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Parker home controversy once again is heating up

by: Lee van der Voo, These two retaining walls on the shores of a luxury development on Oswego Lake are once again putting developer Jeff Parker at odds with the city of Lake Oswego. Neighbors say the city has bent too many rules for Parker and needs to take a stand.

City officials are talking tough with the developer of a controversial home on North Shore Road but neighbors of the luxury home, owned by West Linn developer Jeff Parker, say Lake Oswego isn't standing firm enough on ongoing violations on the site.

At issue are two separate retaining walls, above which the Parker home will stand. The scope and scale of those walls were among a few key issues that, three years ago, triggered intense debate over how big is too big for houses on Oswego Lake.

Now, the issue is back again and neighbors opposed to the project say city officials bartered away an agreement that would have required the home to top a slope above the lake.

Without the agreement, the Parker home will sit above the sheer face of two retaining walls just a few feet from the lake. As construction unfolds, the house - which topped 12,000 square feet in the latest plans - is poised to stand on 10 feet of concrete walls that were supposed to be shorter, set farther apart and landscaped to soften the view.

Those who battled Parker on the size and scope of this house say city officials bartered away the agreement in final negotiations. They made their own deal with Parker March 7 to avoid a public hearing before the Lake Oswego City Council, during which more than 100 people were scheduled to testify.

The outcome of the hearing could have stalled the project and had the potential to spawn legal battles for the city itself. Negotiators both outside and inside the city worked hard to avoid council action on the dispute. More than $10,000 in public money was spent on a mediator while the public hearing was delayed six times. Now, the settlement made March 7 has neighbors of the Parker project - all members of the Forest Hills Easement Association, the closest neighbor east of the project - questioning how far the city will bend to satisfy the developer and shut down the controversy.

Sheree Tuppan, who sits on the board of directors for the FHEA, said she didn't realize city officials had the power to bend rules and was stunned by what she called 'the unilateral veto power by the city manager' who played a key role in the March 7 settlement.

'I feel rather naïve that I didn't realize the city manager position had that power,' Tuppan said. 'Maybe we should have been talking to him from day one.'

City Manager Doug Schmitz chose not to comment on Tuppan's statements.

Currently, all Lake Oswegans must limit the height of retaining walls to four feet, and separate multiple walls by five feet of landscaping. The rule promotes green hillsides where retaining walls stagger up sloped lots, typically around the lake. But Parker, who began applying for building permits before the rule was in place, agreed to follow it years later only through negotiations, an agreement that was steadily reinforced by city planners.

That agreement was later waived by city officials while negotiating on behalf of the city March 7. In the settlement reached that night, those officials agreed to be flexible about the spacing between retaining walls, as long as Parker would landscape the space in between them.

But what's proven true on the waterfront has also proven true in word for this developer: The gray area just keeps getting broader.

In a letter to Parker dated Aug. 8, a city code enforcer cautioned that the promise of flexibility on space between the retaining walls was contingent on Parker's 'willingness to create a landscaped area between the two walls in order to screen the upper wall and break up the visual impact of having two four-foot walls next to each other.'

The letter notes one of the two walls is six feet high, two feet higher than the regulated four feet - a city requirement to which Parker would be bound regardless of the settlement. It also notes that Parker has no building permit for the second retaining wall.

The letter questions how Parker intends to landscape the narrow space between the two walls and the seawall without sloughing materials into the lake. It calls for detailed plans by Wednesday afternoon to avoid legal action by the city.

Shelley Lorenzen, a member of FHEA who represented the Country Club/North Shore Neighborhood Association in opposition to the home, said the threat of legal action isn't enough and that city officials need to stand firm on ongoing code violations at the Parker site.

'I'm disappointed that they're not taking a stronger position and I'm concerned about what he might propose that might be satisfactory to them,' Lorenzen said. 'They're giving him the opportunity to show how his wall meets code and this is typical of what they do, rather than just saying it's six feet tall, it can only be four feet, change it … instead letting him tell them how it does meet code, which is ridiculous.'

As trust with the city wanes, FHEA members questioned why their representatives make deals with Parker at all. They also waived $6,406 in fines for tree code violations as part of the settlement reached March 7.

With an additional $28,555 in fines pending for tree code violations, Lorenzen said she hopes the city will seek the maximum penalty to compensate the public for the deliberate loss of a tree. She said the money also goes to reimburse taxpayers for time spent on policing the North Shore site.

Parker will stand trial on the tree code violations in Lake Oswego Municipal Court, 380 A Ave., Aug. 28 at 9 a.m.