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Developers, property owners deserve certainty

Lake Oswego is my home. Development is my business. Developers like me, and property owners like you, know where to find the rules that define what we can do on our property. For Gene Wizer, those rules are found in the Downtown Redevelopment Design District (DRDD).

Two members of the Development Review Commission and the city’s planning staff urged an approval of the Wizer redevelopment under those DRDD standards. Three members of the DRC urged a close denial of the Wizer redevelopment, based on their review of those same standards.

So where is the disagreement?

The staff and all five members of the DRC agree that all three buildings are within the height, density and number of stories allowed in downtown. The DRC findings state: “The Commission finds that each of the three buildings is less than 60 feet in height, therefore complying with the maximum height limit for the EC zone and for the Building Siting and Massing standard of the DRDD.” The DRC findings also show that the “project complies with all required measures of density.” Where the code regulates the size or scale of the structures, the DRC unanimously found that the buildings met all of those requirements.

The DRC also reviewed whether the buildings were designed in our coveted Lake Oswego Style. There the DRC found that all three buildings “use the prescribed elements of Lake Oswego Style to create distinctive buildings with richly textured, visually engaging facades.” The DRC approved the design of the buildings.

The Wizer proposal meets the size limitations of height, density and number of stories and is richly designed with distinctive buildings in the Lake Oswego Style. How can the project be denied under the code?

That is where the disagreement emerges. The three dissenting members of the DRC believe that “small-scale” in the definition of village character means that regardless of whether you meet the specific requirements for scale under the DRDD standards, the DRC can deny a project if it does not feel that it is “small-scale” enough. The DRC did not explain why its definition conflicts with the other specific code requirements for scale in the DRDD, or why it trumps their own findings of approval under Lake Oswego Style.

If the code permits a height of 60 feet and four stories and a Lake Oswego Style development, then DRC cannot conclude that is not what the code really means. They cannot say, in essence, that it means something less but we cannot tell you how much less. To borrow the words of two DRC members who denied the application, “I feel like we are floundering a little bit on how to address the issue of small” (July 30 transcript, page 138, lines 15-18) or “village character and small scale are nebulous terms” (July 30 transcript, page 140, lines 7-10).

Creating a new code standard part way through an application process seems unfair. The current code specifically lays out a standard for village character in four sections of the code. The DRC found the Wizer project met all of those specific standards, describing the project as “distinctive,” “richly textured” with “visually engaging facades.” The City Council should correct the subjective interpretations of our code and approve the Wizer application. Developers and property owners alike deserve certainty.

Vanessa Sturgeon is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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