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Wizers plays Measure 37 card

A downtown business owner has filed a Measure 37 claim on A Avenue property, one that could allow a building taller than 60 feet on the Wizer's site.

But Gene Wizer, owner of the local grocery and the land, said his claim is merely a placeholder in case negotiations with the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency don't pan out.

Wizer, through his developer, is seeking public subsidy of a building on his land, which he can build up to 60 feet high (approximately three to four stories) under current regulations. He could seek a taller building for his plans - which include a mix of retail, housing and possibly office space - if subsidies for parking don't come through.

Gerding Edlen, the Washington-based firm working with Wizer on the A Avenue block, sent a representative to a recent LORA meeting to ask for $7 million for parking.

Scott Eaton, spokesman for the company on the development, said future tax revenues on the site could repay the $7 million in bonds. Without the subsidy, Eaton said development of the Wizer's site wouldn't pencil out due to the high cost of providing the required structured parking. Wizer's Measure 37 claim could seek to waive the parking requirement or offset costs by building taller.

If LORA were to subsidize parking, public money would flow to a third downtown parking lot and help finance the high-end housing proposed to top retail at Wizer's.

The condominiums are proposed to be priced at $575 to $600 per square foot or between $632,500 to $660,000 for a 1,100-square-foot condo. Sizes are proposed to range up to 2,400 square feet.

'We still have to get confirmation that Lake Oswego is comfortable with $575 per square foot, probably closer to $600,' Eaton said.

LORA officials would have to get comfortable with those numbers as well.

Several city councilors, who also serve as board members for the redevelopment agency, weren't at ease with the idea of financing expensive housing, though new housing downtown could aid the city in its bid for the Portland Streetcar.

'It's a little wrong for this council, which has tried in this difficult economic environment to talk about providing more affordable housing' to talk about subsidizing housing at $600 per square foot, said councilor Ellie McPeak.

McPeak also said LORA's real options seemed unclear while the Measure 37 claim is pending.

If the claim were to move forward, height restrictions could be waived on the site, which would translate into higher returns for the development, possibly eliminating interest in public subsidy.

Eaton urged the group to consider the issues separately.

'I would like to just assume that's off the table right now,' he said. 'I already agree with the fact that the neighborhood would be strongly opposed to (a taller building).'

Wizer said the Measure 37 claim is intended as a back-up plan if the current development failed.

'The purpose of the Measure 37 (claim) wasn't to confuse anybody, it was more of an insurance policy in case the city decides not to go with Gerding Edlen,' he said.

Wizer said he simply wants a development that makes good economic sense and provides an updated, mixed-use facility on his land.

In nearly four years of talks about redevelopment, he said the options haven't penciled out for Wizer's so far, chiefly because subsidies available to other developments have not been an option there.

'The development that we were talking about wanting to do was a simple project that was done on (Block) 138 (Lake View Village) and they had subsidy help from the city and that was not proposed on this site,' he said.

The Wizers' long-time ownership of the land makes it eligible for a claim under Measure 37. The voter-approved law reimburses property owners when zoning changes decrease property values.

Height limitations on the site have changed since the Wizer family acquired the land. If Wizer were to press forward with the claim, he would seek a waiver of height restrictions, which could allow a taller building.Wizer said he would need to know soon whether LORA plans to get involved in the current proposal so tenants on his land can be notified as leases run out.

'The next four to five months are real critical,' he said.

Wizer said any new development would include a Wizer's store.