Development Review Commission rejects proposal for Wizer Block
- Saundra Sorenson
- Portland Tribune - News
Vote follows two nights of public debate; appeal to City Council is likely
Lake Oswego's Development Review Commission voted 3-2 late Wednesday night to reject a proposal for a 290,000-square-foot, mixed-use development on downtown's Wizer Block.
The vote, which came shortly before midnight, is likely to be appealed.
The DRC will now meet Aug. 18 to adopt its findings; that would open a 15-day window for appeal to the City Council, which next meets in September.
Wednesday's marathon session followed a five-hour hearing July 21 and three more hours of public testimony July 23. At issue is a redesigned proposal from Evergreen Group LLC and developer Patrick Kessi to replace the former home of Wizers Oswego Foods with three four-story buildings at the corner of A Avenue and First Street. The development would include 207 residential units and about 36,000 square feet of retail space.
DRC Chair Bob Needham and Commissioners Gregg Creighton and Kelly Melendez voted to reject the proposal; Vice Chair Brent Ahrend and Commissioner David Poulson voted to approve it. The discussion Wednesday night came down to two main points.
First, the commission was divided on whether Kessis proposed design reflected downtown Lake Oswego's village character. Largely at issue was the sense that the buildings' massing did not conform to the citys code provision regarding the aesthetics of downtown buildings.
Kessi had attempted to address that criticism in his revised plan for Block 137, creating building fronts that featured a variety of setbacks, plane changes, material changes and breaks in rooflines.
Second, the commission was split on how much of the structures ground floor was devoted to residential use and on what kind of residential/commercial split was appropriate for the so-called "compact shopping district."
Ahrend argued that, by city code, mixed use was up to a developers interpretation. What theyre proposing ... we dont have anything to say thats right or wrong, he said. Personally, that's a liberty ... that I can't deny. A builder-developer has to have that ability to mix it up himself.
Needham mostly agreed. If you say that, hypothetically, someone came forward with a project that was first-floor retail, do we have any say of what percentage is on the second or third floors? No, we don't, he said.
Its clear, Needham added, this town needs high-density housing. But its also clear its been identified and earmarked in the urban design plan" for locations other than in the downtown core.
That point was met with substantial applause from the audience.
The commission emphasized the decision would not be final until it meets again at 7 p.m. on Aug. 18, at which point it will likely adopt its findings.
"There's a good chance it'll get appealed no matter what we decide," Creighton said.
Opponents of the plan had flocked to City Council chambers last week to make their case. Most of the arguments against Block 137 included charges that it was too dense to fit the citys vision for the downtown core, and that added traffic congestion would choke the area and have a devastating impact on retailers.
Leslie Pirrotta argued that devoting only 13 percent of the development to retail was not conducive to a shopping district.
The apartment complex creates its own, isolated, self-contained community. It does not enhance the downtown experience for Lake Oswego residents, Pirrotta said. It fails to provide public gathering places.
Moreover, Pirrotta added, 207 apartments at a 50-percent turnover rate means 100 move-ins and move-outs each year. Thats an average of two moving vans, double-parked on our streets, every weekend.
The design review process itself was compared unfavorably to that of Lake View Village in the early 2000s. Residents described Gramor Developments approach then as collaborative.
Anne Meneakis, who lives in the Evergreen neighborhood and headed the Evergreen Neighborhood Association while Lake View Village was being considered, detailed what she saw as key differences between the two projects.
Contrary to the center of the proposed Wizer development, which serves only private purposes, the parking structure in the center of Block 138 serves as an aesthetically concealed public parking structure, which serves the larger community, Meneakis said. I respectfully request the Wizer Block developer be equally required to reduce his projects mass and so comply with the code of a community of small structures, just as Gramor was required to do and so complied.
Three hours into the weeks second hearing, Evergreen Group representatives presented their rebuttal, with Gene Sandoval of ZGF Architects saying that we believe that Block 137 is the right project.
It is consistently complementary to the mission of Lake Oswego codes and guidelines, Sandoval said, and is the recommendation of your city staff.
Sandoval said Evergreens redesigned plans for the Wizer Block would give downtown Lake Oswego a feel akin to that of a European city. The design meets all criteria for village character you have developed for decades, he said. The plans are respectful of your code and its intent. It is a good neighbor. It has the village character of this city.
Sandoval and attorney Christen White addressed opponents concerns about the size of the development by comparing its footprint to that of Lake View Village.
Our small-scale structures have building footprints you can completely circumnavigate, that are similar to or smaller than (those on Lake View Villages site, White said, adding that Evergreens plans include almost double the amount of landscaping required by city code.
Weve been asked to compare ourselves over and over again (to Lake View Village), and were going to own those comparisons, she said. We can own them on the facts. Along First Street, in this significant redesign, (we) create seven separate storefronts. And by our calculations, that number is about similar (to) across the street (at Lake View Village), if not identical.
White said Evergreen Group believes that, except for a small overlap on our property, the proposed development meets the citys desire to create a compact shopping district in the downtown core. And she said the developer had listened to commissioners concerns Monday about its request to include ground-floor residential units in the project and had now converted those residences into live-work units.
The entire ground floor is work (space), White said. Whether thats residential or office remains to be seen. But living (space) will be on top.
Kessi said this week that he was pleased with the hearings.
It was good for us to be able to really lay out for the DRC the essential elements of (of the design) for the code, relevant to height, footprint, density, parking, architectural style, he said. It was good that we could really express the facts.