Lake Oswego School District OKs purchase of new bus barn site
Lake Oswego School Board members voted 3-2 Monday night to move forward with the purchase of property at 6333 Lakeview Blvd. to house the district's 60 school buses, a bus maintenance facility and parking for transportation employees.
The decision drew angry reactions from residents of the Rosewood neighborhood, who voiced their concerns at Monday's meeting and at a community engagement forum on April 12. Lakeview Boulevard is simply not an adequate street for bus traffic, they said, because it is narrow, contains dangerous curves and intersections, includes several traffic choke points and has inconsistent sidewalks and streetlights.
Many of the residents also said the district's efforts to gather community input about the purchase were too little and too late, and that the district never seriously considered what they had to say.
"Lake Oswego is a wonderful community," said neighborhood resident Josh Carter, "but the city and the school district have done very little to include the Rosewood community, which is simply trying to accommodate the surrounding growth in a way that does not impact their lives in a profound way."
District officials agreed that public input wasn't handled well, but they insisted that the property, which sits just north of the intersection of Southwest 65th Avenue and McEwan Road, was the only one available that met all of their criteria.
"It is zoned light industrial, it is within reasonable distance to our schools, it is 2.5 acres or more (the property actually measures about 2.41 acres), and it is within our budget," Assistant Superintendent Stuart Ketzler said at the April 12 forum. "Our current transportation facility was constructed when the district was much smaller than it is now."
Ketzler said the district began looking for property for a new bus barn in the 2014-15 school year and considered properties in Lake Oswego, Tualatin, West Linn and Tigard. The current facility at 4200 Douglas Way, which sits in a mostly residential area adjacent to Waluga Park, was the worst-rated facility in studies prepared for the district in advance of last year's bond measure. It is considered too costly to repair or replace.
"(The Lakeview) property met all of our basic conditions," Ketzler said. "We certainly recognize that there are challenges. There are challenges placing a bus facility anywhere in a community. But we believe that we will be able to mitigate the effects on the immediate neighbors."
The Lakeview property currently includes an existing factory building, which "is more than adequate for a bus maintenance facility, as well as employee support facilities, a dispatch base and more," according to Ketzler. But an existing pole barn will have to be removed to make room for parking, and a covered propane fueling station will have to be built.
District officials said they were pushed to make a decision on Monday night partially because of an approaching deadline to move on the property or risk losing it to another buyer. The district agreeed to pay $3.25 million for the property and hopes to begin housing buses there by mid-2019.
Before the vote, Carter urged the board members to "be thoughtful and take more time."
"It's disheartening that this project moved so quickly without real input from the neighbors," he told the board. "If you were being a good neighbor, you would not see such a large turnout today and such strong pushback."
Rosewood Neighborhood Association Co-Chair Peter Klaebe voiced concerns about the traffic ramifications of the new facility.
"We are concerned you're taking the traffic from one neighborhood and putting it into another without taking into account its impacts," he said, pointing to a district traffic study that neighbors called "incomplete" and "a failure" because they say it only considered a few main intersections around the property, but not local cut-through streets.
In a letter to the board, Klaebe detailed residents' specific concerns with the traffic study.
"It doesn't consider impacts to the intersection at 65th/McEwan, which is the first intersection for buses leaving Lakeview to the south," he wrote. It also does not consider "delays on Boones Ferry Road northbound in (the morning) at the train track crossing, as each bus has to stop and then climb the hill."
He also pointed to the "changed traffic behavior of local residents, who start to avoid Pilkington Road traffic backups (during peak afternoon hours) and start overcrowding other collector streets like Bryant Road from Boones Ferry, or Jean Way from I-5."
Sherry Patterson, a member of both the River Grove Water District and River Grove Fire District boards, expressed concerns about the safety of having bus traffic on Lakeview itself. She presented the board with a 2016 email from Trimet Senior Planner Tom Mills, who said "Lakeview is too narrow and residential to serve with buses."
Some residents questioned why all of the district's buses have to be housed in one location.
"No one neighborhood wants to host the city's entire bus barn," Billy Davis told the board. "Our neighborhood is not here saying no. We're saying let's find a solution that makes everyone happy."
After listening to residents' concerns, Board Chair John Wallin moved to approve the purchase, but with a stipulation that district officials — including a board member — will meet with representatives of the Rosewood Neighborhood Association to work through neighborhood concerns. Board members Bob Barman and Liz Hartman joined Wallin in voting yes; Rob Wagner and Sara Pocklington voted no.
All of the board members, as well as Superintendent Heather Beck, admitted that public outreach on the bus facility wasn't handled well. Moving to the Lakeview property was first discussed at a meeting in October 2017, but "I did not follow up after that meeting, and that was a huge oversight on my part," Beck said.
Barman said he supported the purchase but was "really upset about this project."
"We utterly failed at this," he said. "If you want to have trust, you've got to have outreach. We have utterly failed on that. I will commit to every single person in here that there will be outreach and there will be working together on this issue."
Pocklington expressed regret that district officials hadn't worked harder to include neighborhood residents in the planning process.
"At the end of the day, we come up with a better solution for bringing people in than just discussing on our own. Whether or not this is the right location, it was not handled in the right way," she said. "I never want to be in this situation again. These are our neighbors. These are the parents of the kids that we are working on serving and educating."
Rosewood residents were not appeased. "There goes my property value," remarked one. "Get ready for war," said another.
Klaebe told The Review that he is hopeful the divided vote means school district staff will do a better job of being good neighbors.
"I think we are far from a done deal about how this might unfold," he said.