I am a native Oregonian and have lived most of my almost 70 years in and around the Oregon City area and I have to speak out against the Oregon City Public Works (PW) reconstruction project that is currently passing through the necessary steps/procedures to become approved.
In fact, it has been stated by PW staff that they hope to break ground in 2018. The proposed new "Campus" is to be located at their existing location (122 S. Center St., located in the McLoughlin Conservation District) and has already gained approvals from the Oregon City Planning and Development Department, and the Oregon City Historic Review Board (HRB). As I understand it from attending the HRB June 27 meeting, the next step is for review/approval by the city commissioners.
PW has a history of 60 years at their current location and the city is heavily invested in reconstructing the new PW campus at this location, however, when PW began their tenure upon this site in around the 1950s the population in Oregon City was approximately 7,000. The population has now grown to over 36,000. No one denies that PW has worn out and outgrown their adopted structures and really needs to construct an industrial campus that will bring them current technology, appropriate work spaces, and resolution for so many difficult logistical problems they currently deal with every day. I attended their recent open house and took a tour of the facility.
It has been said and written, that the new PW Master Plan is a 20-year plan for growth. OC will not be growing slowly like it has; it will be growing by leaps and bounds as new residents and businesses will be drawn by the thousands with the new jobs that will come with the new Willamette Falls Legacy Project, supporting hotels, growing downtown area, etc. There is no way that the existing restrictive "corner" that is to be the future PW Campus will handle the growth necessary over the next decade, let alone longer than that.
The existing PW industrial property, is backed up against a 45-foot rock hillside, with Waterboard Park on its south and east borders. The west border is Center Street and the north border is residential. Currently, there is barely enough room to turn their big trucks around in the lower yard because of the confining hillside and rocky outcroppings.
The latest plan design tries to eliminate/reduce the number of trucks turning around in the lower confining yard by including seven large garage doors that will open up right onto Center Street when trucks are dispatched. However, the new building, including these garage doors, will only be set back 32 inches from the sidewalk, which means that by the time the truck driver can actually look down the sidewalk to see any pedestrians, the pedestrians will have already been run over by the front of the truck.
This possible ADA issue has been brought to their attention, but instead of dealing with it now, the project has conveniently (recently) been divided into at least two phases.
Phase 1 is the upper yard and the two-story office building and truck maintenance buildings (moving forward to the City Commissioners for approval).
Phase 2 is the lower yard on Center Street where the loading and unloading of trucks will happen, along with truck/tractor dispatch (to be dealt with sometime in the future).
They are trying to pass Phase 1 through the approval process and deal with Phase 2 later. The problem is that this master plan should not be broken into multiple phases until it is proven that the complicated site will handle everything they are doing now AND what they need to do in the future. Currently, PW is storing supplies all around the city and commented during their Open House how difficult and complicated that is for management to handle. They hoped to bring everything to their new campus. The master plan needs to be re-evaluated given the explosive growth logically projected for the city.
What happens when they have their office building under construction (Phase 1) and then it is finally realized that because of ADA issues Phase 2 will functionally NOT fit?
Impact on residential neighbors
Also included in the latest plan is a 60-foot freestanding elevator to move staff from the lower yard (Center Street) up the 45-foot bluff to the new two-story office building on the upper-yard level. Staff parking will be on this upper level, near the office building and the truck maintenance operations as well. So, every time a truck needs maintenance it will be driven from the lower yard turning left out onto Center Street, requiring crossing traffic, and then again crossing traffic to manipulate the tight left turn to head up the steep hill to the upper yard. The steep terrain will require driving up the hill in the loudest low gear. These industrial strength trucks are extremely loud and with the rock wall behind, the noise level during working hours is already loud for the neighbors. With this additional driving up and down the hill, it is going to be deafening throughout the McLoughlin Conservation District directly below, as the wall creates an echo chamber.
Currently, because of the lack of space inside their lower yard, PW is using Center Street as their circulation area. At any point in time, there can be multiple trucks parked along Center or Second Street. Some trucks are actually parked on the sidewalk in front of the PW building, and during the winter the big diesel trucks are allowed to idle for long periods of time (to keep the engines warm) consuming the quiet neighborhood with overwhelming noise. In the winter, trucks are rolled out during the middle of the night from these seven garage doors to begin sanding or plowing roads, and the truck lights will be shining directly into the houses across the street. Also, no one talks about the continual stream of vendor trucks trying to make their way into the facility. The new plan does not have a "staging" area in front of the main gate. If the gate is closed, the truck has to wait in the street for the gate to be opened. PW says, "every truck will have an automatic gate opener." What about the vendor trucks? Will they have an opener as well?
PW is essential for our city as it is their commission to physically support our waning and growing infrastructure. The irony is that their proposed new campus is planned for their existing location under a rocky hillside that geologists have warned may be a landslide issue in an earthquake situation. It would be horrible, if during a crisis, the earthmoving equipment that would be necessary to help save our community is buried under a pile of rubble. Or that your new two-story office building will be damaged or worse.
Historic neighborhood conservation
If PW is allowed to stay at their current location, then the new building designs do not conform to the "Guidelines For New Construction for Oregon City Historic Districts." The Oregon City Planning and Development Department, and the OC Historic Review Board have both chosen to completely ignore these very specific guidelines (63 pages) that were established in September 2006 by the Historic Review Board, Oregon City staff and the architectural office of Robert Dortignacq.
As stated by the title of the document, these guidelines were developed and put into place to PROTECT and PRESERVE Oregon City historic neighborhoods, including the McLoughlin Historic Conservation District. In fact, following is a very specific point made on page 5, in the section Applicable Projects For The Guidelines: "The guidelines apply to new detached construction and site work, either infill on a vacant lot or accessory structures to an existing building. They also apply to the total rebuilding of demolished structures that were previously non-conforming under current zoning. In addition, the guidelines apply to new public works projects which further states that their construction "shall employ a residential style architecture to better integrate into the neighborhood fabric."
At a spring McLoughlin Neighborhood Association (MNA) meeting the PW staff, planning staff and architect were asked about these guidelines and they said that they are just "guidelines" and they do not have to conform. However, at a subsequent MNA meeting in April, Tony Konkol, Oregon City city manager, stated that this PW construction project is not exempt from the guidelines. Clearly there is a disconnect regarding these very important protective guidelines.
In 2006, the team that developed these guidelines spent untold hours honing this document to protect our important historic districts. They had the foresight to see that PW was going to outgrow their existing structures, and wanted to protect the neighborhood from exactly what is happening today.
? Purchase the 12+ acres on Mollalla Avenue (Walmart is selling that property) and sell off commercial pads along Mollalla Avenue to fast food or other potential businesses. The city can probably make enough on those pads to be free and clear on the rest of the acreage behind, and this would be a good flat central location. All of PW facilities and storage could be located to a single site, centrally located.
? Sell the house the PW purchased on Center Street for $450,000 a few years ago.
? Eliminate the proposed 60-foot elevator tower (expensive and only necessary because of the difficult site).
? Removing property from tax rolls is another concern I've heard from PW staff. Then, don't take property from the tax rolls. Use existing city property - i.e., new police-station land, maybe there is some city-owned property in the Red Soils area. Get creative with city-owned property.
Another comment that I have heard from PW staff about moving to another location is that they "need" to be located in this downtown location, in the heart of the city, because that is where most of their infrastructure maintenance occurs. A person might easily surmise that driving those heavy trucks and backhoes up and down the historic neighborhood streets every day might damage and age the infrastructure.
Also, the city staff say, "We looked all around in 2009 for other OC property and could not find anything suitable or available and we still can't find any land." It is now 2017 and a commercial real estate company needs to be hired to acquire the acreage necessary for this project and typically, there is no charge to the developer. If they cannot find one piece of property large enough, they combine properties, etc. This kind of thing is done all the time.
The city has likely spent millions of taxpayer dollars since the inception of this project, conceptualizing the Master Plan, changing the Master Plan again and again, and all to fit this ridiculously confining location. Move on and find a logical, practical location for the new PW office building and enough land to store, manage and dispatch the equipment. This tiny, rocky, dangerous hillside plot is not a place where you can continue to grow your operations nor it is a place to invest all of that money for a new campus.
Decision for the future
Oregon City has multiple development projects underway. One is all about the future growth of the city, The Willamette Falls Development Project (promises a multi-use site focusing on the history of OC to share with visitors from nearby and around the world) and another is this Public Works reconstruction of their aging facility three blocks up the hill from the falls project. Directly in between the two polar opposite projects is the Museum of Oregon Territory. Eventually there will be a pedestrian walk from the Falls area over Highway 99E to the museum and to this southern end of the McLoughlin neighborhood. There will be more, not less, foot traffic along Center Street and this historic district.
City commissioners, the next step is in your hands. This is the watershed moment that took over 60 years to develop and it is here NOW! PW Operations Department has outgrown their current location and they need to move to a more practical suitable location that will support their growth for many decades into the future.
Jeanne Premore is a retired director of technology and an Oregon City property owner.