Opponents of a plan to build a new park and ride lot at the site of the disused Southgate theater have appealed the city's decision to the state's Land Use Board of Appeals, with a decision expected on Dec. 19.

Milwaukie Mayor Jim Bernard, a proponent of the proposed development, described the sequence of events leading up to the appeal.

'Basically, the planning commission settled on this site and the opponents there in the industrial area appealed that decision to the city council, based on the concerns that it would impact truck traffic in the area,' said Bernard.

He continued: 'We conducted our own traffic study and also had citizens go out and watch the trucks. Our conclusion based on all that is that there wouldn't be a problem.'

The mayor cited two reasons why he did not anticipate problems with the new park and ride: first, commuters using the facility will tend to park in the morning and return in the evening, meaning that there will be very little additional traffic during business hours.

'Also, are starting to see changes in the north industrial area, with manufacturing starting to replace warehousing and transportation businesses - which means fewer trucks,' said Bernard. 'For example, a luggage manufacturer just purchased a building from Oregon Transfer.'

When opponents failed to persuade the city council not to move forward with the plan, they appealed to LUBA, which has the power to approve the plan, disapprove it, or approve it with amendments.

Kelly Burgess, a paralegal with LUBA, explained the board's role and history in the state's land use planning process.

'LUBA was created in 1979 to keep land use disputes out of the circuit courts,' she said. 'Its decisions can still be appealed to the court of appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court.'

According to Burgess, appeals are uncommon. Of 220 issues brought before LUBA this year, only 20 have been appealed to the courts.

Bernard is hopeful that LUBA will side with the city in the dispute, and that work can begin on the 300-space park and ride lot, to be located alongside McLoughlin Boulevard.

'It would free up a ton of parking downtown, and reduce overflow parking in the neighborhoods around downtown,' he said. 'We also lease parking areas to handle the volume, and it's likely that those could be eliminated, saving the city money.

'There is already a bus stop at that location, which would be enhanced with a shelter so that people could get out of the rain. Our long-term goal is to get the transit center out of downtown.'

Oregon Transfer Company filed the appeal with LUBA, but neither the company nor its legal representative, Roger Alfred with Perkins Coie, returned repeated telephone calls seeking comment for this story.

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