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Gladstone library dispute heats up

Breaking ground this fall is looking much less likely for the proposed replacement to Gladstone's current downtown library and Clackamas County's Oak Lodge branch, following City Council's delayed decision on a permitting appeal.

An overflow crowd packed Gladstone's City Hall last week to lobby for and against a 19,000-square-foot building at 18235 Webster Road.

More than 50 people occupied every seat in the council chambers. Some carried signs reading 'Pro Library,' while others attacked the councilors for considering the $10-million deal. Opponents threatened to appeal a thumbs-up decision to the state's land-use board.

City Manager Pete Boyce made the decision to appeal the Planning Commission's decision based on the council putting 'considerable time and resources' into not only unanimously passing the original intergovernmental agreement on Feb. 8, 'but also in doing their due diligence in advocating for the best library for Gladstone.'

Following a city manager's appeal, the Gladstone City Council can overrule the denial last month of a building permit during the third planning meeting discussing the building details. Gladstone's Planning Commission has authority to make land-use decisions without the council's approval, but in this case after paying the $100 fee for an appeal, the council could rule on code in the Planning Commission's usual quasi-judicial fashion.

Cynthia Stubenrauch, chair of the city's Library Board, was disappointed that three Gladstone planning commissioners blocked the plans because, in her opinion, they oppose moving the library out of downtown. She claimed the commissioners put personal preferences ahead of a 62-percent vote in favor of a library district and 25 meetings during which the public provided input.

'The design of the new library was based on what the public wants,' Stubenrauch said.

The planning commissioners responded with concerns they felt still need to be addressed. In addition to the siting issues he had as a planning commissioner, Neil Reisner testified that features such as the proposed fireplace added unnecessary expense.

Supporters then accused dissidents of skirting the issues at hand with concerns about financing the library using urban renewal.

'The criteria the architect has met, and that should be the limit of what we're talking about tonight,' said Ted Phillips, a resident of the Somerset Retirement Village across from the proposed library.

Architect David Keltner said the plan attempts to save as many trees as possible to match the council's 2007 approval of a master plan for a library surrounded by Gladstone Nature Park. But the 'nuts and bolts' of the application, according to Keltner, involved requirements like 5-percent bike parking. The proposal also includes a temporary irrigation system to be used for 18 months until the native plants take root and can survive droughts on their own.

Conflicts of interest?

The council also spent about 20 minutes listing ex parte contacts that would possibly influence their decision, and no councilor could claim to have avoided arguments for and against the library. Councilor Kari Martinez is herself a librarian and Councilor Judith Ervin participated in many library planning meetings, but it appears that state law would not prohibit them from ruling on the library's building application.

Kim Sieckmann, who stepped down as a planning commissioner over bias concerns, claimed that it was unethical or illegal for council to hear the appeal. He pointed out that the architectural applicants have been hired by council, so councilors would be biased in favor of the library plan.

City Planner Clay Glasgow said that it was not required for the council 'judges' to lack any opinions or bias on the library issue. The councilors were only asked to approve or deny the design.

'None of you have expressed any possible financial interest in the library,' Glasgow said.

Sieckmann recalled applying for the New Library Planning Committee, but then withdrew after reading that one needed characteristic on the city's job description was to 'advocate for the new library.'

'I tried to be part of the planning for the library, and I was told that I couldn't because I didn't wholeheartedly support it,' Sieckmann said.

'I don't think the cost allocation is fairly distributed, and I've been very vocal about that,' he added. 'Still I felt that I was very capable of making a non-biased decision. But in the best interest of the city, I thought that the best way to handle the situation was to step down (from the Planning Commission's decision), given that two people called for me to step aside.'