Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Denial "..if the people really understood..."

 "If I'm angry at anything, I'm angry at the staff of the city, because the  
 staff  should know, and they're trying to ram this thing through.  And  I        
 think if the  people really understood what they're trying to ram             
 through, there'd be a lot of angry people in Lake Oswego," said              
 resident   Barry Cain.                                                                                                                                       
Note:  Barry Cain is the developer and owner of Lake View Village and Kruse Way Village.
KOIN TV  7/31/2014  Headline article and video.  

The DRC voted 3-2 to deny the application for development of the Wizer Block.

At first it like watching a game of hot potato with commissioners tossing the debate back and forth, tentative about his or her opinions and the meaning of the codes.  Chair Needham led with a strong and clear review of the basis of the code within the Downtown Redevelopment Overlay.  While there are development codes that apply to the entire city, the overlay codes take precedence within the district.  It was the purpose of the Redevelopment Plan itself that played  pivotal role in determining the outcome of the decision.

East End Redevelopment Plan   Page 21 excerpts below, see also diagrams in sections 3 & 4 that show specific design districts in the plan that show where each area type is.
1.  Urban Design Plan Objectives 
The Lake Oswego East End Redevelopment Plan adopted Area-Wide and Specific Area Ojectives.
1.3  Create a high density, compact shopping district to serve as the retail core of the East End Redevelopment Area.  
1.9  Create areas for high density housing to provide greater intensity of use of the retail core, cultural and recreational facilities. 

Starting with the purpose statement and moving to overlay codes that require first floor retail that support the shopping core, siting and mass, the stage was set for discussion of the merits of the design.

The video of the meeting  is on the city website, but be prepared for a mini-series-length viewing of about 5 hours.

The main arguments against the development plan were that it did not fulfill the requirement to create a compact shopping district, nor did its mass fit a small scale village character.  Walking into the interior passageways was uncomfortable after the initial commercial area at the entrance on 1st St.  The private, residents-only areas dominated the first floor and one pathway, leading from Evergreen to the center was too narrow to invite public strolling and there was no opportunity for window  shopping as required.  Simply put, there was nothing much public about the interior spaces save for offices that were not a destinations that supported pedestrian-oriented, retail activities.

The main argument supporting the development was that economic conditions, market studies and the ability to secure bank loans were more important than the code they were there to interpret.  Since the applicant had made a sincere effort, to meet all requirements, the design should be approved.

I was dismayed to hear a commissioner argue that he believed in the rule of law, yet argued against following the code in favor of meeting the developer's economic needs.  How many times have I heard, if you don't like the codes, change them.  But until they are changed, they are the rule of law.

I'm the end, the structures were determined to be too big, too massive to be small scale village character, and the development was essentially an apartment complex with retail tacked on rather the other way around.  The spaces were not divided or inviting to the public and failed to meet code. Cconditions could not correct the flaws because they came from the design itself.  As Commissioner Needham said, sometimes a design is presented that is flawed from the start because it was not designed with the intent of the codes in mind.  In this case, it appeared that the developer designed an apartment complex with some retail around some of the edges, instead of  main level retail with some housing above.

No doubt the decision will be appealed to the City Council which is on hiatus until September, but may meet earlier to hear the case.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Land use hanky panky?

What's going on in City Hall?

During the City Council meeting last night (July 29, 2014), several citizens spoke to the council about their problems with some form of what they perceive is abuse of city code and possibly state records law.

You may watch the clip of this portion of the meeting by going to the meeting website and under the video image, click on the item you are interested in - in this case it is Number 7.

Wizer-Block Testimony:

The first citizen to speak is John Bell.  Mr. Bell gave powerful graphic testimony to the DRC regarding the Wizer Block development last Thursday night.  On Monday, at the beginning of the two-day public testimony portion of the meeting, Mr. Bell gave his power point to the clerk to make sure it would work properly.  He was assured he could retrieve it if he didn't testify that evening.  Since the testimony ran long and he couldn't speak that day, Mr. Bell requested to have his presentation removed so he could make changes and it hadn't been officially entered into evidence or given an exhibit number.

The Deputy City Attorney, Evan Boone intervened and told him that the presentation was evidence and could not be given back.  Watch the video for the rest of the story.  

At issue is whether or not Mr. Bell had the right to take his testimony back, and whether or not the city was required to keep it.  It is more complicated than that, but in it's simplest form, I have to wonder why, on Thursday when all parties were present (Mr. Bell, Mr. Boone, and Ms. White), were they allowed to agree to destroy what was supposed to be a public record?  I have many other questions about who was the hearings officer, who makes the final decision on testimony, etc., but the idea of a small group of people deciding to destroy records that are claimed to be of public interest is serious matter.

Hallinan Subdivision at Question:

Two members of the Hallinan neighborhood testified about a subdivision being allowed a ministerial approval for development.  They have presented evidence why the development is not ministerial in nature and that development codes have been ignored in approving the application.  The decision by city staff is final and does not allow for appeal or recourse of any kind.  It is meant for cases where there are clear and objective code requirements, but not for major and other types of development.

The neighborhood asserts that the new subdivision should be handled like other developments of similar size with appropriate notice and hearings, and be responsible for road improvements like other developments are required to do.  They make a very good point.  At this time there is little the City Council can do about the subdivision since all decisions regarding the lad use application were mistrial.

The codes that govern which decisions should be ministerial or up for review are in the hearing phase - just one City Council hearing away from approval.  Get involved people - or there may be nothing left for citizens to be involved in at all!  Listen to neighbor comments using the same link for the meeting video above.


What kind of parking should developers provide in Lake Oswego?  Should there be any modifications for less parking for more density?  It doesn't make sense.  Unless we give in and resign ourselves to being another clone of all the nice, quaint towns that have been gobbled up by the density crowd with their big-ass blocks of apartments, we need to change the codes.

We do have a few protections now, but conflicting codes that permit lowering the parking requirement need to be eliminated.  Perhaps one can make the argument that current codes that modify parking requirements are illegal because they no longer conform to the updated Comprehensive Plan?  

Existing codes and statistics: (not a complete list!) 

The main goal of the 2014 Lake Oswego Comprehensive Plan for a Town Center is to:

  • “Provide a full range of economic development opportunities that enhance prosperity and livability.”

Goal F. Livability (from the Transportation System Plan) states:
  • F3 “Minimize the impacts of traffic generated through new commercial development on adjoining neighborhoods.”
  • F7“ Commercial and industrial parking should not intrude into adjacent residential neighborhoods.” Goal G. Sustainability
  • G-5. “Ensure that an adequate supply of parking is provided to support economic activity while balancing the need to drive, take transit, and bike and walk to and within employment centers, town centers and neighborhood villages.” 

From the Updated Comprehensive Plan:
  • Development shall "provide adequate parking"

From a parking study done in 2010 for LORA by Rick Williams Consulting:
  • Parking demand is about 1.88 stalls per 1,000 square feet 
  • Lots of available stalls, but most parking is private/accessory (need “shared uses”)
  • Need to get downtown employees off-street and Park & Riders out of downtown 
  • Majority (80+ percent) of off-street supply (availability) in private control 
The majority of the study builds data to recommend a distinctly urban solution drawn from the Portland Plan - to limit parking; get employees to use transit and not park in downtown at all; share parking with owners of private lots (though I don't know what the city's part of the shared arrangement would be - tax dollars to assist more developers?); to limit surface parking lots and perhaps ban them outright; and more.  

The big push is to build a parking garage with Urban Renewal funds (public debt) for the benefit of downtown land owners and developers who should take care of parking themselves for the privilege of building here.  Build enough on-site spaces or contribute to a public garage with the same number of spaces.

From the 2010 U.S. Census, American Community Survey:
Number of vehicles per household in Lake Oswego:  1.7
(Note:  if the Wizer development, as designed, were required to provide the amount of parking needed for the typical Lake Oswego household, they would have to build 439 spaces.)

From the 2012 U.S. Census, American Community Survey:

How people get to work:
80.6% go by automobile
71.2% drive alone
  9.4% carpool
  6.4% work at home
  6.2% take public transit
  3.5% walk
  2.3% bicycle
  0.9% taxicab! motorcycle, or other means

Listen to us, the people

The 5th meeting of the DRC public hearing regarding the controversial Wizer Block development permit application will be held tonight.  The testimony portion of the hearing is closed, and the Commissioners will now begin deliberations over the approval or denial of the application.

I was going to write about parking, or maybe the private rather than public nature of the buildings, perhaps the huge mass of the buildings with the pretty faces, or any number of ways the developers have flaunted or disabused our codes to meet their needs.  They did not succeed in meeting the most important one - that is to blend any new development into the fabric of our village core to meet the goals of the Redevelopment Plan and the desire of the people for a small-scaled town.

Among the many, many letters in opposition to the Wizer Big Block development is one by a frequent commenter to this blog, Gerry Good (Exhibit G-469).  I believe that his letter to the DRC is better than anything I could write.  Since his is a three-page letter, I have printed only the last few paragraphs.

Villages usually have shops not large amounts of residences in their core. The center of the village is where people come to shop, eat, gather, talk, etc., not live. 

To me then the proposed project just does not fit with our “village character” no matter to architectural accommodations as required by the code. Therefore I urge you to not approve this project based on the “village character” factor alone. It does not fit our “village” as I have shown in this statement

But I want to also ask you to understand where I believe our planning staff is coming from and why they are encouraging you to “approve” this proposal. As a citizen, looking at the approval process for Lake View Village, I found that staff actively worked with citizens particularly the neighborhoods to make the project acceptable. There were only two people who testified at the Lake View Village review by your predecessor body the Presidents of the two neighborhoods affected by the project, First Addition and Evergreen. Each testified in support of the project! Not so today. Those same two people will speak against this proposal I believe as will many others 

Why is this happening? I believe it is because city staff no longer sees itself as the citizens’ advocates, there to represent the will of the citizens. City staff apparently has its own agenda which closely represents the agenda of Metro for more dense population within the urban growth boundary. Therefore, city staff if they have not already, will tell you “village character” does not apply; it stands in the way of their agenda and they have recently tried to have the term removed from the code. Ignore them; if it is in the code it applies.

In closing, I implore you to listen to us, the people of Lake Oswego and not take “direction” from City staff. You represent us; you do not work for staff, and you have the right to refuse this project on a broad array of grounds as I am sure many who testify will tell you, on terms much more technical than those I have used.

However, I want to ask you in closing to not approve this project quite simply because it does not fit with “village character”.

Gerry Good 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Survey makes a point

Survey says it all

Here is an interesting survey that says something about what biggest issues Lake Oswego is facing.  As confirmed by other local surveys the top issues are 1) government spending and 2) infrastructure repairs.  The least important issue was downtown revitalization (1%).  

DHM Research |Lake OwegoTigard Water Partnership Survey, February 2010 

Table 1
Biggest Issue Facing City

Response Category
Total N=600
LO Serv. Area N=300
Tigard Serv. Area N=300
Infrastructure repairs- roads/sidewalks/street lights
Traffic congestion
Government spending
High taxes
Education- general
Education funding
Parks and recreation
Do something with West End building
Development/construction in areas
Fixing I-99
Public transit- light rail/buses
Protecting the environment
Business development
Job creation
Land zoning/planning
Listening to citizens
Downtown revitalization
Fixing sewer system
Balancing budget
Building community center
All other responses
1% or less
1% or less
1% or less
Don’t know
Source: Davis, Hibbitts, & Midghall, Inc. (DHM), February 2010 

Meetings this week

City Council Meeting:

The City Council is meeting today at 4:30 pm - a change from their typical start time.  For anyone interested in going to the meeting, please take note of the time.  The meeting agenda is HERE.

DRC Meeting:

The Development Review Commission hearing on the Wizer Block development will continue on Wednesday, July 30 (tomorrow) at 6:00 pm in the Council Chambers.  The public hearing is closed to testimony and the commissioners will deliberate on the testimony they have received and make a decision on the development application.

Meeting Agenda and Staff Report

Project Page with Exhibits

Wizer Block Development - LORA Page

There should be one page for all exhibits - citizens should not have to hunt for key documents from different departments in order to be informed.  If you want to review all documents for this project, you must access both the Planning website and the LORA website.

Community Development Code Changes:

There will be more critical code updates and changes coming this summer.  The first public hearing before the Planning Commission on Nonconforming uses and Variances was last night, but there is much more to come.  If you have any interest in the community development codes that are the basis for all development decisions in the city, you must start NOW to read the code changes, understand what they mean, and make suggestions to the Planning Commission about what you would like to see.  Watch the city calendar to see when code planning is mentioned for a meeting item and stay current with issues as they develop.

The CDCs (Community Development Codes) can be extremely difficult to understand and may be even more difficult to comprehend how they might affect downtown development, infill development in your neighborhood, or how and where the city develops in general.  If you need help deciphering the codes, call the planning department and talk to your neighbors.  Let everyone know about what is being planned for the future of our city!    Your voice is needed!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Density AND Parking in the Pearl!

How do they do it?  When did developers begin to realize that people own and drive cars - and need and want parking?  This smart developer is leading the way.  It is odd to me that the 28-story tower (plus lower story buildings on the same block) will cost only $110 million, about 12 million more than the proposed Wizer block apartments, and will be sold  in the $650 per sf range.

When will Lake Oswego give up its theory-based concepts of limiting parking to a more progressive approach to codes that acknowledges the reality of car ownership.  People's behavior cannot be engineered as easily as the textbooks claim, so it is logical to work with what you have, not what you want.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — With 150 units, the biggest residential project in all of Portland will rise 28 stories high in the Pearl District. (Video on website)
The as-yet-unnamed condominium complex is being built by Hoyt Properties between NW 10th and 11th and between Northrup and Overton.

Tiffany Sweitzer, the president of Hoyt Properties, in her Portland office, July 24, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Tiffany Sweitzer, the president of Hoyt Properties, in her Portland office, July 24, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

When it’s completed in 2016, it will rise nine stories taller than the current tallest building in the Pearl.
“We thought we could go a little bit taller if we had a smaller footprint,” said Tiffany Sweitzer, the president of Hoyt Properties. “The building is tall, yes, in 28 stories, but it’s also very slender. So that helps with our neighboring buildings in terms of views and  shadowing.”
Each condo will have one parking spot per bedroom, she said.
[Kathy] MacNaughton said the average sales price for Pearl District condos is up significantly from a year ago to $554,500, or $460 per square foot. The average listing price is closer to $716,000, or $515 per square foot.
For Block 15, the plan is for entry-level prices of $650 per square foot. Hoyt Street Properties in February was nearing agreement with Wells Fargo on terms for an approximately $108 million loan for the project, having already ushered the development through design review.

DJC: April 5, 2013

Hoyt Street’s tower design draws raves

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Botanical sculptures in space

Japanese artist Makoto Azuma launches 

beautiful plants into stratosphere

For his project 'Exobiotanica,' artist Makoto Azuma of Japan headed to the Nevada Black Rock Desert to launch a 50-year-old Japanese white pine bonsai into the stratosphere.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Testimonial Truth-O-Meter

A supporter of the Big Box Block 137 development made some remarks last Monday at the DRC hearing.  He questioned the criticisms of opponents and said they weren't true.  But what was his proof to the contrary?  Of course he gave none.  It is easier to smear people with lies than the truth.  According to my own Truth-O-Meter (research), he was wrong.  The stats are below.

He said: No proof that a "majority of people don't want high density in Lake Oswego (downtown)."
Truth:  Community Vision and Values Survey (September 2010) by We Love Lake Oswego - visioning for the city's Comprehensive Plan.
  • 69% valued a "small town feel" after "safety" (82%) and "quality schools" (78%).  "Good shopping" came in last at 16%
  • Citizens did not want Lake Oswego to be a "shopping destination" (4%) or "tourist destination" (2%).  Top desired attributes were "quality schools" (70%) and "family friendly" (48%).
He said:  Questioned percentage of dogs renters might have.
Truth:  "Apartments Fit For a Dog (or a Cat)" Multi Housing News, January 29, 2014
  • 36% of American households own dogs, and 30.4% own cats.  (It might be interesting to see if Portland bears the national average.)
He said:  Stated that renters take just as good care of their units as condo owners.
Truth:  Quote from Patrick Kessi, NW Examiner, September 2009
  • "It [renting condo units] devalues the other units in the building," Said Kessi.  "There's definitely a difference in a building that's all owned.  There's a difference in the way people treat a building."

Different treatment by city staff?

What will the future of Lake Oswego?

Development Review Commission schedules Wizer Block deliberations for July 30

After two nights of public comment, the panel is set to decide on controversial project 

Lake Oswego Review (online)  |  Friday, July 26  |  by Saundra Sorensen
Text in red is mone.

Supporters and opponents of a redevelopment proposal for downtown Lake Oswego's Block 137 have had their say, and now the project is in the hands of the Development Review Commission.
After two nights of public comment, the panel is set to decide on controversial projectAfter a five-hour hearing Monday night and three more hours of public testimony on Wednesday, the DRC is set to meet again on July 30 to decide whether to approve the Evergreen Group’s proposal for a 290,000-square-foot, mixed-use development at the corner of A Avenue and First Street.

Different treatment for different developers?

Anne Meneakis, who lives in the Evergreen neighborhood and headed the Evergreen Neighborhood Association while Lake View Village was being considered, detailed what she saw as key differences between the two projects.
“Contrary to the center of the proposed Wizer development, which serves only private purposes, the parking structure in the center of Block 138 serves as an aesthetically concealed public parking structure, which serves the larger community,” Meneakis said. “I respectfully request the Wizer Block developer be equally required to reduce his project's mass and so comply with the code of a community of small structures, just as Gramor was required to do and so complied.”

You can't rebut a rebuttal.  When testimony sounds like PR, that's too bad

Three hours into Wednesday's hearing, Evergreen Group representatives presented their rebuttal, with Gene Sandoval of ZGF Architects saying that the “we believe that Block 137 is the right project."
“It is consistently complementary to the mission of Lake Oswego codes and guidelines," Sandoval said, "and is the recommendation of your city staff.”
Sandoval said Evergreen's redesigned plans for the Wizer Block would give downtown Lake Oswego a feel akin to that of a European city. The design “meets all criteria for village character you have developed for decades,” he said. The plans are "respectful of your code and its intent. It is a good neighbor. It has the village character of this city."

* * * * * * *
The problem is that Kessi's team has consistently twisted city codes to suit their needs and have intentionally presented their outsized design as having "village character"  just because it meets certain numerical codes.  Opponents do not agree.  There are a number of codes they have chosen to slide by the DRC by tacking a pretty face on a solid block of apartments.  They are loathe to make concessions on the bulk of the rentable floor space which would make this design more tolerable.  Size does not equal village character, and no matter how many times they claim otherwise, their project does not fit Lake Oswego.