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Lake Grove plan creates concern

Some business owners worry about what the plan may, may not include

A plan that sets the pace for the future look in Lake Grove has some business owners on Boones Ferry Road riled about a proposal for a 10-foot median, one that will prevent left turns into businesses.

If adopted, the Lake Grove Village Center Plan aims to create a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in Lake Grove as old buildings redevelop and traffic improvements are added. The plan sets standards for new development along Boones Ferry Road and also calls for a 10-foot median and other traffic improvements, between Kruse Way and Madrona Street.

Some business owners are uneasy about the proposed median, which will cut off left turns into some shopping areas, relying on U-turns instead. For small businesses, the loss of left turns on Boones Ferry Road is a key issue, one they want studied before the Lake Grove Village Center plan is approved.

The plan is currently still in the hands of the Lake Grove Village Center Implementation Advisory Committee and will be forwarded to the Lake Oswego Planning Commission for review in August. The Lake Oswego City Council is expected to consider its approval in January 2007, following a period of public hearings by the commission this fall.

Heeding concern from businesses, the IAC has drafted language into the plan that calls for a study of its economic impacts. Some are skeptical that effort will answer concerns.

Communication problems

Pat Smith, who owns a car wash in Lake Grove, believes the loss of left turns into his business could be 'disastrous.'

'My business is directly tied to traffic,' Smith said. 'Without automobiles, I can't wash any cars.'

Smith said he doesn't know whether the Lake Grove Village Plan - crafted by IAC volunteers that includes some Lake Grove business owners - makes sense for Lake Grove commerce or not. But he doesn't believe businesses were well consulted for the plan and is frustrated by the lack of outreach by the IAC.

In recent weeks, Smith has taken to beating the street in Lake Grove and talking to other business owners about the Village Center Plan.

'What has riled me and almost every business owner I talk to in Lake Grove is we haven't been consulted,' Smith said. 'What I expect is some dialogue from my peers. We're not in New York City, we're in little Lake Grove.'

The peers Smith refers to are the business members of the IAC, which has probed the plan for more than three years.

Charged with the mission of creating a 'pedestrian-friendly neighborhood community' for 2024, IAC members were handpicked by city officials, who selected four Lake Grove business owners and two alternates to provide input. The IAC includes business leaders who have been active as civic servants in the past and have informally called themselves the Lake Grove Business Association.

'For a number of years there has been a group of business owners out here that the city tends to go to,' said Jack Lundeen, a Lake Grove attorney who serves on the IAC and is a member of the Lake Grove Business Association, which registered as a nonprofit this year.

Lundeen, a frequent civic volunteer, said he has represented business interest in the three years it's taken to develop the plan, which he calls 'home brewed.' He rejects the notion that business interests haven't been taken to heart.

'Nobody on the third floor of city hall designed our plan,' Lundeen said. 'I have never seen in Lake Oswego as much thoughtful consensus building as I've seen in the last three years.'

Lundeen said business representatives on the IAC have spent most of their energy working to resolve conflicts with residential areas. Through dialogue with neighborhood groups, they created a commercial zone to prevent business encroachment into neighborhoods and put at ease, for businesses, the prospect of overbearing neighbors.

They also tackled issues such as mobility for pedestrians, bikes and cars on Boones Ferry Road. In addition to the 10-foot median, the village center plan calls for added traffic signals, crosswalks, nine feet of sidewalks and five feet of bike lanes on either side of Boones Ferry Road. The proposed plan also structures height for buildings along the corridor, setting limits at a 45-foot maximum that slopes downward in transitional zones abutting neighborhoods. It also sets standards for construction of new Lake Grove buildings.

In hindsight, Lundeen said he wishes he and other business representatives on the IAC reached out further to their own, if only to help educate business owners about their work and calm fears about proposed change in Lake Grove.

'Not doing that has created an opportunity for people to rely on not so accurate information,' he said.

Lundeen worries the efforts of concerned neighbors like Smith have set off a panic in Lake Grove and that a letter-writing campaign to the Lake Oswego Review is passing bad information to businesses.

A political divide

Some small business owners are now getting their information from unofficial sources, including the Lake Grove Commercial Association, a newly formed nonprofit galvanized in the spring by concerns over the proposal.

The commercial association has effectively persuaded the IAC that some study of the proposed plan's impacts are needed, but not before an extensive grassroots effort in Lake Grove. That effort has divided Lake Grove politically. Thirty-three businesses of 105 in the village center area are now members of the commercial association. Twenty-five receive regular faxes from the more-traditional Lake Grove Business Association.

Through petitions, members of the commercial association gathered more than 2,300 signatures from patrons at 60 Lake Grove businesses this spring in an effort to force the economic impact study. Responding to those concerns, the IAC recently decided some study of economic impacts of their plan was necessary. The move could bring members of the Lake Grove Commercial Association more closely in line with visioning for Lake Grove. But so far commercial association leader Janet Amundson said she is skeptical about how effective civic process is likely to be from here.

Amundson, who has attended IAC meetings on the Lake Grove Village Center Plan since April 2005, said she was never engaged by business representatives on the IAC, though she demonstrated increasing concern as time went on. As more businesses joined her in dissenting, Amundson said, 'nobody ever reached out to us to talk about why we were growing concerned as a business community.'

Concerned about repeat condemnations in downtown's urban renewal district, Amundson said landowners are also worried, not just small business owners. Amundson owns the plaza where Smith operates his car wash. She said she is concerned the new Lake Grove Village Center plan is a tool for forcing new, upscale shops on the west end of town, similar to those that now dot the city's east end. She said landowners fear the tenant problems that stem from rising costs and higher lease rates associated with redevelopment - issues now causing problems in downtown Lake Oswego.

Taking action, Amundson organized the commercial association as a nonprofit, registered it with the Secretary of State's office, conducted an informal survey of Lake Grove businesses, circulated petitions urging an economic study and drafted letters to the mayor. Only now, she said, has the IAC conceded to the economic impact study. Amundson said she worries a city-sponsored study will have no real teeth.

'The way the motion is written, each step will occur when the city wants it and how the city wants it and there is no opportunity for reciprocal action,' she said. 'Our fear is that it will not be independent and that it will be a rubber stamp of what the city and the advisory committee have proposed all along.'

Amundson said she would like to see a study conducted before the plan is approved and business involvement in the selection of a study consultant. She also wants the study tailored to the kind of businesses that already exist in Lake Grove.

Lundeen and other city officials say funding a study before a plan is in place just doesn't make sense. The approved plan will set study parameters and outline key issues for review, like the loss of left-hand turns off Boones Ferry Road.

Looking ahead

Dan Vizzini, chair of the Lake Oswego Planning Com-mission, said he's encouraged Amundson and other commercial association members to stick with the public process, testify in upcoming public hearings and allow the planning commission to rework the village center plan to reflect the varied interests of businesses and residents in Lake Grove.

Vizzini said he isn't convinced the process has been flawed and thinks upcoming hearings can still produce a village center plan everyone can agree on.

'This is not like it was done in a bathroom at city hall and was released to the public,' Vizzini said. 'Could the process have done more to provide a deeper briefing to businesses? You probably could say yes but … at some point you're going to have to sit down as a business person and read the material and comment on it. To think that process is over is a mistake.'

But the atmosphere of mistrust that's cropped up between small business owners and those on the IAC still makes some uneasy about any village center plan at all, even while its authors have conceded to the economic impact study.

Laura Wilkinson, who owns a flower shop off Boones Ferry Road, attended an early IAC meeting about three or four years ago. She said she felt out of the loop at the meeting and struggled with how to engage the process. Ultimately, she said she didn't return, concentrating instead on running her store.

'There is that feeling that somebody in the city is just running over and things are happening without a lot of input,' she said. 'I work 60 hours a week just trying to stay alive and I don't have time to be … researching and trying to figure out what's going on.'

Wilkinson said she doesn't think an urban renewal district, like the one in Lake Oswego's downtown, would work in Lake Grove, which has centered its charm on small businesses rather than on upscale new development.

'I'm just little bit afraid that if they go through with the plans they've got they're going to wipe out all the small businesses,' she said. 'I don't know how many businesses can survive the construction. I can't, I'll tell you right now. And I don't know if I could survive the limited access once it's done.'