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'Mr. Wizer, its time to reimagine this project'

The Lake Oswego Neighborhood Action Coalition (LONAC) voted overwhelmingly to support the Evergreen Neighborhood Association’s opposition to the currently proposed Wizer block redevelopment project. Bolland

LONAC has provided a central voice for neighborhood issues for more than 20 years, particularly in the land use arena. I don’t know anyone who isn’t in favor of Gene Wizer redeveloping his downtown property, so why is there so much opposition to this proposal? In a word, this is a supersized project. With square footage somewhere north of 250,000, this development will dwarf Lake View Village and the condo block to the west that are 90,000 square feet each. This apartment project proposal is at urban densities in a downtown that has developed at a village scale. The adjoining streetscapes are two and three stories with peaks that rise to 45 feet.

There are six buildings in Lake View Village. The Wizer proposal is for three buildings and it will be a solid 60 feet high on all four sides. The buildings are massive and institutional in appearance with a solid wall facing along A Avenue.

Why would the city support such an outsized proposal? The simple answer from city planners is that code allows 60-foot heights. But there are numerous code requirements for how development fits in the community. City staff has a bias for large projects that maximize assessed property values because property taxes are the primary source of general fund revenues that pay their salaries.

And city planners are “urban” planners with a bias toward urbanizing our community. Remember that in the last two city council elections the leaders who were advocating for a streetcar and 90-foot apartment towers in Foothills were voted out in favor of candidates advocating fiscal restraint and preserving our village character. Based on election results, staunch opposition to the proposal is no mystery.

It is curious why Messrs. Wizer and Kessi have been unwilling to compromise and reduce the size of their proposal in the face of so much opposition. Wizer often speaks about projects for his property not “penciling” but I suspect he has an inflated idea of what his property is worth. That’s due in part to the downtown urban renewal district. The city historically overpays for downtown properties just as they overpaid for the Safeco building, artificially inflating values. Perhaps they are confident that the development review commission will approve their application. City staff will tell the DRC they don’t have discretion in interpreting city codes but the codes are poorly written or intentionally vague and unclear precisely so they can be interpreted any way that city staff wishes. The lack of clarity invites legal challenges beyond usual state land use processes.

The SaveRVillage opposition group has retained an attorney and indicates they are willing to “go the distance” legally. How will investors behind this project react to a couple of years of legal delays? And interest rates?

Mr. Wizer, it’s time to reimagine this project. I don’t mean offering to eliminate the fifth floor and its 30 units. I would suggest eliminating a whole floor and break the project into six buildings so it blends with your neighbors. Add more retail space with fewer apartments. Take a break. Sit down with your opposition. Redesign the project. Go to DRC with their support. Step up.

Jim Bolland serves as co-chairman of the Lake Oswego Neighborhood Action Coalition and vice chairman of the First Addition/Forest Hills Neighborhood Association.

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