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City mulls new Stafford park

Neighbors argue 0.2-acre property should be preserved, not sold

Neighbors in the First Addition-Forest Hills neighborhood are arguing that a 0.2-acre, city-owned property would make a great public park.

But the modest, pie wedge-shaped lot at 1061 Sunningdale Road is being considered for disposition, having outlived its original use as the site of a water tower that has long since been removed. Its assessed value is $134,000, although area Realtors estimate it could fetch up to $200,000 in the current market.

Yet neighbors pointed out during last week’s Lake Oswego City Council meeting that the parcel is also located across the street from from the house poet William Stafford shared with his wife, Dorothy. Their son, Kim, emphasized that although William Stafford was a native of Kansas, he wrote 59 of his 60 books in Lake Oswego.

“I like the idea of this parcel remaining a public space, with perhaps a William Stafford poem set in bronze — or stone,” Kim wrote in a letter to the council, dated April 3.

He noted that similar commemorative sites at Foothills Park, Luscher Farm and the Stafford building were “starting to add up to a kind of literary pilgrim route for visitors.”

Kim Stafford himself attended the adjacent Forest Hills School, and emphasized the site’s potential educational value.

“I wonder if a local literary park might be of special use for teachers there, who could take their students on a very modest ‘field trip’ to read a poem at this little refuge among the trees, and perhaps settle on the ground to do some writing,” he wrote. “The park would be like a convenient open-air classroom for writers.”

Carole Ockert, chair of the First Addition Neighbors-Forest Hills Neighborhood Association, entered into the record a reading of William Stafford’s “With Neighbors One Afternoon,” a 17-line reflection on familiar landscapes and the passage of time, published in 1980.

In his letter, Kim Stafford suggested the poem would make a fitting addition to the park.

“It commemorates the Forest Hills neighborhood that was so conducive to my father’s creative life,” Stafford explained.

Councilor Lauren Hughes, a liaison to Lake Oswego’s Natural Resources Advisory Board, was in favor of keeping the property for public use.

“I think in that Forest Hills-First Addition neighborhood, we have seen particularly in the last 10 years a whole lot of teardown of homes and trees,” she said. “Trees are constantly being taken down in that neighborhood, so I think we should respect the neighborhood saying they would like to retain this small parcel that the city already owns, that we don’t have to have a huge investment in.”

It was a sentiment David Streiff, president of Citizens for Stewardship of Lake Oswego Lands, brought to the fore.

“The property may have economic value for the city, but what about the citizens’ backyards? Money should not be the argument, since sensitive lands homeowners have faced lost home sales or lower home prices, and have lost the use of their properties,” Streiff said, adding, “The city should put its money where its regulatory mouth is and protect this public parcel.”

Outgoing assistant city manager David Donaldson told the council the city originally purchased the property in 1946 for a token payment of $10, and that associated maintenance costs at 1061 Sunningdale Road are relatively low: The city spends $1,500 a year on landscaping — an amount that NRAB’s Nick Berardi said could be decreased, with the addition of native plants.

But Mayor Kent Studebaker was not swayed by aesthetic or sentimental arguments for keeping the park.

“Frankly, I’d like to sell this piece of property,” he said. “I think it would go a long way.”

Proceeds from that sale would arguably go further than sale of other surplus properties.

Donaldson stated in October that most city properties up for consideration were first acquired through bond measures, and could therefore only be used to acquire other park lands. The Sunningdale Road parcel is a notable exception, which means sale proceeds are not restricted.

“I don’t see this as becoming a William Stafford park for contemplation. I’d like to see us make a decision on this, go forward with disposing of it,” Studebaker said. He received limited support for the proposal, with only Councilor Skip O’Neill agreeing.

But neighbors and council members amenable to holding onto the property remained uncertain what ongoing maintenance would look like — whether the city would fund and supervise it, or turn it over to neighborhood associations.

Councilor Jon Gustafson seemed to side with members of the neighborhood association in attendance.

“We do have a lot of capital needs that are in desperate need of funds,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve heard that any of those capital needs are more important to them than maintaining this open space.”

Councilor Jeff Gudman agreed.

“We should, in the words of The Beatles, ‘let it be,”’ he said.

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