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Council rejects resident's appeal of Progress Ridge parking plan

Developer free to build two-story structure without ground-floor businesses

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sarah Yahn, a vocal opponent of a planned parking garage at Progress Ridge TownSquare, has lost an appeal with the Beaverton City Council. Despite a detail-driven, passionate appeal to stop plans for a two-story parking garage at Progress Ridge TownSquare from moving forward, a Beaverton City Council decision on Tuesday night frees the complex's developer to build the proposed structure.

After more than three hours of public testimony and discussion, the council voted unanimously, 3-0, to uphold a Planning Commission decision approving Gramor Development's proposed two-story, 144-spot parking structure in the center of the bustling 14-acre complex at Southwest Barrows Road and Horizon Boulevard.

Councilors Betty Bode and Ian King were not at Tuesday night's meeting and did not vote on the appeal.

Sarah Yahna, who lives in the neighborhood around Progress Ridge, filed an appeal of the Planning Commission decision based on her view that the plans violate city codes that apply to parking structures in multiple-use zones. Development code 60.05.40 states that "active ground-floor uses" "should" be incorporated in parking structures, "particularly on street-level elevations facing Major Pedestrian Routes."

The code's intention is to incorporate retail and other business activity in any new parking structures, but councilors argued it does not absolutely require developers to do so.

"I don't think we have a legal leg to stand on to say we should not build a parking structure there," said Councilor Marc San Soucie, adding that Gramor "could've proposed a three-story structure. "Legally, I think the Planning Commission (decision) is spot-on."

Agreeing with San Soucie that a parking structure won't necessarily have a negative impact on the center's appeal and walkability, Councilor Mark Fagin noted that the city code in question gives city planners and leaders flexibility in these cases.

"It's still going to be an enjoyable place to walk (and for) kids to play in the fountain," he said. "The fact is, the code says we should consider active uses on the first floor, (but) we don't have to. The use of putting a parking garage is permitted in this space."

In his testimony to the council, Gramor President Barry Cain emphasized the popularity of Progress Ridge with businesses such as New Seasons, Cinetopia theater, La Provence restaurant and Big Al's across Barrows Road creating a growing need for more parking now as well as in the future.

"There's a lot of talk about whether this is needed or not," he said. "The fact of the matter is, if it's going to cost four and a half million dollars to build this, the last thing we want to do is spend that money if it's not needed. As developers, we see things that others don't, and we need to get out in front of (future business growth)."

Expressing appreciation for the numerous residents who spoke against the parking garage on aesthetic or safety grounds, Councilor Cate Arnold emphasized the council's role was limited to determining whether the Planning Commission was correct in its interpretation of city development codes.

"For us to reverse this decision, we have to point to the code and say, 'No, this doesn't meet that code,'" she said.

Yahna, who focused on technicalities and interpreting city code during her appeal presentation, argued that the "multiple-use" designation of Progress Ridge requires, rather than suggests, ground-floor uses be incorporated into a new parking structure.

"The developer says its not going to look at (ground-floor activity) for another decade," she said on Wednesday morning. "That's basically saying that for a minimum of 10 years, they're allowed to violate this guideline."

Regardless of semantic issues over code terms such as "should" and "shall," the council, she added, has the authority to enforce the "active ground-floor use" guideline.

"The council does have the discretion and absolutely could have enforced that guideline. Just because there's a 'should' vs. shall, the council still has the authority," Yahna said.

While she strived to present a fact- and code-based case to the council, she acknowledged her motivation was to support what she believes is the community's desire for a village-like environment at Progress Ridge without a visual obstruction in the middle.

"I'm not opposed to higher density," she said, "but if you're gonna make it a main street, then make it a main street (with ground-floor shops). Don't throw a parking garage in the middle of the town square."

Cain, during his rebuttal of Yahna's appeal, assured councilors and the gathered Progress Ridge patrons that he has no intention of ruining the plaza's community appeal.

"What we will be doing is making it better," he said. "I'm sure everyone will agree with that when we're done."

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