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Milwaukie long overdue for an attitude change

On May 20, Milwaukie City Council granted our neighborhood’s appeal to reverse the Planning Commission’s approval of Northwest Housing Alternative’s open-ended zone change request.

Three councilors (of five) agreed that the applicant failed to meet the requirement to explain how their project met the city’s required eight-point criteria. The applicant ignored the issues of parking, already a serious problem around NWHA, nor did they mention how their three-story office building, plus doubling the current density, would impact the character of our neighborhood.

This month, NWHA filed an intent to appeal the city decision, and now we have 21 days in which to make our decision.

It is really interesting how this worked out. The city took the route less likely to cause the issue to drag on for years (by accepting the Town Center Master Plan as a legitimate part of the Comprehensive Planning process) and taking the easier-to-defend position that NWHA failed to provide the required information for only one of the eight criteria which would justify the development. They did a wonderful job in evaluating the inaccurate nature of two of the criteria in the explanation of why the council reversed the Planning Commission.

Well, it is not the big issue that would have forced recognition of the plan at this level, but it sure will be noticed by city planners and Planning Commission members to stop their automatic acceptance of applications and following ‘’pass’’ recommendations of the planners. They all failed their due diligence.

One of the problems we see is that the city provides only seven days advance information in the form of packets for Planning Commission and City Council. That includes the affected neighborhood groups as well. We believe that adequate time to — 1) send the material, 2) read the material, 3) evaluate the material, 4) understand the complex issues, 5) consider complications, 6) discover questions, 7) investigate questions, 8) discover inconsistencies, 9) verify facts, 10) take a position — are too many things to do in just seven days if a serious attempt to make an informed vote is going to happen. We want more time for the process so we can get what we paid for.

The planners are very handsomely paid. But the result of their work is not happening to an equal benefit to the public’s interest. One of the other problems is that we have not seen the Planning Department recommend a ‘’reject’’ of an application. They have, however, made little picky, inconsequential recommendations. In this case, I talked with Li Aligood about the things we would most likely find a challenge, and she said, ‘’the criteria.” She knew! How and why did that happen?

We wonder if it had something to do with the years of association that the people of NWHA had developed with the Milwaukie Planning Department. You can’t find a project that they have not entered into as a participant for many years. I would go so far as their actions have become an unfair advantage for the planners to accept this proposal and do it without bothering to be honest, accurate or complete in their application for development. Not only that, they asked for things they did not need, but would have caused the value of the property to skyrocket and more profitable for sale.

We all noted that there was something odd in that they engineered the process in a way which avoided the usual discovery processes about the uses to which the property would be put. They were able to skip all the usual and customary hearing disclosures — because they were able to avoid the hearings where details are required — such as building placement, actual intent, community service organizations, parking requirements and study, traffic study, and why is an office building being allowed within the neighborhood when this is not justified by their argument.

Too many questions, too many missing parts and too much incentive to go for the big prize and then sell it to somebody for what ever they want, and we would have NOTHING to say about it.

I hope that our NDA will vote for joining in the LUBA case. We would like to see the decision by the city sustained. But we would also like to see the planners, the Planning Commission and the NWHA folks understand that this low level of both private and government planners is not acceptable and they cannot continue to depend upon the publics willingness to be cheated.

We are grateful to the three members of City Council — Hedges, Miller and Churchill — for their understanding of the issues and standing up for the citizens of Milwaukie in this important issue and at this critical time in the wholesale replanning of about one third of the city.

We are not opposed to change or development, so long as it is well considered, not damaging to the livability and security of the city, and definitely, not directed by those who are profiting by a biased, unfair and questionable process. We need change — in the city attitude and process!

Jean Baker is a resident of the downtown Historic Milwaukie neighborhood.




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