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Good neighbors?

Robinwood, water, treatment, plant, Lake Oswego, pipeline
by: Vern Uyetake Lake Oswego owns this vacant and boarded-up home at 4315 Mapleton Drive in West Linn.

Every neighborhood has the home with the long grass, the noisy chickens, the speeding teenage driver or some other annoyance. Typically, issues get resolved, the teen grows up and moves out, the owners leave or the chickens become dinner. However, when the bothersome neighbor is an industrial plant that has no intention of moving but instead doubling in size, some issues arise.

The city of Lake Oswego has maintained a water treatment facility in West Linn's Robinwood neighborhood since 1969, back when the area was unincorporated Clackamas County. The plant is located between Kenthorpe Way and Mapleton Drive

Since that time, neighbors have questioned the appropriateness of an industrial facility in a residential neighborhood.

Now, Lake Oswego is partnering with Tigard to expand the plant and install a new pipeline that would run from the Clackamas River to the facility. Lake Oswego would then start providing water to Tigard.

LONG IN THE WORKS

The expansion has been planned for years.

Between 1989 and 1995, Lake Oswego purchased four residential lots adjacent to the plant in anticipation of expansion. What the city didn't realize then was that neighborhood covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC and Rs) of the Maple Grove plat prohibit anything but residential use of the properties. To lift the CC and Rs, Lake Oswego needs 75 percent of the affected neighbors to sign waivers.

The neighbors, however, know the CC and Rs exist to protect them against unwanted property uses.

'They protect us from industrial and businesses that have chemicals,' said longtime Robinwood resident Mary Robinson. 'We don't want those to go away.'

Tigard and Lake Oswego first wanted to partner back in 1996. They hit a roadblock when residents wouldn't sign the waivers. Eventually, the two cities backed down.

Now the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership (LOT) is again trying to lift the CC and Rs and expand the plant. However, many of the original homeowners are still in their houses and still refusing to sign the waivers.

When Lake Oswego representatives came knocking on doors again asking for signatures in exchange for $1,000, many did not answer. Robinson contends that LOT first targeted the more elderly neighbors who might need the money more or might be in failing health.

Jane Heisler, LOT communications director, denied that accusation.

'That's not how they work," she said. "They have not targeted anybody.'

Word spread quickly throughout the neighborhood, and a majority once again refused to sign.

To speed along the process of the water treatment plant project, the city of Lake Oswego filed proceedings of eminent domain against 50 Robinwood residents on Jan. 9.

According to Jeff Selby, citizen information coordinator for LOT, residents in the Maple Grove plat were listed on the complaint. However, the complaint listed 50 properties, and there are 88 Maple Grove properties, including one owned by the city of West Linn.

'There are legal reasons why not all 88 property owners were listed on the complaint that I am not at liberty to discuss per the advice of our attorney,' Heisler said.

The city of West Linn received a letter from Lake Oswego on Dec. 20 asking West Linn to sign the waiver and offering the $1,000 in compensation. According to the letter, if the city did not sign the waiver, it could be named in the condemnation lawsuit; however, the city was not listed in the complaint.

West Linn senior planner Chris Kerr said the city received the waiver request and took it under advisement but did not respond to the request.

Neighbors have responded by obtaining an attorney. Minneapolis, Minn., attorney Dan Biersdorf, who is working on compensation for the neighbors, is representing about 25 residents.

Biersdorf cited noise, visual impact and traffic as negatively affecting the neighborhood.

'From my experience, the $1,000 would not come close to what I understand the home values to be in that area,' Biersdorf said.

He said it could be up to a year before the condemnation process is completed.

A GOOD NEIGHBOR?

These recent developments are not the beginning of some Robinwood residents' disdain for Lake Oswego's drinking water plant. Some have complained about noise that is above normal residential levels.

The four residential properties Lake Oswego owns near the plant have also been an issue for neighbors. At one point, Lake Oswego rented out one of the houses where there were chronic problems with drug use. At least one of the houses has since been demolished.

Today, one of the remaining homes, located at 4315 Mapleton Drive, is vacant and boarded up. The properties have not been kept up, are overgrown with weeds and do not match the environment of the rest of the neighborhood, according to Robinson.

'They came into our neighborhood and destroyed the houses,' Robinson said.

Heisler admits not much has been done to improve the homes but said the houses are not out of character with many of the other homes in the neighborhood.

Heisler said the plant itself has been a good neighbor to the residents and that some folks on Mapleton didn't even know it was there for some time.

A big sticking point with some residents is the fact that the city of West Linn is losing valuable property taxes on those four properties. Because the properties are technically owned by a utility, they are exempt from property taxes.

According to information Robinson obtained from the Clackamas County assessor's office, West Linn has missed out on more than $208,000 in taxes from those four properties.

The value of the surrounding homes is also in question. Residents fear their property values will fall if the water treatment plant expands.

'We feel very manipulated,' Robinson said.

Lake Oswego had an appraiser look at the site plan of the expansion, and he found the surrounding homes would not lose any value. Heisler said if the homeowners had another analysis done, she would like to see it.

FROM GOOD TO GREAT

Lake Oswego detailed the water treatment plant expansion in a 'Good Neighbor Plan.'

Then, in attempt to work with the community, a subcommittee was created. It is called the Robinwood Neighborhood Association Great Neighbor Committee.

The intent was to work with the community to help mitigate interruptions and impacts the project would have on the neighborhood.

According to Kevin Bryck, the committee's chairman, the group created a mitigation plan, suggesting ways to ease the expansion's intrusion on neighbors.

However, according to a Feb. 17 letter from Lake Oswego to Robinwood Neighborhood Association President Tony Bracco, the city would not support any additional mitigation requests.

The Robinwood Neighborhood Association Great Neighbor Committee has a website at http://rnagreatneighbors.blogspot.com.

WHY NOT FOOTHILLS?

Many Robinwood residents are now focused on Lake Oswego's Foothills area, which includes industrial land and has been targeted for an increase in residential and commercial use.

What some Robinwood neighbors ask is why the city wants to turn their residential neighborhood more industrial and make Lake Oswego's industrial area more residential.

According to Heisler, the cost of relocating the plant would negate the savings Lake Oswego would get from partnering with Tigard on water infrastructure projects - roughly $76 million. On top of that, Lake Oswego would lose tax revenues from the properties that would be condemned to make room for a plant - similar to the dollars West Linn has lost on the four properties associated with the water treatment plant.

Heisler said Lake Oswego did not conduct any studies to find a new location for its water plant.

'We have a plant,' she said. 'It wouldn't really make sense for us to look someplace else.'

According to the Robinwood NA Great Neighbor Committee blog: 'The reality is, we are being used because we are the cheapest alternative and it's easier to build in West Linn than to impose on their own citizens.'

Heisler pointed out that if the city did move the facility, Lake Oswego could then build up to 30 homes on the property in West Linn, creating more noise and traffic than an expanded plant would.

Lake Oswego also cannot tap into the Willamette because of water rights. It could take up to two years for the city to try to transfer its water rights from Clackamas to Willamette, causing even more delays for the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership.

NEXT STEPS

At 7 p.m. today, LOT will hold a required pipeline land-use meeting at Robinwood Station, 3706 Cedaroak Drive in West Linn.

On April 18, the West Linn Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on LOT's water treatment plant proposal at city hall, 22500 Salamo Road.

For more information about LOT, visit www.lotigardwater.org.



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