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Wizer Block approval: How did we get to this point?

Our City Council overturned the Development Review Commission last week and approved the Wizer development. Many of us disagree, including this writer. How did we get here?

In the late 1980s, the Urban Design Plan (UDP) was developed, then the East End Redevelopment Plan (EERP). These plans are general guidelines for what our community wanted, and there was extensive interaction between the community, city planners and the redevelopment staff. Why? To create a downtown of which all were proud. These documents were specifically designed to guide the development of detailed codes.

So what happened in the past decade or so?

A substantial proposal for Block 138 came along. It was not as big as the current Block 137 (Wizer) proposal, but big. The community was aghast and voted it down. Then there was another proposal for Block 138. The developer met with the community and staff and eventually presented a project that satisfied all and met code — Lake View Village. This project was designed to be small in scale, with no more than two stories on First Street and A Avenue. It had no residential space. City planning staff supported this plan.

Since then, there have been various changes to our code suggested by staff and approved by city councils. While these changes did codify some of the UDP or EERP, they did nothing to implement a “compact shopping district” on the four blocks surrounding A & First. The code became less clear and objective, which allowed for arbitrary interpretation.

Today, the revised EERP does not even mention residential as a use for Block 137; it is designated for mixed use, but residential is never mentioned. Suggested uses include a library and a hotel with first-floor retail.

I wonder if this City Council thought about the UDP and EERP when it consented to a Block 137 development agreement with Evergreen Group LLC that included residential. I think not. I wonder if the planning department believes that our code should flow from the community plans that we have developed, the UDP and EERP? I think not.

How do we get a situation where we have specifications for everything down to the sidewalk and benches, but nothing to define what we want in the “compact shopping district?” Why didn’t planning staff build anything into the code for these important four blocks over the years? Why didn’t previous city managers and city councils make sure that happened?

It’s simple — we got what the staff and elected officials wanted. We are now getting a monster proposal for Block 137 (yes, I am not in favor of it), which planning staff has supported while giving the community the cold shoulder. Why didn’t staff support something more akin to Lake View Village?

City Councilor Skip O’Neill referred to our complicated codes. He is correct, but he missed the real issue. The bigger problem is that the code does not reflect what the community wants; it’s what staff wants. The code allows siting and massing standards for very long, big buildings with no significant breaks. It allows a large number of apartments in what is to be a shopping area. Why?

Ask yourself if the City Council knows there are code issues and that the community is not happy. What are they going to do and when? Answers are long overdue.

Gerry Good is a Lake Oswego resident and member of the city’s budget committee.

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