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Foothills plan remains on track

Open house set for Thursday
by: Submitted This is the current view of what could eventually become a streetcar stop with park-and-ride garages at B Avenue between State Street and the Willamette River.

Consultants drafting a plan for Lake Oswego's Foothills district are ready to unveil their latest work on the effort, which could expand urban renewal east of Highway 43 and strengthen downtown's connection to the Willamette River.

The city council will discuss new developments at a meeting Monday, and a public open house is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at city hall, 380 A Ave.

A lot has changed as consultants from Portland firm Williams, Dame and White have fine-tuned plans with a committee of local stakeholders. The city and area property owners signed a predevelopment agreement in June 2010 with the firm to create a framework plan for the 107-acre industrial district. The group remains on track to release a final draft in August, hold an open house in September and seek council approval of the plan this fall.

Consultants are now focused on redeveloping only the northern part of the district, although their plan wouldn't preclude eventually expanding renewal efforts south.

In addition, the group has settled on one of two possible routes for a streetcar line in the district, opting for a course that runs along a rebuilt Foothills Road rather than State Street.

The route is shorter than initially envisioned, ending farther north than the original plan for a terminus at Oswego Village. Instead, the streetcar line would stop at a transit center on the east side of State Street where it currently connects to Foothills Road.

As a result, 300 spaces originally planned for an Oswego Village park-and-ride lot are now proposed for a transit stop two blocks north, in two Foothills Road garages in new buildings straddling B Avenue, which would extend across State Street and into the district.

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Consultants working on a Foothills development plan want to extend B Avenue across State Street, or Highway 43, into the Foothills district, where housing and retail could top parking garages tucked into a natural slope toward the Willamette River and Foothills Park, seen here.

Reducing the length of the line will likely come at lower overall project costs. It also addresses concerns from North Shore residents worried about cut-through traffic in their neighborhood, according to the Foothills project team.

Matt Brown of Williams, Dame and White said Prime Group, which owns the Oswego Pointe apartments, and Terramar Retail Centers, owner of the Oswego Village shopping center, simply aren't ready to embark on redeveloping their sites.

'Both are very interested in looking at future redevelopment,' Brown said. 'I wouldn't say either one is ready today.'

Instead, Christe White, also of the development firm, said the southern portion 'will evolve more organically.'

'The infrastructure plan will allow them to slowly redevelop in the future,' she said.

The project team is still working with a 14-member advisory committee to discuss building height, but the latest plan calls for as many as 120 housing units per block with six-story buildings. However, those structures wouldn't necessarily appear tall - or even be visible - from downtown, White said, because of natural elevation changes in the district.

It's unclear how much the apartments or condos would cost. Adding affordable housing requirements to the mix could complicate things, White said, by requiring subsidies to maintain value for potential developers.

Another unanswered question involves a possible streetcar line undergoing analysis between Portland and Lake Oswego.

Although streetcar planning isn't contingent on redevelopment in Foothills, that isn't necessarily true vice versa.

'It's a really hard question,' White said. 'From an urban design perspective, (Foothills) almost completely depends on it. The design is meant to synergize with the streetcar for a pedestrian-friendly, transit-friendly development.'

Without the streetcar line, 'We would need to go back and reassess parking ratios' and other aspects of the project, she said. It would also mean developers couldn't count on federal money for rebuilding Foothills Road.

Brown noted that absent a streetcar line, the project would lose momentum and possibly some development value.

'You get so much more when you look at the two together,' he said. 'It really puts the project on the edge of being pretty unviable and increases the likelihood that more public investment would be required.'

City officials have sought for a way to incorporate Foothills into downtown for at least the past 10 years. But this time around will be different, White said, because the plan will be easier to implement.

'Our charge is to make this permit-ready,' she said. 'When the market is ready, this district is going to be ready.'

Consultants are still dealing with a number of issues considered potential deal-breakers because of their possible impact on the project's feasibility. They include:

• Building in a floodplain: Consultants believe the area is feasible to fill in without a rise in floodplain elevation - most of it has already been developed - and are now considering options for mitigation.

And because the area is already developed, consultants noted, the plan would not affect environmentally sensitive lands.

'There's no connection between the two,' Brown said of Foothills planning efforts and sensitive lands regulations. 'All of our development is happening on existing industrial property or existing developed property.'

The project also won't affect Tryon Cove Park or fill in other park land.

• Getting around utilities: The obstacles are 'not insurmountable,' consultants said.

They're still in discussion with PGE about ways to work around two power substations in the area. They're also keeping tabs on Portland's ongoing effort to update its Tryon Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant facilities plan, an 18- to 24-month process. The current level of involvement isn't enough to 'trigger' the need for Lake Oswego to invest in the plant but will ensure Portland's work 'is responsive to what we have and need in the district,' the Foothills team said.

• Traffic and connectivity: The biggest traffic strain is now at the intersection of State Street and A Avenue, consultants said. They believe a new intersection to the north would ease congestion, likely with a rebuilt Foothills Road running parallel to State and connecting with the main street somewhere north of A Avenue.

• Financing: The Foothills team is working with ECONorthwest to get third-party check on financial projections, but 'we continue to believe this is a financially viable project,' Brown said.

He said the district can be 'financially independent from the city's general fund' and, even if partially funded with tax-increment money at a potential risk to school funding, it could ultimately benefit the school district by bringing in new families to offset enrollment declines and bring more money for education, Brown said.

Foothills could also be important for current Lake Oswegans, providing money to maintain city services without new investment from the existing population.

'At the end of the day, the city is going to find there are a lot of upsides to this and to bringing a streetcar to Lake Oswego,' Brown said.

The group should have a final report from ECONorthwest in September, around the same time the Foothills framework plan is complete. The report could recommend creating a new urban renewal district or remapping the existing redevelopment area downtown.