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Council approves Foothills urban renewal plan

In January, the new city council might have a different take on the issue


The Lake Oswego City Council gave its final stamp of approval to forming a new urban renewal district to pay for public projects in the Foothills area on Tuesday, ignoring suggestions that new members of the council will help reverse the decision in January.

In separate votes Tuesday, the council also advanced code and comprehensive plan amendments aiming to transform the largely industrial district into a retail and residential neighborhood between State Street and the Willamette River. Officials hope Foothills projects will eventually enjoy success similar to Lake View Village, a key but one-time controversial component of the longstanding downtown urban renewal plan.

“It strikes me that it needs urban renewal or it won’t happen,” Councilor Bill Tierney said. “If it didn’t need urban renewal I wouldn’t be supporting it.”

It was the last council meeting of 2012, and some councilors voiced disapproval for considering the urban renewal plan so close to January, when new council members will take their seats.

“It’s a pity so much staff time has been put into jamming it through right before Christmas,” Councilor Mike Kehoe said. “We’ll work on this next year.”

Mayor Jack Hoffman had a different take. He said planning efforts in Foothills date back at least eight years.

“This is not being jammed through,” he said. “It has been processed to death.”

The new plan authorizes the use of urban renewal funding for about 20 projects intended to attract private investment and spur redevelopment in a 58-acre area. They include relocated sewer and stormwater mains, landscaping improvements and transportation upgrades such as a “northern portal” into the district via a new intersection, reconstruction of Foothills Road and an extension of B Avenue across State Street from downtown.

In addition, a new staircase would lead toward a public plaza by Foothills Park, and $8.8 million has been provided to help developers who build affordable housing.

The council also recently added a project aiming to offset the new development’s impacts on the floodplain.

Consultants have projected that the city’s investment in Foothills could boost property tax values in the area from about $12 million in 2013 to about $575 million over the next two decades.

The city would have to secure money for a loan to get public projects started, but officials said that could be paid back with new tax revenue generated in the district and public money wouldn’t be spent until the city had specific agreements with developers.

While the majority of about a dozen people testifying at a previous hearing supported the plan, most of roughly 10 people testifying on Tuesday opposed it.

Peter Sweet cautioned the council against taking on any more debt, warning that if this project fails to attract tenants or buyers, taxpayers might end up on the hook.

John Surrett said the council shouldn’t turn a blind eye to regional public opposition of urban renewal funding; Oregon City voters recently approved new rules requiring voter approval for the formation of urban renewal districts, he noted.

Jim Bolland also said he thinks urban renewal districts should be subject to a citizen vote.

“You’re well aware there’s going to be a problem in the future with supporting this,” Bolland said. To advance the plan now, he added, “just seems wholly inappropriate to me as a citizen of Lake Oswego.”

The council voted 4-3 in favor of the urban renewal plan, with Hoffman and councilors Tierney, Donna Jordan and Sally Moncrieff in support, and councilors Kehoe, Jeff Gudman and Mary Olson opposed.

Although Gudman was against using urban renewal to finance redevelopment, he supported the code and comprehensive plan changes allowing redevelopment to take place. That’s because he thinks a lack of vision for the area has kept developers from investing.

“I believe there will be changes to it, possibly as early as next year,” he said. However, “at least now property owners have something to work with, which we did not have before.”




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