Finance is name of game for city

by: VERN UYETAKE Deanna Bitar and Eric Shoemaker like what they see being built at the intersection of Bryant and Boones Ferry roads. Their new shopping center is expected to be a huge business boost for the Lake Grove area.

The Lake Oswego City Council is pushing ahead with an analysis of whether an urban renewal district or similar funding setup can help pay for implementing the long-sought redevelopment of Lake Grove.

On Monday, planning commissioners will discuss a list of projects in the plan and how they might be prioritized. Also on the agenda is a preliminary analysis of possible funding mechanisms. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at city hall, 380 A Ave.

Momentum for redeveloping the area has been building for more than a decade. But it wasn't until a recent council meeting that officials for the first time had 'real cost estimates,' assistant planning director Denny Egner said.

At the meeting, he told city councilors that the Lake Grove Village Center plan has been in the works since 1999, when Metro designated the area, along with downtown, as one of two town centers in Lake Oswego. Boones Ferry Road was also designated as a main street, and the city began working on a Boones Ferry Road corridor plan in 2001, with a Lake Grove concept plan starting to take shape in 2002-03. The city adopted the plan in 2008.

'What the Lake Grove plan really does is promote a mixed-use center with strong linkages back to the neighborhoods,' said Egner, the city's long-range planning manager. 'The concept really changes the whole look of that corridor.'

A key feature of the plan involves an overhaul of Boones Ferry Road, rebuilding it as a 'green street' from Kruse Way to Madrona Street. Proposed improvements include 5-foot-wide bicycle lanes, new sidewalks and landscaping and a center median, with turning lanes at intersections maintaining local business access.

As a 'green street,' Boones Ferry would slope toward the middle of the road so stormwater would drain toward the center, taking advantage of an 'undulating median and vegetated corridor,' Erica Rooney, assistant city engineer, said.

But that boost in environmental sustainability isn't without major obstacles. The green-street plan would create a gradual dip in the roadway; however, today, the roadway is mostly 'crowned,' rising in a hill toward the middle.

'This is a very big project to undertake,' she said. 'It's not that it can't be done, but there are going to be some very significant challenges.

'We're proposing to completely change the cross section. … There will be ramifications of that.'

Many of those ramifications are today unknown, in part because it's unclear what sorts of underground utilities - telecommunications lines, wastewater, drinking water and stormwater pipes - construction crews would encounter. At the same time, some parts of Boones Ferry Road carry more than 25,000 vehicles each day.

'You're dealing with a corridor that could be as deep as 8 feet to address all of those utilities,' Rooney said. 'You can't just drop the center of the road without affecting that. It's a huge effort.'

If overhead power lines are to be moved underground for the project, utility vaults would have to be carved out beneath the road's surface. And realigning the right-of-way would require property acquisition in some places; in others, it would lead to vacating the right-of-way to area property owners.

'It's almost a mile of roadway impacts in the corridor itself and then the side streets,' she said. 'It's $27 million plus or minus for the road.'

Beyond Boones Ferry Road improvements, the final Lake Grove plan could include new street connections, public parking facilities, a series of public plazas and other projects that might draw more private investment to the area.

It's possible that funding some of the smaller projects could 'create a catalyst to other development that could then generate money to fund the street,' said Egner. 'The street may not be the first project.'

'We have this long wish list of things we want out there but we still don't know exactly how we're going to pay for all that.'

The city already has one urban renewal district downtown, and another is being considered nearby in the industrial Foothills district.

If economic consulting firm ECONorthwest recommends another such district as a feasible way to fund Lake Grove improvements, city leaders would need to act relatively fast, Egner said.

It would be 'really important we get that in place by next September so we can capture the incremental growth in the tax base that occurs from the developments occurring out there now,' such as the Lake Grove Shopping Center, including the new Zupan's, and the Oakridge housing complex set to open this winter, Egner said.

'These are things that could actually give us a jump start.'

A preliminary report about financing the redevelopment could be back before the city council as soon as December.

Mike Buck, a longtime business owner in the area and a member of the Lake Grove Business Association, said stakeholders are on board for the project, despite potential disruptions from construction.

'We'd like to encourage economic development, and we already have people with private capital coming in as an investment in the area,' he said. 'We're in this together, and we need to find solutions so that Boones Ferry Road is more than just an arterial. It goes through three neighborhoods that have been working on this for 11 years, and we need to do something to make it user-friendly, safe and aesthetic.'