My wife and I recently discovered how cool downtown Lake Oswego is. We hadn't been there for a long time, so made a northward pilgrimage from Salem last Friday.
The Lake View Village development on the lakeshore impressed us. Here's a Google Images photo of sidewalk dining.
This is what an urban core should look like.
Walkable, bikable, people-centered, enticing retail shops on street level. Millennium Park is adjacent, with the lake just beyond. Here's a photo I took of the open area next to Lake View Village.
Note that word: "village."
This is the look and feel we enjoyed about Lake Oswego -- village'y. Yes, it is a city. But a city that didn't feel like a Big City to us. Downtown Lake Oswego struck us as an appealing place that hasn't lost its small town roots.
Wanting to learn more about Lake Oswego -- heck, we might even want to live there someday when our ten rural acres and non-easy-care house get to be too much for us -- I took a look at the Lake Oswego Review newspaper today.
And learned about a major downtown controversy in "Wizer Block opponents vow to appeal Council's decision to overturn DRC." What's a stake here is the village-like character of Lake Oswego.
Opponents of plans to build a 290,000-square-foot, mixed-use development on downtown Lake Oswego's Wizer Block said this week that they will take their fight to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
“This is just the beginning for us,” said Lita Grigg, founder of the group Save Our Village, after the City Council voted 5-2 last week to pave the way for a new Block 137.
After nearly nine hours of public testimony, the Council overturned the Development Review Commission’s rejection of developer Patrick Kessi's plan to build three four-story buildings at the corner of A Avenue and First Street. The development would include 207 residential units and about 36,000 square feet of retail space.
“The City Council did not honor the DRC's decision with their vote of no," Grigg said. "The reason (the DRC) voted no was because (the design) did not meet 'small-scale structure,' it did not meet 'village character,' and it did not comply with the compact shopping district. We will be going forward with the appeal.”
The newspaper helpfully had links to other stories about this hot issue. In "Council's Wizer Block decision ignores concerns of so many" I saw a mention of the Zeppo's restaurant shown in the first photo above.
Our mayor and four city councilors have overruled our Development Review Commission (a commission comprised of qualified professionals), and instead have given developer Patrick Kessi’s Wizer Block proposal the green light. Only councilors Karen Bowerman and Lauren Hughes upheld our DRC’s decision to deny the development.
Councilor Bowerman expressed concerns about traffic and parking problems around the bottlenecked block, the development’s monolithic buildings and the small amount of retail. Most retail will be for apartment residents’ private use — a private library, media room, gym and courtyard. (City code deems this commercial/retail.) A pittance of retail will be left for the public.
...On Saturday, I also talked with several out-of-state visitors, some from as far away as New York City. All were happy to be going to a farmers market in beautiful Millennium Park. They’ll be disappointed next time when the farmers market has moved, due to Kessi’s development. Do you think they’ll come back to our downtown, to sit outside Zeppo’s in the large shadow of Kessi’s 58-foot-tall apartments?
This reminds me so much of similarly crappy land use decisions that keep on being made by the current crop of folks who run Salem's City Hall. The public interest and broad citizen input get pushed away by short-sighted bowing to special interests, often behind closed doors.
Salem's Mayor and City Council have done this with Pringle Square, the unneeded half billion dollar Third Bridge, killing of the U.S. Bank Trees, Howard Hall, and other issues.
I feel for you, Lake Oswego'ians. Another story in your newspaper, "Council ignored plea to save our downtown," hit home to me.
When Mayor Kent Studebaker campaigned, he said, “Lake Oswego is a great place, and I’d like to make sure we maintain that quality and character of the town. I’d like to make sure people can afford to stay here and they’re not worried about what the government is doing to them.”
Did Lake Oswego citizens witness disloyalty and misuse of leadership by Mayor Studebaker and four members of City Council when they voted to overturn the Development Review Commission? The DRC, led by expert architects and a specialized attorney, twice rejected the Wizer proposal. The DRC reasonably determined that the proposed development, too large to even fit on a Portland city block, did not meet code for village character in mass and scale, and that the apartment complex, proposed for a block clearly designated in the Urban Design Plan as our “compact shopping district,” lacks critical retail.
Lake Oswego citizens have a government that ignored a year-long plea by a majority of citizens to preserve our downtown, deny this project and ask the developer to break up the buildings into smaller scale and add more retail to the ground floors as required by the DRC.
Mayor Studebaker and Councilors Gudman, Jordon, Gustafson and O’Neill had seven months — since February — to carefully study code and testimony regarding the most important decision our community is facing. Instead, they appeared unfamiliar with relevant issues, including details of parking and traffic, the actual size of the proposal in relation to other buildings downtown and the history of downtown development plans. Despite an overwhelming outpouring of citizen concerns, they appeared to rely on a staff that citizens called out for driving this redevelopment in favor of the developer.
These five council members appeared to ignore citizens’ concerns that letters were submitted in favor of the project by a Portland PR firm on behalf of Kessi and residents of Kessi’s Northwest Portland building. None of the writers of the supportive form letters had a connection to Lake Oswego. Yet, the vast majority of Lake Oswego organizations and residents rejected the proposal in favor of smaller-scale buildings and more retail. Only Councilors Bowerman and Hughes represented the interests of those who elected them.
Well, it's time for Lake Oswego to unelect the Mayor and city councilors who support this ghastly project. Big money too often controls political decisions these days.
I bet if the lid could be lifted on how the Wizer Block really got approved, a whole lot of unseemly lobbying and backroom dealmaking would pop into view.
This is how things are done in Salem, where the Chamber of Commerce is proud about how it throws money into city council elections, gets most of its candidates elected, then reaps the rewards when councilors ignore citizens and/or the law in order to give sweetheart deals to our version of "the 1%."
In Lake Oswego, much the same thing is happening.
Our mayor and four city councilors have chosen to ignore the concerns of so many of us who support our DRC’s decision. They’ve sold us out and handed $6 million of our tax dollars to Patrick Kessi and his investors, who will make a lot of money on this deal while they destroy the character of downtown and beauty of Millennium Park.
I was pleased to sign the Save Our Village petition put up by the group's organizer, Lita Grigg, even though the Lake Oswego city council now has voted to approve the Wizer Block development.
An appeal is being made to the Land Use Board of Appeals, and Lake Oswego officials need to know that lots of people are unhappy with them selling out to special interests. I hope the Save Our Village folks will fight on for as long as it takes to get justice -- Court of Appeals, Oregon Supreme Court, whatever.
(This KOIN news video shows what the development might look like. It would be OK in another city, or maybe even elsewhere in Lake Oswego. But I agree with Save Our Village that it is wrong for downtown Lake Oswego.)