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Shifting vision for Wizer Block sits uneasy for some local developers

Debate intensifies ahead of key Development Review Commission hearing


As developer Patrick Kessi prepares to discuss his controversial vision for the Wizer Block with the city's Development Review Commission on July 21, the former home of Wizer's Oswego Foods remains an unwitting symbol of a city in the rocky throes of progress.

The boxy red-brick building on A Avenue still houses nearly a dozen businesses, including a namesake wine shop and a Mexican restaurant. It's an homage to a bygone mid-century shopping center aesthetic, designed by Oregon architect Richard Sundeleaf in 1959.

But if all goes as Kessi hopes, that building could be razed by next spring.

The prime piece of downtown real estate has certainly entertained its share of offers from developers eager to update the property. Veteran Lake Oswego developer Nick Bunick recalls his vision for a joint venture between himself and owner Gene Wizer before the turn of the century: a European market on the first floor, offices on the second.

Bunick describes it as part of a larger plan that he had hoped would include the current site of Stickmen Brewery & Skewery on State Street and a floating restaurant. Bunick also envisioned an outdoor theater-of-sorts along Oswego Lake.

Plans didn’t get far. Then-mayor Alice Schlenker was reluctant to allow the city to give up the Southern Pacific railroad line, Bunick says, and his plans required that.

“It was a totally different concept,” Bunick says.

What does Bunick think of Kessi’s plans for a 207-unit, mixed-use luxury apartment complex?

"I agree with Tana Haynes and Cheryl Uchida," Bunick says, referring to local organizers and a Save Our Village campaign that has loudly criticized what they view as an outsized development incompatible with the downtown landscape.

“I think (Kessi) should lower it one more floor, reduce the number of units and reduce the parking,” Bunick says.

Debate over the development of downtown Lake Oswego isn't new, of course. In October 1998, then-Mayor Bill Klammer penned an editorial for The Review that outlined his vision of "a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly village marketplace that provides the goods and services the citizens of Lake Oswego need."

“Continuing the redevelopment of downtown Lake Oswego will pay off both financially and in the intangible commodity of increased community livability,” Klammer wrote.

Klammer urged voters to pass the ultimately unsuccessful Measure 3-18, which would have supported more-rapid downtown development. He cautioned against allowing “market forces to dictate what happens in Lake Oswego,” citing Highway 99 through Tigard, as well as downtown Beaverton and 82nd Avenue in Portland, as cautionary tales.

But change is inevitable, as Barry Cain, president of Gramor Development, will attest. Cain and his team developed the now-iconic Lake View Village, which has served as a cornerstone of the downtown core’s redevelopment efforts.

Kessi argues that his Block 137 vision is compatible with the tone and architectural style of Lake View Village, but Cain disagrees. He doesn't like Kessi’s vision for the Wizer block, describing the design as "monolithic."

Cain particularly takes exception to the length of the residential building, which he describes as longer than a Portland city block.

Cain also complains about the lack of adequate parking for the project.

Design criticism nothwithstanding, what can Kessi expect working with the city?

“I think the staff is tremendously professional, tremendously knowledgeable, and I have great confidence in the City Council and the Development Review Commission that they will do the right thing that's best for everyone,” Bunick says.

However, the timeframe can be tricky, he says.

“The problem, I think, is the time periods between being able to get on the agendas,” he says. “It’s extremely long because of the number of items that are before the council and before the (Development Review Commission). It takes much longer than one would hope.

“But when you finally get before the council, I found that the staff is tremendously well-prepared, as well as the members of the council and the members of the commission,” he said.




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