Milwaukie should seize the opportunity
The withdrawal of developer Thomas Kemper from the Milwaukie Town Center project last week may be a setback for a city whose progress is starting to pick up. With two new restaurants opened on Main Street, another developer renovating the old bank at Main and Monroe streets, and with an ambitious south end concept recently presented to the public, the city is pushing forward. Town Center was supposed to be the next big step.
And while residents and officials should not take the news of the developer's departure lightly, City Council should consider this an opportunity to address the very legitimate concerns aired during the discussion both at last week's meeting and in prior discussions.
The Downtown Plan is a document that involved precise and intentional decisions made not by representatives, but by the public. Overturning current or previous council decisions is one thing, but if a community comes together and decides that anything above four stories is going to be either disruptive in terms of the view of the river or disruptive in terms of aesthetics and standards, that decision ought to be honored.
Especially when the council has made it a point to look at altering the city code to limit out-of-character developments in other parts of the city.
Council should also take the time to consider at least one other variance requested by the future developer: building materials.
We may be in a housing slump and the price of materials may be increasing, but what council is considering is at least a decades-long investment in the city. Catalyzing progress downtown is incredibly important and now is the time to do it, to ensure we're not playing catch up if and when light rail shows up and the city is offered the opportunity to turn into the center it wants to be. But council must consider whether allowing things such as cement facades, despite the institutional aesthetic they create, will truly be something we can all be proud of and expect to be flourishing in 20, 30 or 40 years.
Council has been granted an opportunity to take a step back, welcome the community back to the table and decide with them, not for them, how that site and the rest of downtown ought to develop.