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Council has chance to set things right

Expectations were high. The developer listened and revised the Wizer Block redevelopment proposal by staying within the height and floor limit and designing buildings that complemented Lake View Village. The DRC, a democratic institution in an enlightened city, should carry out the wishes of the majority while ensuring that the views of the minority are honored and that various design and legal regulations are not violated. Alas, the DRC rejected the proposal, initiating a setback for the city of a decade or more. Fortunately, the City Council has an opportunity to set things right.

Interestingly, Lake View Village faced the same degree of opposition and similar arguments. Ultimately, the developer was granted 11 code exemptions. In the end, it turned out to be a beautiful project that enhanced the livability of our city. When I volunteer at the Saturday market, I am constantly amazed at the number of out-of-town folks saying good things about our city. The revised Wizer Block design is in line with the facades presented by Lake View Village and maintains the character and aesthetics cherished by our citizens. The addition of another walkway to Second Street will make it even more attractive.

The city code for mixed-use development wisely refrains from setting exact numbers for apartments, condos and retail. To achieve financial justification, the developer needs flexibility. Nevertheless, the retail area was increased by 8,000 square feet over the minimum LORA recommendation and the number of apartments was reduced by 21. In my walks around downtown, I counted 22 vacant storefronts, including three in Lake View Village. This does not indicate a healthy occupancy rate. What downtown needs is more customers, while our schools need more pupils. Projections for the Portland area indicate that 85 percent of the new construction will be multi-unit. Multi-story dwellings are inherently more energy- and resource-efficient. The developer is also providing more than minimum parking spaces and four times more bicycle spaces.

In addition to vague comments about character and density, with the word “massive” being kicked around like a soccer ball, one hears mention of excess traffic even though studies show that the incremental traffic increase would be small and easily absorbed.

Arguments regarding code and character can be readily refuted, but what about unspoken and barely spoken issues about the nature of the potential residents? Clearly some of them will be empty-nesters currently living in Lake Oswego homes who are ready to downsize. Some will be couples and families with school-age children who love the city and who someday will be ready to buy. Given this, you have to ask, what is the common good here? Do we want a village that existed in 1950 or a 21st-century city that is diverse and inviting and alive in every sense?

Finally, there has been much discussion about private property rights. Testimony at City Hall on sensitive lands and a transportation plan was full of passionate demands that individual property rights trump all other possible benefits when it comes to land use, private or adjacent. How should we look at the Wizer Block in this regard? The Wizer family loves Lake Oswego too much to see it descend into stagnation. I urge the City Council to approve this project.

Vidya Kale is a Lake Oswego resident.

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