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Things change on the farm

New Luscher Farm proposal unveiled

The stage seemed set for battle Tuesday night, and as the Lake Oswego City Council hammered through a few basics on its meeting agenda, about 100 people waited quietly for their turn to talk, many with signs pinned to their shirts advertising support for either dogs or farms.

At issue for those waiting was whether a city redesign of Luscher Farm, a 90-acre farm complex on the south side of the city, would address the needs of three groups competing for space there: Dog park supporters, sports enthusiasts and advocates for community farming.

But a new city plan unveiled before testimony began appeared to resolve issues for all three groups, at least for now.

A redesign on two parcels recently annexed to Luscher Farm will include space for one athletic field and two dog parks, pulling a proposed expansion of the dog park north and away from land currently farmed to produce organic vegetables for local families.

The redesign came with a promise from Mayor Judie Hammerstad, who told the audience, 'We will still have a CSA and we will still have a community garden and we will still have areas that are dedicated to fresh produce.'

For farm supporters, the news was good. Organized as the Friends of Farming at Luscher Farm, they recently launched a campaign to raise awareness about the CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program, and about Lake Oswego's plan to end the program and shift agricultural land at Luscher Farm to other uses.

The CSA occupies 10 acres along Rosemont Road at Luscher Farm and grows more than 200 varieties of organic vegetables for about the same number of families in Lake Oswego and West Linn. The crops are available to individuals or families who purchase shares through the program. Recently, the city of Lake Oswego announced plans to end a contract with the farm's operator in 2007. But Hammerstad said Tuesday the city would continue some form of sharecropping at the farm, though the city may choose a different contractor for the program.

Parks officials said months ago that the decision to end the CSA contract was geared to make room for other, non-agricultural uses at Luscher Farm. A 1997 master plan of the farm showed the site ultimately converting to a sports complex with some historic farm features, including a small orchard, educational center and a section for farm animals.

'You've thrown us all for a bit of a loop,' said Diane Besser, a farm supporter, who was pleased by the mayor's remarks and the new plan.

Many farm supporters at the meeting still stepped up to testify in support of continuing agriculture at the Luscher Farm. Several expressed frustration with a process that, throughout the summer, left them out of talks about the redesign. Representatives of the Palisades Neighborhood Association echoed concerns about the civic process - which targeted stakeholders in a redesign of the northwest corner of the park.

Those meetings tapped the Palisades Neighborhood Association's board, but not the neighborhood itself. Board directors who spoke Tuesday said they still aren't sure whether there is neighborhood consensus on whether farms, fields and a dog park should move forward.

Both dog park supporters and sports advocates did weigh in as stakeholders in a plan for the newly annexed corner of the park, brought in by a vote of Lake Oswego residents in September. The recently annexed land, 13.81 acres, is mostly city-owned and was annexed in preparation for development. Many sports advocates saw an 81 percent public approval of the annexation as an endorsement of field construction there.

With the new plan introduced Tuesday, construction of at least one athletic field will move forward. City support for continued agriculture at Luscher Farm does raise some question about how much of its 1997 master plan will be retained and how many fields Luscher may ultimately support.

City Councilor Jack Hoffman, who served on the master plan task force in 1990, expressed apprehension Tuesday about what he considered the wavering status of the plan.

'I'm concerned about making sure that we either follow up … or we revise the master plan, but the so-called piecemeal chipping away of the master plan is a concern for me,' Hoffman said.

Other council members, including Hammerstad, called for a revision of the 9-year-old plan, since temporary uses on Luscher Farm land, like the CSA, have changed the public's perception about what's needed there.

That revision might prove less tricky than this most recent redesign, since dog park enthusiasts have now seen their needs met. That group will get two enclosed dog areas in the plan, one 1.6 acres connected over wetland by a bridge leading to an additional 1.1 acres. Dog park advocates were pleased with the change and an opportunity to continue to meet at Luscher Farm.

'I don't think I've ever felt such a sense of community as I do at that dog park,' said Sally Evertz.

So far, it's unclear how much conflict will exist on the remaining land at Luscher Farm.