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Milwaukie's 'Fresh Look' attracts crowd


{img:11419}“What do you want out of your Downtown Milwaukie?” was the central question posed to citizens who attended an open house and workshop last week.

There were so many people at the April 1 event that Rick Wheeler, owner of Roseland Piano Co. on 21st Avenue, was among those who thought it was crowded. While about half of attendees were business owners like Wheeler, the other half included interested residents.

The event kicked off with the “Fresh Look Milwaukie: Downtown Road Map” project — a major initiative aimed at bringing the various adopted plans that map downtown Milwaukie’s future growth in closer alignment with the community’s vision.

The kickoff meeting was the first step in a three-month planning process that seeks to facilitate community conversations with identified stakeholders.

“The downtown is for everybody,” said Li Alligood, associate planner for the city of Milwaukie, who is leading the effort. “We want to hear from a broad spectrum of people and learn what people value about our downtown and what they’d like to see in its future.”

Participants talked about things like walkability, being connected to nature, what types of businesses they’d like to see and where they’d best be located, what kinds of activities would add vitality, and current barriers to success. However, some attendees thought the meeting was not conducive to a broad spectrum of people.

Co-chairwoman of the Historic Milwaukie Neighborhood Association Jean Baker left before the meeting even began. Her reason: the workshop’s poor accessibility. She said that since so many showed up to the meeting, it was too crowded to stand. Instead of staying to read the written material, Baker and fellow neighborhood leader Dion Shepard chose to say a few words to planners and then leave early.

“You shouldn’t have to load up on pain medicine to go to a city meeting,” Baker said.

But city planners know that the open-house format may not have been for everyone. Those whose needs were not met by Monday’s meeting, or those who could not make it, are encouraged to schedule a meeting with planners.

Future opportunities for involvement will include informal interviews with community members, “community conversations” with groups of interested people at local places, walking tours, photo contests, an online survey and a second public event on May 9.

For Wheeler, the process ended up being worthwhile. After the initial milling around, attendees broke off into three smaller groups. Wheeler found his group had a lot of positive ideas on ways to improve downtown Milwaukie.

Wheeler was particularly interested in discussing expansion of the Portland metro area’s MAX transit system scheduled to open in 2015. “The light rail will bring a lot more people in to see Milwaukie,” he said. “And in the future that will help businesses.”

Funding for the “Fresh Look Milwaukie” project became available after the Home Builders Association lost its lawsuit against the regional government in an attempt to halt the construction excise tax for infill projects.

Metro’s excise tax grant is proposed at $224,000, with a $30,000 “hard match” from the city and about $115,000 in a “soft match” of city staff time. However, Metro hasn’t approved the revised scope of the project, and the city of Milwaukie would still have to sign an intergovernmental agreement for those funds.

Metro taxes construction at 0.12 percent of value, exempting projects under $100,000, while projects of more than $10 million pay a flat $12,000 permitting fee. While the dispute was being settled on the funding within the urban growth boundary area, important projects for cities across the region were on hold.

Also key to the process is a group of urban-planning graduate students from Portland State University. The project team will identify the shared and competing elements of these plans and bring them before the community for evaluation and prioritization so that, ideally, in the end, the plans work together in realizing the community’s vision.

The graduate students are providing their services pro bono in order to meet the requirements of their graduate studies. The city is contributing staff time and up to $1,000 in reimbursements for materials, facility rentals, etc.

“It’s a pretty great deal for us,” Alligood said.

For more information: contact Alligood at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or 503-786-7627; visit the project website at ci.milwaukie.or.us/planning/fresh-look-milwaukie-downtown-road-map.

News Editor Raymond Rendleman contributed to this story.