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Speaking out? Make it count

There was a public hearing on the Wizer block last week. Though I attended and gave testimony, I have decided hearings are a waste of time. If a developer follows our city code, the city council did little and the hearing simply satisfied the legal requirement to hold one.

The community development codes need to be changed so the city evolves in a way that respects whatever character is left of our small town. Not so long ago, we were a suburban small town of mainly low-density, single-family homes. The tables have turned, and the city now requires increased density with minimum dwelling units per acre instead of maximum. This encourages large projects, increased traffic and additional demands on public services, not to mention the loss of huge chunks of sky that will remove the openness that no design tweaks can replace.

If you saw Mercer Island’s small town a few years ago and then saw their town center today, you would see Lake Oswego’s future. Although Mercer Island has some of the wealthiest residents in the Puget Sound area, they couldn’t keep large, mixed-use, transit-oriented apartment buildings out of their city, and now their island of peace and quiet is lost forever.

Everyone I know wants to save Lake Grove from the density occurring downtown, but current codes allow it here also. It is just a matter of time before the behemoths start cropping up in the west end. Buildings big enough to add the appropriate density for a 24-hour presence, and with the faux “European Village” look, the city will create the “vibrancy” we’ve been told we don’t have but need.

In the original Downtown Design Guide (1988), the consultants planned for smaller buildings with smaller footprints and warned that in order to achieve compatibility within the district the city should not resort to a “theme.” And yet that is what is happening. The municipal code describes the approved “Lake Oswego style” that is now the required theme for new development. Who decided that our “style” was Arts and Crafts, Tudor and Oregon rustic?

Lake Oswego was a fast-growing city in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and we are fortunate to have a lot of notable architects’ midcentury work in the city. But this era and its architecture (and others) seem to be forgotten by those who would like us to be a European village. They do not understand that a city’s physical presence and its soul evolve over time and have a history of their own. The “instant” design theme makes Lake Oswego look silly and like it could be anywhere.

In order to be effective at holding onto Lake Oswego as a small town with a unique past, we will have to address the development codes rather than wait for the pre-apps and hearings and then start biting our nails and gnashing our teeth, always playing defense. This process has citizens chasing their tails in the name of citizen involvement when the die was cast the day the development codes were approved.

Dianne Cassidy is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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