Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Monday, September 30, 2013

Tower Envy

A reader sent me an article from the Sunday Oregonian (B-8) titled, "Do Portland planners have tower envy?"  This is an insightful look at how high density in the form of high rise apartment or condo towers are not all that the planners and developers promised.  The authors say "the fad for high-rise 'starchitecture,' embraced by cities such as Dubai, Shanghai and Houston, has left those and other cities with unhappy results," but Portland intends to do things differently.

The claims that high-rises are more sustainable and offer greater urban density do not match the research.  The lack of human scale, the residents' lack of social interaction, the poor conditions for families with children, all add up to reduced livability.  The buildings "demonstrate that tall buildings are a problematic typology and hardly a utopian vision of the future.  So why do some Portland planners and developers seem so determined to impose their vision on the city?"

The comparison between high-rises in Portland and mid-rises in Lake Oswego are relative to scale.  Big buildings in the big city, smaller buildings in a small town, but the same concerns.  Once built, the buildings will stand as a reminder of a "horrible mistake" in an attempt to be "trendy and modern".

Is this what citizens want?

DRC Opening

There are 2 positions open on the Design Review Commission.  Those interested in serving on this very important body are encouraged to apply.  Please see information on the city website.   Applications are due by October 15.

The DRC is a seven-member citizen advisory body appointed to review development applications for compliance with the City’s land use and design regulations, based on criteria outlined in the City's Comprehensive Plan and Community Development Code. Meetings are the first and third Mondays of the month at 7 p.m..  In order to fully understand the position that you are applying for, please do take the time to review the Development Review Commission's website and documents.  Also, it is strongly recommended that you attend a meeting of this board before you interview with the city council.  For meeting dates, please review the City Calendar.

SOS - Save Our Suburbs!

I came across this website over the weekend and wanted to share it.  The fact that it comes all the way from Australia tells you that New Urbanism, like a communicable disease, has spread to countries all over the globe.  Europe, Asia, Russia, the Middle East....  all with the promise that life will be better, more sustainable and vibrant if only we followed the Smart Growth PLAN.   This would be understandable if we were talking about pop culture, but a plan for a wholesale transformation of the physical and functional fabric of one's culture all over the world?

I am sure that some elements of Smart Growth are suitable for some locations, but the package is being sold as the cure-all for obesity, sprawl, energy conservation, carbon usage, sense of community, food access (really!), transportation, housingand so on.  It covers just about every facet of one's life.  It seems like a new cause is invented every week to market and reinforce the PLAN on an unsuspecting, or at perhaps powerless population.

People are starting to see what Smart Growth means close up and personal with the Wizer Block development (Evergreen LLC).  Pack 'em and stack 'em.  That may be OK in some parts of Portland, but it doesn't fit the character of our small town.

Take a look at the SOS website, and come to the Evergreen Neighborhood Association Meeting tonight at the Parish Hall (downstairs - entry on the North side of the building) of Our Lady of the Lake church at 7:00 pm.  The developers will be there, and there will be discussion about their plans for the Wizer Block site.  Only members of Evergreen NA may vote in their elections.  Imagine how this development, and those to follow, fit into the larger Metro plan for Lake Oswego.  From the other side of the world, we are not alone!

From the SOS website:
It is harmful to continue forcing these policies on the Australian people. Urban consolidation is an imposed cancer growing unchecked throughout our suburbs.

It is a cancer of increasing high-rise monotony, minimal variety, paved surfaces, worsening mental and physical health and a drain on the resource and well-being of our people and of our environment.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Comp Plan Update - Continued

For the 3rd meeting in a row, the Planning Commission is meeting on Monday night (Sept. 30, at 6:30 pm) to deliberate on changes to Part 1 of the Comp Plan (see Agenda Packet on PC Meeting webpage) and make recommendations for the City Council.  Public testimony on this portion of the plan has been closed.  The last hearing will be in front of the City Council on Nov. 5.

The Planning Commission's findings will be published in a week or two.  People wanting to testify to the City Council should read the PC findings before finalizing their testimony.  Keep checking the Planning Commission website for updates on the Comp Plan findings.

Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a good read on a cold, rainy night, and try to stay awake!

Neighborhood What???

Neighborhood Villages - Neighborhood Commons - Commercial Corners

What are they, and why should you care?

If you live in Lake Oswego and you like your neighborhood, you should care very much.  These 3 terms cropped up in the Comprehensive Plan and are poised to be approved as part of the the document that underlies all zoning and development codes in the city.  Important stuff, but can anyone out there define what these terms mean and what the physical manifestations of the concepts might be? 

The definitions for the new neighborhood designations are buried in the Comp Plan Part 1  (use the clean copy) at the end of a couple of sections: Economic Vitality (pg. 57-58) and Complete Neighborhoods and Housing (pg. 36).  You should ignore the Health Ecosystems for now - this section will be evaluated after the Sensitive Lands issue is resolved.  

The map for the proposed villages, commons and corners is about what you'd expect if you were looking to place commercial activity in neighborhoods - where commercial zones currently exist.  But the definitions suggest a much larger role for these areas that includes more apartments and shops to complement the goal of 20-minute neighborhoods throughout the city, and increased density within the commercial zones.  Even if the dots are not near your house - is this good for the livability of Lake Oswego?  

The combination of Neighborhood Villages and Commercial Corners have the capacity to put a wedge of density and commercial activity into residential areas like never before.  But what about Neighborhood Commons?  These sound harmless enough - in fact, some of the uses of local parks and schools described in the plan seem very desirable.  Until one considers what they really mean. 

Example of Neighborhood Commons:
Putting a farmers' market, community gardens or food carts in Westridge Park or at Westridge School?  I can't imagine that the neighbors would think it's a great thing to have vendors and customers come into the middle of their neighborhood to do business.  This isn't the middle ages where rural farmers and other vendors need to go to every small village to sell their wares to the citizenry.

Let's get a grip and move into the 21st Century please!  If getting people to the market is the goal, instead of sending vendors into the neighborhoods, why not take the people to the stores or to Farmers' Market?  The issue of connecting people with food in the city is a bad solution in need of a problem.  The thinking is only one way and only supports one theme - the 20-minute walkable neighborhood.  Whether we want it or not. 

It's time we fight the stereotype that we are lacking neighborhood identity and a sense of community just because we are a suburb.  Or that we don't walk or ride bikes, and that we can't get to the [healthy]  food source of our choice.  As a city, we aren't starving, we aren't obese, and we are very healthy.  Let's let go of Utopian city planning schemes and do what works for real people living in a real city, Lake Oswego. 

The City Council will hold a final Public Hearing on the first half of the Comp Plan on         November 5. You may go to the hearing to give testimony in person, but the best way to get your message to the council may be to write them a letter, then follow that up with public testimony on the hearing date.  It is never too early to write that letter!  Don't wait!  Your testimony must be received prior to the meeting.  Send it to the City Council, and include a cc for 

It is best if you read through the Comp Plan sections first, and then list the section and goal, policy or action item number that you are concerned about.  Let the council know your ideas - change of wording or format on something, or eliminate an item altogether.  What would you like to see changed and why?  If you have any questions, call Scot Siegel, Planning Director, at 503.699.7474, the lead planner on the project.  

Warning:  The document might be intimidating and confusing.  If it is, let your councilors know that too! 

This hearing is the last opportunity for citizens to speak up on this portion of the Comp Plan.  The tendency of the City Council is to approve whatever document they have before them on the same night they hear public testimony.  The timing is unreasonable and does not give adequate consideration to the thoughts and concerns that citizens bring forth.  It is my belief that the council should not make decisions on subjects that require a public hearing on the same night they hear testimony, otherwise it is an exercise in futility for the citizens who take the time to come.  But come anyway - it is your turn and your city needs you!

Wizer Block & Evergreen NA Meeting

Evergreen Neighborhood Association is holding a meeting on:

Evergreen Neighborhood Association Meeting
Monday, September 30
7:00 pm
Parish Hall, Our Lady of the Lake Church

The public is welcome to attend, but voting is restricted to neighborhood association members only.  On tap for the evening is a discussion about the Wizer Block development.  The developers, now called, Evergreen LLC, will be on hand, presumably to give a presentation and answer questions.

The development on the Wizer block has been controversial for it's height and sheer mass.  The buildings will be up to 5 stories high making it taller than Lake View Village.  The buildings will extend from curb to curb with some landscaping setbacks.  The size and shape of the complex is identical to Transportation Oriented Development (TOD) going on in cities across the nation.  Except for the application of the "Lake Oswego Style" facade (Oregon Rustic, Tudor, and Arts and Crafts), you wouldn't know where you were.

For anyone who hasn't had the opportunity to see the drawings and hear the developers and listen to the neighborhood concerns, this is your chance.  The preliminary plans have been approved and a development agreement signed with the city, so the next stop is a Public Hearing with the Design Review Commission in the near future.

It is my guess that the business plan for the apartments (and possibly some condos), is flawed.  But then I could be very wrong.  It doesn't seem likely that young professionals will want to live in the suburbs when all the action -- the mass of other young singles, brew pubs, entertainment, etc. -- is happening in Portland.  As for the well-off retiree who wants a luxury apartment - that's a distinct possibility, though there seems to be too many 1-bedroom units to accommodate the demanding needs of that niche.  And studies show that young families do move out of the central city for the 'burbs when they have children, but it is for the space offered by single family homes with a yard, not apartment living.  This will be an interesting project to watch develop.

For any apartment, large or small, luxury or modest, the most important part of being successful is the lease up.  If there are not enough clients due to price or demand, there will have to be adjustments in rent and tenant criteria to get the place filled.  That will set the tone of the complex for a long time to come.  This is what makes real estate development such a gamble, especially at the high end.

Here are some images of the Evergreen LLC proposed development - taken from photos I took at one of their meetings.

Site Plan - "A" Ave. on right
                                                 Left:  Tudor           Right: Rustic
                                                 Both:  Arts & Crafts (side and front)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tigard Tigers

Will the Tigard folks join the Clackistanis in their revolt against METRO's heavy-handed planning for rail transportation throughout the region?  The light rail (or other "high capacity transit") line to Sherwood looks like it may stall out at the Tigard City line.  This would be disastrous for the central planners at METRO.  The voters will have the last say on this, which is the way it should be everywhere.  Citizens should not have to go to the mats to fight their governments to have a say in how these huge, land use decisions are made.

One thing I noticed that was swept under the rug in LO is (perhaps) serious discussion of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) as an alternative.  The HUGE caveat here is the impact on surface streets:

In the Southwest Corridor, more than half of the entire route would need to be on a bus-only lane in order for the project to qualify for  federal New Starts funding.  

A hard pill to swallow.  Suburbanites will not give up their cars, nor should they have to, for a Federal Grant that comes with such nasty strings attached.  So who is trying to get us out of our cars - the Feds, the State, METRO, or cities?  Looks like they all have been drinking the same Kool-Aid.  The common denominator appears to be a concern for the environment.  More about that later.   Until then, congratulations to the Tigard Tigers for working hard to get the public an opportunity to have their say!

PS:  Note that on the METRO map shown in the Oregonian article, part of Lake Oswego is included in the Southwest Corridor Plan.

Just Guessing

Perhaps this is what Kensington has in mind for the WEB property.  Whatever they are planning, it would be nice to know.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How to Comment

Click on the small "No Comment" or ("# Comments") link in the bar under the post.  A new page will open with a box for you to add your comments.  If you want to see other's comments, click on the same "Comment" link.

Since I am still new at this and the program is still fighting me, I hope to have a better way to handle comments in the near future.  I prefer having the comments posted on the same page as the original post, but I may have to change to another program to do that. If anyone has experience with blogs, let me know what might work.   

Please add a screen name.  You do not need to use your real name, but please be consistent about using the same name with all your posts.

Rules on comments are to use common sense.  If you don't know what that is, you might find your comments deleted.  I could give you a list of rules, but thinking adults shouldn't need them.

One last thing - I like hearing what others have to offer on a subject.  I already know what I think, so if you have something to add to the discussion, please do so.

If you are making a statement, make sure it is factual and that you can back it up.
Well reasoned opinions are welcome too.
If you have ideas or information to pass on, please email me at:  upsuckercreek@gmail.com


WEB Redux (Re-do?)

The City Council heard testimony at a Public Hearing last night on whether or not to sell the WEB building and the 14 acres of property it sits on.  It is the largest tract of land in the city and is situated on a major thoroughfare in close proximity to the I-5 freeway.   Many citizens testified both for and against an immediate sale of the property.  The main themes were:
  • Keep the property - there aren't any more large pieces of land in case the city needs to expand their facilities (city hall, police and 911 call center, library, meeting rooms, etc.).
  • There is no long range plan for what facilities the city will need in the future, so hold the property until a firm plan is formulated.
  • Sell the property as soon as possible.  It should never have been purchased in the first placee and has been a financial drag on the city ever since.  
  • Sell the property, all city services should be kept downtown anyway (except police, 911 call center and facilities maintenance - Lake Grove can have those).
  • We can't afford the WEB or remodeling or replacing current facilities - make do with what we have.  
  • Do whatever is financially responsible.  The Budget Committee has not looked at the financial side, and one speaker said the property may not have been widely advertised for the best offers.
  • Shouldn't we know what the buyer wants to do with the property before we sell it?
The City Council decided unanimously to hold off on a decision to sell until the next council meeting on October 8.  Everyone hopes that they will give a rationale to either keep or sell the property that takes into account current and future needs of the city and options that make sense. 

So what DOES Kensington Investment Group want to do with the property?  At this point it's anyone's guess, but here is a list of property types the company is looking to acquire:

  • Existing or ground up development of single tenant, multi tenant strip or anchor with credit focused tenancy
  • Strong location on major vehicular or pedestrian throughfares
  • Core, secondary or tertiary markets
  • Strong Job or population growth oriented markets
  • Minimum – 100 units
  • Core or strong secondary markets
  • Class A or B properties
  • Minimum –100 rooms
  • Secondary or tertiary markets
  • Flagged or flaggable properties
Ideal size range: $5 – $50 million


It's over!  Finally.

You can put your popcorn and beverages away for another day.  While the outcome was not the edge-of-your-seat experience I expected, it doesn't mean everything went smoothly.  Jon Gustafson did some hand-wringing, and Donna Jordan took herself out of the fray altogether by abstaining on all votes pertaining to the election of a new councilor.  These events were surprising and left the field open for a solid win in a 4-1 vote.

As the Sole Survivor of the night, we congratulate Lauren Hughes and expect great things from her time in office.  Only time will tell if this was a good thing or not for Lauren, but the city is getting a great councilor nonetheless.

But don't go just yet!  There are upcoming events that will need your full attention and participation.  So put on your reading glasses and get cracking on the Comp Plan Part 1 (see upcoming post on the Comp Plan hearing) and be ready to testify at the City Council Public Hearing on the doc.  Your city needs you.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Nobedan is a style of Japanese paving for long stone path segments using cut stone, natural stone, or a mixture.

This post has nothing to do with Nobedan, but it shows that one can run into problems with New Urbanism anywhere these days. 

 I was at a Nobedan path-building class over the weekend and wound up sitting between a retired city planner from Eugene and a newly minted landscape architect from UC Berkeley. The conversation between them was mainly about sustainability with assumed agreement on everything related to urbanism and smart-growth and the color of the sky.  Suburbia is anathema to architects, planners and their cohorts, and I am a suburbanite, a person who represents all that is wrong with the world.   By my cheerful comments about being an unrepentant suburbanite, I did not make any friends that morning; clearly I did not fit into their club.

But I am not a minority in what I think and how I feel.  Our cities, and the discussion about what society should do to be sustainable, or even what the definition of sustainable is, has been hijacked by a powerful group of adherents to the New Urbanism code.  Here is an article that explains the division between how city planners work against the population they are supposed to serve.

The chasm is wide, and the stakes are high.  What is best for some people is not right for others.  Should we all live according to design policies promoted by people who aren't a part of our club?

Love It or List It

To sell or not sell the WEB property? 

The city has agreed to a LOI (letter of intent) to sell the WEB Building for $16.5 million.  However, before the deal becomes final, two hurdles must be crossed, either one of which could kill the deal. 

Decision 1: The city council must decide if it their wish to actually sell the property. 

Decision 2:  the zoning must be changed from CR&D (Campus Research and Design) to GC (General Commercial). 

Either question has consequences for the future of Lake Oswego.  What is missing from the equation though is any kind of a plan for what the city wants to do with its own needs for facilities over the long term, and how or if the WEB property might fit into those plans.  Without such a plan, the council will be shooting in the dark and may hit the target, or miss it wildly, but won't know until some time in the future. They will be crossing their fingers that their decision will be right, but not know why. 

This seems to be the disastrous way the decision was made to purchase the building in the first place.  The city, under the helm of then-mayor, Judie Hammerstad, jumped to purchase the building when it came up for sale without a clear plan about what to do with the property.  In her State of the City address January, 2008, Hammerstad was still speculating on possible uses for the property. 

From the Oregonian, 10/19/07
LAKE OSWEGO -- This time last year, city councilors seemed almost giddy as they announced an unusually bold purchase: $20 million for the former Safeco Insurance building on Kruse Way.

Mayor Judie Hammerstad called it "the opportunity of a lifetime" and said she hoped to turn the 88,872-square-foot building into a community center. Even before the city had signed the final paperwork, she said a community center could be a wonderful project to showcase the Lake Oswego's centennial in 2010. 

Neither the decision to purchase the WEB property in 2006 or to sell it 7 years later was or is being done with a public vote.  After the fact, the purchase was narrowly approved by voters, albeit with no bonding to cover the debt.  The vote was contentious and the issue over public ownership of the property has been a stone in the shoe of citizens ever since. 

At this point, in the latter part of 2013, the city owns the property, and the question isn't to purchase it or not, it's do we keep it or not?  On the face of it, and considering its history, the knee jerk decision is, Hell Yes!  But wait.  Emotion aside, this one of the last large tracts of property in LO and many of our current public buildings might need to be replaced.

So can this white elephant turn out to be an asset to the taxpayers after all?  Is it cheaper and more efficient to operate all of city functions out of one building than remodel or rebuild the current city hall or build a new library downtown when space exists in Lake Grove?  There are money concerns no matter what decision is made - which one is right for LO - and more importantly, WHY?  (Wish they'd have answered that in the first place!) 

Give the council your 2 cents about selling or keeping the WEB at a Public Hearing on Tuesday night, September 24, at 7 pm in City Hall.  Formal testimony can also be written and sent to the City Council.  Go to:  City Council webpage and look for a link under Contact Information in the menu bar.  If the decision on Tuesday night is Sell It, the second decision about zoning will be the next step.

A less formal way to give your opinion in a non-scientific survey is through an online comment process called Open City Hall.  You can find a link on the City's home page, or go here:  Peak Democracy

Tell the Council what you think - keep or sell, AND what do you think the long-range plan for the city should be?  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Survivor: Lake Oswego!

SURVIVOR: Lake Oswego!

It plays like a reality game show.  The contestants were pared down to a select few, and then the semi-finalists were invited to interview before the Tribal Council.  In the first episode, the Council members had to select two of the four semi-finalists to continue to the final round. 

But...   During the voting process, it was obvious that alliances were in play, and it became an evenly split vote among the top two finalists, with 3 of the 6 judges aligning themselves with a different candidate. 

This was a game changer that could threaten the whole franchise!  The drama was high - the producers, sponsors and viewers were sweating - what would the Tribal Council do?  This had never happened before!  The buzz and the press coverage continued for days.  The first episode was a smash hit

The second episode of Survivor: Lake Oswego! airs on Tuesday night, September 24, at 7 pm, and is expected to get a high viewer turnout.  Viewers may see the action unfold at ground zero, City Hall (come early for best seating), or sit at home with popcorn and a favorite beverage and watch the action live on TVCTV or streaming from your computer See link for more information:  http://www.ci.oswego.or.us/citycouncil/watch-meetings-online-and-cable-tv   

This game has a lot of back story and intrigue as each player's supporters work to get their favorite player to be the Sole Survivor.  Who stands to win the big-money prize at the end and who will be the Castaway?  You'll have to watch and see!  Root for your favorite, or just watch the action unfold... either way, it's going to be an exciting ride to the finish!