Developer says building was retail; mayor says not recently

Following a Milwaukie City Council hearing concerning Ed Parecki's development of the building on the Northwest corner of Main and Monroe Streets, which councilors held over to their Jan. 2 meeting, Parecki's attorney sent city council a letter asking that Mayor Jim Bernard not participate in further discussions on the matter.

Parecki brought his project to the city to challenge its method of assessing the impact fees his development would incur.

Parecki plans a minimal 'facelift' for the building - just enough to make it desirable for potential tenants but not specific enough to determine the exact use.

Parecki said the city calculated his potential impacts based on the assumption that the main floor of the building would change from office to retail, increasing the number of trips generated and the strain on infrastructure.

Parecki argued that the main floor has historically been retail, and said he had a letter from the previous owner saying its last use had been retail.

But at the hearing, Bernard said he had been chair of the downtown neighborhood association and had been in the building many times. He said he did not believe the building has been retail in the last 10 years or so.

The letter from Steve Morasch, Parecki's attorney, to the city, says, 'The mayor must recuse himself from all future deliberations and decision making in this matter. This is a quasi-judicial matter. The mayor cannot act as both the decision maker and as a key witness for the city. The mayor's passionate testimony about his alleged knowledge of the prior uses of the building disqualifies the mayor as a decision maker.'

But the city attorney, William Monahan, said Bernard did nothing wrong.

'I think the mayor did the right thing by saying what his prior knowledge was,' Monahan said. 'What a decision maker needs to do when they have knowledge or an opinion of what that knowledge is is to say 'I know something different,' or 'I think I know something different' and give the other side a chance to reply.'

He said the mayor needs to consider the evidence, not base his decision on a preconceived notion.

'I don't think the mayor is restricted from participating if he can keep an open mind to the facts presented to him.'

The council held the hearing over to Jan. 2 to give city staff enough time to try to find evidence of what the prior use of the building was and to then analyze what the difference in impact fees would be if the space turns out to be retail.

Defining downtown's future

Parecki's case is significant because it could alter the way downtown development occurs.

When the downtown plan was developed in 2000, residents and city officials decided they wanted developers to help pay for the costs of improving the whole of downtown, not just their buildings.

But Parecki, the downtown neighborhood association, and three of the five councilors have said the costs associated with public area improvements are so high as to be prohibitive.

Councilor Susan Stone, at the Dec. 18 hearing, urged the council and staff to find some way to allow the development, clearly encouraging private investment and development over public area improvements.

Councilor Joe Loomis echoed the sentiment, and considered whether short-term, financially limited urban renewal districts or other mechanisms might be better tools to fix sidewalks and streets as development occurs.

City Planning Director Katie Mangle has repeatedly reminded the councilors of the intent of the code - to force developers to help pay for improvements - but has said she simply enforces the code, and it is under their purview to change it.

Parecki, meanwhile, has maintained that the debate is moot, and said he will appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals if the city denies his claim.

Morasch said a Supreme Court case decided that impact fees must be roughly proportional to actual impacts on an infrastructure system. And Parecki said the current code, or at least the way it's implemented, does not follow that law.

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