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'I don't like the prospect of Wizer's plan B'

In a prior week’s citizen view, Gene Wizer told us why his priority is to redevelop Block 137, but he does have alternatives. Wizer’s plan B is to remodel the building and bring in new long-term retail tenants. I don’t want that, and I assume many Lake Oswego residents would be disappointed to find a big box, chain store or similar retailer in that space. Remember, JC Penney was once his main tenant. In my view, a retailer filling the space means a 20-year lease, unattractive surface parking lots and traffic. It means a lost opportunity to see something really great at the property.

The Lake Oswego Development Code allows buildings up to 60 feet in height. The current plan meets this criteria. The developer is even exceeding requirements by replacing 60 percent of allowable commercial space with apartments and incorporating approximately 30 percent more parking than the city requires, and it is all underground. It is illogical that an owner and his selected developer (Evergreen Group LLC) have to worry about approvals for a project that meets or beats code.

The code was developed with a lot of thought, not only to let citizens know what to expect when they want to develop their property, but also to provide a roadmap of what the city would like to see in a specific area. If you read the code, you will see that the city wants mixed-use development and that the proposed plan is an example of just what Lake Oswego wants and needs.

The economics of real estate teaches us that given the cost of a piece of land, a developer has to build so much square footage of housing or retail space to provide a fair return on its investment. It is my understanding that, because of its financial participation, the city hired a qualified economic consultant to review Evergreen Group LLC’s project finances. They did not find the developer’s projected return to be out of the norm. With the cost of construction and materials so high, how can we expect to see a development that is less dense without sacrificing something important such as design and construction quality?

For those who want less height and mass in our commercial centers, instead of opposing the current plan for Block 137 that will benefit our community, there is a process. The citizens who have expressed the opinion that they want less density should focus attention in pressuring council and city planners to reduce the height limits in the development code on the remaining downtown commercial blocks. Start by asking them to use the city-owned real estate that they have assembled on B Avenue from First Street to State Street as a standard of lower height development for future projects. Meanwhile, let the highly skilled and reputable development teams who have crafted a thoughtful plan for Block 137 get on with it.

Gene Sause is a resident of Lake Oswego.



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