Tiny City's Roots Date to Freeway Flap

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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

Three Elected to Maywood Park City Council

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In tiny Maywood Park, incumbent James S. Akers will be joined on the city council by two newcomers: Marci Marshall and Casey Hill.

Akers, an employment specialist who works with adults with disabilities, was the only incumbent seeking re-election. Akers and Marshall garnered 141 votes each and Hill received 132. Marshall is a project manager and Hill is a creative marketing director.

Also running for the five-member council was Robin Wisner, a pastor and community activist.

Maywood Park, located near Northeast Portland, has just 800 residents.

Maywood Park Citizens Get Involved

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Residents say Maywood Park is a nice place to live. And they aim to keep it that way.

“Everybody works for the good of everybody,” said Werner Zeller, 94, a retired Providence Portland Medical Center surgeon and Maywood Park’s former mayor.

Zeller helped found the tiny city, leading residents to incorporate in 1967 in a desperate attempt to save the subdivision from the construction path of Interstate 205. They lost the seven-year battle, but had launched a tradition of community involvement by the time I-205 cut through the city.

Maywood Park lost 82 homes to freeway construction, though residents still celebrate their victory in pressuring state officials to build I-205 below grade. Today, instead of resting beneath 30-foot-tall girders, the city’s remaining 300 homes are perched high above the freeway’s east bank between cross streets Prescott and Fremont. A sound-wall barrier and a park-like greenbelt also protect the current population of nearly 800 residents from I-205, as freeway travelers race past, oblivious to the neighborhood.

“There’s really no reason to drive through Maywood Park,” which gives the wooded, all-residential community a tranquil appeal, said current Mayor Mark Hardie. “Our mission is to maintain our independence and keep this a safe place to live.”

Hardie heads an all-volunteer city council and a new generation of activists in maintaining Maywood Park’s identity with community events and beautification projects like the city’s new welcome signs.

“Our city is what it is because of active volunteers and citizen involvement,” Hardie said. “That’s what is great about Maywood Park.”

Maywood Park was first planned as an upscale east-county subdivision in 1926, a period when Sandy Boulevard was the only connection to Portland’s then-distant downtown core. Most of the neighborhood’s Cape Cod and English-style homes were built between 1938 and 1943, said Ed Medak, owner of local firm Medak Realty.

The city’s boundaries are completely surrounded by the city of Portland today, a unique situation that has long attracted buyers, Medak said.

“It’s always been a popular area. People like the fact that Maywood Park is its own city,” he said.

Hardie said he and the city council want to keep it that way.

“I don’t know that we feel any direct pressure to be annexed, but I know Portland would love the tax monies that would come from $66 million in assessed values,” Hardie said.

Maywood Park was outside Portland’s boundaries when the smaller city incorporated in 1967. However, a few years later Oregon state legislators passed a statute that prohibits cities to incorporate in close proximity to another municipality.

Homes in Maywood Park typically sell for prices ranging between $250,000 and $350,000 on average, according to Medak. He said between 15 and 20 homes are sold annually in Maywood Park.

“Taxes in the city of Maywood Park are approximately 25 percent less than the city of Portland,” Medak said. “That attracts people, too.”

Residents also like the city’s traditions, which include a yearly Christmas lighting contest, the annual Easter egg hunt, and a Fourth of July parade and barbeque.

“This could be more expensive the longer we wait,” she said.

But Clark said she likes the family oriented community where neighbors watch over each other.

“I feel very safe here,” she said.

Hardie said dedicated volunteers help maintain Maywood Park’s public safety through a program called Park Watch.

“We’re just trying to keep trouble out and keep ourselves living happily ever after,” said Vic Baldasar, a Park Watch volunteer for the past several years.

He and wife Joanne purchased their Maywood Park retirement home in 1999, moving from a New York City neighborhood that had deteriorated with increasing crime, noise and traffic.

“This is like Eden compared to where we lived,” said Baldasar, who patrols Maywood Park daily, looking for trouble.

“I keep my eyes open for anything out of whack,” he said. “Because I love this city. I love the way people here take care of their neighbors.”

“The people within Maywood Park’s boundaries are very proud of their little town and they’re deeply involved,” said Gene Young, a resident since 1948.

In addition to its holiday celebrations, the city helps residents dispose of yard debris with an annual citywide cleanup day.

“I’d guess we fill between six to eight dumpsters total,” Young said.

At age 90, Young and his wife, Luella, 87, take daily walks along the parkway buffer between I-205 and the city’s western border, Maywood Place. The eastern border is Northeast 102nd Avenue.

The city maintains the half-mile-long parkway, which is also a portion of the I-205 Bike Lane.

“It’s beautifully landscaped,” said Young. The Youngs’ tidy, ranch-style home faces the park.

“We lost a lot of neighbors when the freeway went through,” Young said. But he and Luella say they’ve never considered moving. “We’re staying here as long as we can.”

The quiet community “almost feels like you’ve stepped back in time,” said Julie Risely, 47, a six-year resident and Maywood Park’s only paid employee. Risely works part-time as city treasurer and city recorder.

An operating budget of $547,000 paid for street maintenance and services provided by outside contractors this year.

“We were set up to operate on a balanced budget and we do so every year,” Hardie said.

The city pays for law enforcement and fire services through Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and Fire District 10. The city maintains its own streets with some outside help.

Like any Oregon municipality, Maywood Park receives utility franchise fees and portions of the state’s gas, liquor and cigarette taxes.

“We’re not Beverly Hills, but the city is doing very well financially,” Hardie said. More importantly, “citizens have a better chance to be heard,” he said, unlike those who face Portland’s larger bureaucratic system.

But there’s a downside to independence. Maywood Park was bypassed by Portland sewer lines, and thus, relies on an outdated cesspool system.

“If that system suddenly fails, we can’t replace it,” Hardie said.

The city council commissioned a feasibility study to look at new options for sewage treatment, but Hardie said he hasn’t yet received results of the study or looked at cost estimates.

“There have been no numbers developed yet,” he said. “But we definitely don’t have enough in our coffers to pay for it all.”

Hardie said federal grants may be available to help cover the cost.

The potential sewage problem is a big concern for Jenny Clark, 43, a resident since 1994.