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Chamber, city disagree on location, design of proposed city transit center

The city of Sandy and the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce, which most often work hand-in-hand, have found themselves in opposition on a proposed city project.

For some time, the city has been planning a formal transit center, instead of the current shady curbside parking place in a residential area on McCormick Street.

The transit center is described in the city's approved Transportation Master Plan, and in March the Sandy City Council gave its blessing to accept the nearly $239,000 offered by the Oregon Department of Transportation to pay the lion's share of the project.

But a couple of weeks ago the city received a letter from the chamber's board of directors objecting to the location of the proposed center.

Establishing the transit center would require modifications to Hoffman Avenue, removing parking and making it a two-way street - alongside Centennial Plaza.

Some members of the chamber think that location is not desirable, and for several reasons.

'The plaza gets a lot of civic use and is a beautiful location for citizens to gather,' said Board Chairwoman Laura Allen. 'We are concerned that buses will make the area less desirable for gathering. We are also concerned about the parking situation in a location that already provides very little off-street parking.

'And, of course, we are concerned about safety, with the increase in pedestrian traffic around the bus mall.'

Chamber staff and at least one councilor have told the Post they're concerned with the reduction in bus service to people who live east of the proposed center.

'We'd be missing the route on Langensand,' said Councilor Jeremy Pietzold. 'People have been using that route for 10 years.'

'That's almost a separate issue,' City Manager Scott Lazenby responded. 'If we, at some point in the future, are able to avoid adding buses and lengthen the (route time to Gresham) from a half-hour to (longer), then ideally we could go even farther east - all the way to Vista Loop.'

Chamber officials also expressed the concern that the options seem to be limited to placing the center where it is proposed or returning the gift of $239,000 to ODOT and starting over.

The chamber offered a couple of alternative locations where they would not have the same concerns.

'In the Transit Master Plan,' said Community Services Director Nancy Enabnit, 'it's pretty clearly laid out that that's the best choice.

'And the chamber was involved in that process (Transit Master Plan) as were all of you (council), so it's not news.'

Enabnit said the master plan spells out the proposed transit center, the location, the benefits of that location and what the concerns might be.

'We really think (the chamber's) concerns were legitimate,' Lazenby told the council. 'Concerns about the parking and about using the (Centennial) plaza for special events. There was even a comment about (diesel) fumes and noise from buses. And those are fair concerns.'

In his staff report, Lazenby acknowledged the validity of the chamber's concerns. He also stated his intent is to address them in the center's design process.

'I believe there are some better ways to use the plaza for events without having to close a city street,' he wrote, '(Mountain Festival being the single exception), and to retain some on-street parking.'

The design team Lazenby proposed includes three members of city staff, a consultant and a chamber representative.

'The City Council will have final say on the design before we advertise it for bids,' he told the council, 'and you will be able to judge whether we have been successful in addressing these concerns.'

No chamber member was present to speak at the council meeting, but Councilor Dave Beitler asked Enabnit - to clarify the issue - if she had stated the chamber had been present during all of the preliminary planning, but had just recently spoken against the project.

'All along in the process there were representatives from the chamber (and several other sources),' she said to confirm his understanding. 'There weren't any secrets.'

The council approved by consensus the staff recommendation of having a chamber representative present during the design.

'We'll make sure the chamber is involved every step of the way,' Enabnit said.