to stop construction.

“They didn’t win the war, but they did win many of the major battles,” Hardie said. “The visual impact, the noise impact, the dirt, was minimized.”

In fact, Maywood Park is surprisingly quiet for a town adjacent to a freeway. A block in, the freeway noise is hardly noticeable. As one longtime resident described it, “It’s about like being down on the beach and hearing the roar of the ocean.”

Maywood Park is strictly residential, a quiet neighborhood home to about 850 people and sheltered by mature Douglas firs.

The town’s most parklike area is a bike path that runs along the I-205 wall; the rest of the city is made up of streets without sidewalks and speed bumps, and lined by well-kept 1930s and 1940s homes.

Partially because the city has no busy thoroughfares, it gets little attention. Hardie says that it’s easy for Portland residents to drive right by Maywood Park as if it doesn’t exist.

“Most people (in Portland) don’t know that Maywood Park is an incorporated area,” Hardie said. “Not that it matters, but people of Maywood are proud of the fact.”

The city is small enough to be run by volunteers, including Hardie. In fact, the city of Maywood Park has only a single paid employee, who combines two part-time jobs as treasurer and recorder.

Most typical municipal services, such as water, police and fire, are contracted out to the city of Portland and Multnomah County, and Maywood Park children go to school in nearby Parkrose.

Talk of unincorporating began about 20 years ago, when the city faced its first financial crisis — how to pay for 911 services.

As Hardie recalled it, the first bill was about $12,000, and the city suddenly had to figure out a way to raise the money.

Some people floated the idea of unincorporating and letting the city of Portland deal with it, but the citizens of Maywood Park resoundingly voted that idea down. Instead, Maywood Park instituted property taxes, which are still lower than Portland’s.

Because Maywood Park is a municipality distinct from Portland, it does offer some benefits. Property taxes are considerably lower, and when residents want to speak to the mayor, they can walk down the street and knock on his door.

“It’s not like being the mayor of Portland or Salem,” Hardie said. “It’s a lot lower key. I’m here, I guess, to help. If somebody doesn’t like the time the garbage trucks roll through in the morning, they call me.”

— Steve Wilson