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LOs Old Town faces age-old question: To build or not to build

Condo project has stirred the ire of area neighbors
by: Vern Uyetake, Here’s the existing hillside below Furnance Street where a seven-story condominum unit is proposed.

A development idea proposed in Old Town could plant seven stories of condominiums on the hillside between Furnace Street and the Willamette River, but residents there say they plan to stop it.

On the table is a proposal made by developer John Tercek, who wants to demolish a single-family house at 397 Furnace St. to build the Riverview condominiums.

Tercek has not made a formal application to the city to build the project yet. But plans for the Riverview condominiums were introduced in pre-application meetings with both the city and the neighborhood in April.

As proposed, the condo's façade would stand two stories tall and front Furnace Street. But the backside of the development would span another five stories, sloping down the hillside in tiers of windows, capturing views of the Willamette River.

The 10 condominiums inside would range from 2,500 to 3,800 square feet and a ground-floor garage would offer 17 parking spaces inside the building. Each unit is projected to sell at approximately $1.5 million, Tercek said.

Old Town residents are balking at the idea.

They say the proposal compromises the neighborhood's historic character and doesn't adhere to a city plan designed to protect it.

The Old Town Design District, adopted as part of the city's comprehensive plan, calls for preservation of the area's village-like character. It also requires protection and privacy for single family homes and compatibility between new and old developments.

In letters sent to the Lake Oswego Planning Department last month, more than a dozen Old Town residents pointed to the design district plan and urged the city to scale down the Riverview proposal.

They have formed a committee called the 397 Group, named for the project address, to formally oppose the plan.

'We have not, as a group, said what our bottom line is yet. We're not that far. But what we see here is unacceptable,' said Jeannie McGuire, a former president of the Old Town Neighborhood Association and a member of the 397 Group.

'For now we just want the city to be aware that this is a slippery slope. If this goes through, this could happen to all the properties (on Furnace Street) as they change hands,' McGuire said.

Tercek said he and partners were meeting Wednesday to discuss how to address neighborhood opposition.

'We're working very hard to make it work,' he said. 'I want to make the neighbors happy but I also know people are opposed to change. All I can do is combine all the variables I'm up against' such as height and parking requirements, Tercek said.

Zoning along Furnace Street and other parts of Old Town currently allows for multi-family dwellings like the one proposed.

But for many, the Riverview proposal is a test case for where the city will draw the line on neighborhood density as infill boosts Old Town's population.

Related issues like tree preservation, wildlife habitat, parking and traffic are also being watched.

'It's disturbing to us because there are other properties along the riverfront there that could become available and all of a sudden Furnace Street is going to depart from the character that was given to it … and it's going to become a thoroughfare,' said Dick Reamer, chair of the 397 Group and vice chair of the Old Town Neighborhood Association.

Tercek agrees city officials must make the call on how much density Old Town can add. He said zoning currently allows high density despite strong opposition from the neighborhood.

'The city has to decide where that lies,' he said.

Records show that a second developer once backed down from a high density proposal on the same site because of neighborhood opposition.

Pacific Property Search, LLC, registered to Edward Darrow, proposed a 10-unit condo complex at 397 Furnace St. after buying the single-family home there for $1.2 million in 2006.

Pacific pitched the 10-unit condo idea for more than a year without success. In the interim, the company sold the property to the city of Lake Oswego so officials could take a chunk for a riverfront pathway. Pacific retained a development option for more than a year, then bought the land back.

Instead of moving forward with development plans, the company sold the land to Tercek's Riverview Holdings, taking a $400,000 profit. Tercek said Pacific Property never disclosed that neighborhood pressures caused the company not to build.

City officials now have the latitude to determine how densely the lot will develop. In city documents, planners note the height of the Riverview condominiums, as proposed, is almost 20 feet above the 50-foot height limit for the building.

They also note the land is part of a conservation zone that protects natural lands along the Willamette River and that the property has significant landslide potential and is partially located in a flood plain.