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Police station permits get green light


Planning commission approves variance, conditional use permits

by: GROUP MACKENZIE - A large black walnut tree will be preserved when the new police station is constructed at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 13th Street in West Linn.Soon true construction can begin on the city’s new police station.

The West Linn Planning Commission approved the necessary conditional use permits for the project during its Feb. 20 meeting.

More than a year ago, the city completed the sale of $8.5 million in general obligation bonds with a 20-year term that were narrowly approved by voters November 2011. The bonds are financing the acquisition, construction and completion of a new 20,024-square-foot police station at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 13th Street.

The city purchased four lots, consisting of three single-family homes and one vacant lot, for $1,453,257 to create space for the new building. The homes were destroyed last fall, and now the lot is ready for some real work.

According to Bob Galante, project manager, for the past two months the project has been all about cost savings and staying on budget.

Though there haven’t been any major changes to the design of the police station, the design has seen some tweaks. Some of the landscaping has been cut or downsized and aesthetic changes were made to save money, such as using less decorative wood inside the building.

The building will be one story from the front and two levels in the back due to the slope of the property. The architect and design firm Group Mackenzie won the $615,544 contract with the city to complete the project and began the design process last summer.

The main floor of the police station will house office and public spaces while the lower level will be more operational with spaces for training and evidence storage.

The project plan still includes preserving the mature black walnut tree that is on the site, which was planted in 1917. The tree will be near the new station’s front entrance.

“We’re making every effort to make sure the tree survives,” Police Chief Terry Timeus said.

The plan also includes two parking areas, a public lot with 19 spaces and a gated and secure lot capable of holding of up to 45 police vehicles. The police parking area will be covered, which is important for officers to quickly enter and leave the station in inclement weather, according to Timeus.

The city is still pursuing a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver status for the building. LEED is a rating system used to encourage sustainable building practices that was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Part of the LEED criteria is to source as many materials and workers possible locally.

The biggest concerns with the new police station at the planning commission meeting revolved around traffic. According to the plan, the city is recommending restrictions on outdoor lighting and fence heights along with some traffic mitigation plans. The commission also added a stipulation that if the black walnut tree dies within a year, it would be replaced with another large specimen tree.

Many have questioned the placement of the police station, thinking it should be more centrally located in the city for faster response times.

“Unlike a fire station where response times are critical, most of you are aware that the police are usually out on the road and respond from where they are at the time they receive the call,” Galante told commissioners.

Others also questioned the brick design of the building, saying it does not reflect the historic feel of the Willamette neighborhood. Galante said the surrounding homes and businesses were built in many different eras and making a large building like the police station match the smaller, two-level historical structures would have been difficult.

“We think we designed a quality building,” he said.

The city has made a point to keep citizens involved in the design and construction process of the station, including keeping an updated blog. Three committees — a design committee, steering committee and public art advisory committee — are overseeing the project.

Galante said the committee process “allowed those folks to be as intimately involved in the design process as they wanted to be.”

“This is probably one of the best applications that I’ve actually seen come forward in a long time to the planning commission with its thoroughness,” said Michael Babbitt, chairman of the planning commission.

Though the commissioners all liked the plan and unanimously approved the conditional use permits, they expressed concern over the traffic and pedestrian safety in the area.

“My only concern with the application is the traffic, and that is not really the applicant’s fault,” Babbitt said.

“After seeing the site and the location, I think it’s a great location for a police station,” Commissioner Russell Axelrod said. “Traffic, obviously, is the biggest problem.”

Construction should start later this spring or early this summer with completion by April 2014. The new station should service the city through 2042 and will be designed to accommodate future expansion.

Timeus said he is looking forward to getting the new police station up and running.

The existing West Linn police station was constructed in 1936. The city owns the footprint of this building but not the surrounding land or parking lot — that’s owned by the West Linn Paper Company.

“Nothing we have at the police department is adequate, except the personnel,” Timeus said. “We can’t even hold a staff meeting at the police department.”

He said the new station will improve efficiencies and make the officers’ jobs easier. The new facility will be designed to withstand a seismic design category D earthquake, provide emergency dispatch and operations capability, accommodate training, evidence processing, storage, operations, communication and staffing needs for officers and K-9 units.