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Citizen's View: It's a matter of free expression versus objectivity under the law

For years, some in this community have engaged in spirited discussions about what should happen with the dated Wizer Block. They had subjective opinions about what they would like to see there in place of the rather tired, mid-century building that housed a once-landmark business that had run its course.

Then in the past two years, when it became apparent that the private owner was close to a deal with a private buyer, debate intensified and subjectivity and objectivity became muddled. The free expression of personal opinions is sacrosanct in a democracy, but we are now at a stage with this project where objectivity must surely take over, before any more of our taxpayer money is spent on appeals unlikely to succeed.

Too large and too dense, not compatible with village character, the project doesn’t meet the intention of the city code — these are the subjective views of the opponents. But the Lake Oswego City Council has an objective code that must guide them in their development decisions. In September 2014, that code brought them to a 5-2 objective decision that the proposed development met city standards and the code.

Disappointed, the opponents moved to the Land Use Board of Appeals and requested LUBA overturn the city’s decision. The same argument that the project didn’t meet an implied definition of village character was used.  Again looking objectively and at the code, LUBA concluded that the city’s interpretation of village character “easily” met the required standard of review. So now the opponents of the project take their appeal on to the Oregon Court of Appeals, using subjectivity and “underlying policies” of city planning.

A dislike of the project and subjective interpretations of the intent of the city code fit into the category of free expression, and there is nothing wrong with that. But freedom of speech is not the issue with the Court of Appeals. And the court cannot substitute its subjective judgment for that of the Land Use Board of Appeals. The Wizer opponents’ chances of success really do drastically narrow here. The further up the appeal ladder a case goes, the more difficult it becomes to prevail.

I heard a while back that the opponents would fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. In my judgment, that would be a huge financial mistake for them, would cost yet more taxpayer money and would ruin the reputation of Lake Oswego as a place in which to do business.

Roger Martin is a resident of Lake Oswego.


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