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Caution sets the tone for Lake Grove folks

Business owner Nathan Spaccareli is wary of the city
by: Lee van der Voo, Nathan Spaccarelli, owner of Café Marzocca, is also the exclusive distributor of illy coffee in the Northwest. His repeated struggles with city code make him leery of the Lake Grove Village Center Plan and other city-sponsored plans.

Nathan Spaccarelli, like many Lake Grove business owners, is wary.

A proposed plan that sets standards for redevelopment in Lake Grove could call for a center median on Boones Ferry Road, blocking left turns into Café Marzocca, where he sells coffee and other beverages alongside his father's wine shop.

But for Spaccarelli, it isn't just a study of the plan's economic impacts that's been missing from the public process aimed at implementing it. The big omission, he said, is public trust.

'Why should we at all trust everything that the city is trying to put here when the pattern has always been adversarial?' he said.

Spaccarelli said local businesses have a history of disagreements with the city of Lake Oswego, including disputes over an upgraded sign code that forced more than 100 businesses to make costly improvements in recent years.

Plans for modest improvements to his café have resulted in his own struggles with city hall. He said multiple visits to the city planning department never yielded solid advice about how he could replace invasive ivy with a patio. Ultimately, Spaccarelli did the job on his own, then got approval after the work was done. He sought help from the city planning department four times before going ahead.

'There's never, ever been an experience with the city that's been helpful,' Spaccarelli said.

He said the 'interpretive' nature of city code subjects commercial property owners to the whims of those interpreting, sometimes to a degree that seems arbitrary and confusing.

Lake Oswego City Planner Denny Egner said he didn't know the specifics of Spaccarelli's problems but that the city's planning department does its best to move projects forward while following the law.

'I think we're all willing to try to make things work for folks,' he said. 'There are sections of the code that require some discretion but generally where there's discretion involved there's a process that goes with it,' including public appeals.

Yet Spaccarelli said improvements at his father's restaurant next door, Riccardo's, have yielded similar results from city planners.

He said the family was prevented from applying stucco over the building's stone-face but allowed a stucco patio. At a separate Boones Ferry address, limitations on redevelopment on a lot owned by Spaccarelli were so confusing, he said, that he abandoned plans to use the site for use for his distribution business. He instead worked out another solution to a growing need for space.Spaccarelli notes other disagreements along the Boones Ferry corridor as evidence of a rift between city hall and business, one that makes him nervous about any plan for a village center. He points to mandates about landscaping and paint color as details of past problems.

Egner acknowledged lingering displeasure in the business community about the sign code, but said otherwise he sees no rift between businesses and city process. He said the Lake Grove Village Center Plan should not be looked at as a city mandate.

'This plan, for the most part comes from a vision that was established by the advisory committee. The plan is intended to realize that vision,' he said, and not a vision handed down by officials.

Looking at the Lake Grove Village Center Plan, Spaccarelli said he worries what it proposes for Boones Ferry Road paves the way for redevelopment and future hardship for retailers. He isn't inclined to get behind a village center plan if the plan is approved ahead of a study of its economic impacts, though he is not affiliated with the Lake Grove Commercial Association, which has also advocated for such a study.

Spaccarelli believes the plan proposed now, if approved, would change the character of Lake Grove and disadvantage today's businesses.

A center median on Boones Ferry Road would curb impulse buys at retail outlets, he said, transforming the area from convenience and service-based businesses to one anchored by national chains and other businesses that can be a destination for consumers. Lack of clarity about city planning codes also makes the area more appealing to non-local chains and speculative developers, he said, because those investors can afford to take risks with their properties.

He would like city officials to ask the question: 'What type of business can survive in the environment that's being created?' before the plan is approved.

Egner said some of those concerns assume that changes on the Boones Ferry Road, including installation of the median, are imminent.

'If it happens in 10 years, I think it would be amazing,' he said.

Meanwhile, he believes businesses will be served by city-sponsored parking and redevelopment will link parking lots behind Lake Grove businesses before a median is in place.

He said the west side of Lake Oswego is already under-serving retail shoppers and data shows local residents are being pulled outside the area for their retail needs today. Egner sees great potential for increased retail under the Lake Grove Village Center Plan and not less.

'All in all, Lake Oswego is sort of under-served by retail,' he said. 'There remains in the community some capital to capture that and I would think Lake Grove remains a great area to capture that.'

Egner said convenience-based businesses in Lake Grove are already located at planned intersections on Boones Ferry Road, and new traffic signals will aid egress for customers in other spots.

Opponents to the plan have been encouraged to offer solutions to problems it might pose but Spaccarelli said the request for citizens to develop new plans isn't reasonable.

His son, now 3½ years old, was born after planning started for the Lake Grove Village Center, and the process has been difficult to track.

'As an individual citizen or a business owner you don't have the energy for three to five years to come to an agreement,' he said.

He is hopeful the civic process will accommodate business concerns before the plan is adopted.