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In re-evaluating Arch Bridge project, West Linn broadens reach

TIDINGS PHOTO: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - The City continues to connect with property owners and broaden the scope of its planning for an area that spans from the Bolton to Willamette neighborhoods, in its refinement of the Arch Bridge Area master plan. “I’m excited,” planning consultant John Morgan said as he prepared to deliver an update on the Arch Bridge project to the West Linn City Council and Planning Commission at a work session July 18.

“Excitement” hasn’t exactly been the word of choice for the project over the past year-and-a-half, with a divided council tabling the original concept plan for the area — which was approved in December 2014 by a different council — and ultimately setting off in a new direction when the calendar swung to 2016.

The original concept plan for riverfront development near the Old Oregon City-West Linn Arch Bridge called for “modest” development additions in the area north of Interstate 205 while envisioning dramatic redevelopment in the area south of the freeway, including condominiums, a parking garage, commercial and office space, retail shops and a hotel.

In adopting its 2016 goals, the City Council opted to “refine” the previous Arch Bridge plans. More specifically, a plan was made to “reengage (a) contract to hold property owner meetings, community engagement, neighborhood association outreach, and town hall meetings to prepare potential development alternatives and examine zoning options and other potential measures to preserve property values and meet long-term planning goals.”

As Morgan detailed July 18, these renewed efforts have been progressing slowly but steadily throughout the year, and the City will soon reach a critical juncture in the process.

“I want to tell the council where we are with this, and tell you that you’re going to be getting some opportunities for engagement, very deliberately, in the very near future,” Morgan said. “This is looking toward a time, probably in late September, when we’ll have more answers to all these things, and then we’ll sit down in a really serious workshop and say, ‘Here’s what we know. Where do we go from here?’”

In the more immediate future, Morgan and City planners hope to meet with various property owners in the Arch Bridge area — including the City’s largest employer, West Linn Paper Company — in an effort to gauge what exactly they hope to see in the redevelopment project.

“We are in the process of arranging these interviews, at about an hour each, with each of those property owners,” Morgan said. “And so far the response has been quite good to that. It’s hard to fit their calendars, and I know it’s going to be really tough to fit yours.

“I think we will send out a list of available openings and we’ll be looking for one of the councilors to essentially sign up and sit in and participate in those interviews.”

TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - The City is currently scheduling meetings with various property owners in the area, including the West Linn Paper Company (on right). On the left is PGEs Sullivan Power Plant, built in 1895.

In a similar vein, Morgan said the City is also working to reconnect with citizens and learn more about what they envision for the area. In 2014, when the original plan was approved, a number of residents — particularly those in the Bolton area where much of the redevelopment would occur — felt that they had been ignored in the planning process.

“I have been able to get on the agenda of the neighborhood association chairs’ next meeting, where I’m just going to have a conversation with those chairs to say, ‘What do you recommend we do?’” Morgan said. “In terms of getting in engagement with associations and effectively within the community, to create a much greater sense of participation and ownership of whatever we come out of in this process.”

The City has also communicated with those involved with the Willamette Falls Legacy Project in Oregon City, as well as Oregon Department Of Transportation with regard to future transportation projects on Interstate 205.

That expanded view also comes into play within West Linn itself; according to Morgan, the City wants to be prepared for redevelopment even in areas that are presently accounted for.

“(We’ll) literally look from the farthest reaches of the west end of the community, all the way to the I-205 bridge,” Morgan said. “And people of course may push back a little bit and say, ‘Well the mill is still operating, PGE is still there,’ and my response to that is to say that we’re getting ready in case the day will come, so opportunities will be there, if those property owners change those positions ... we want to know this community is ready to take advantage of that as soon as possible.”

In its 2016 goal setting session, the council expressed particular interest in the possibility of acquiring some riverfront properties, should they become available. Such acquisition would make it easier to create a master plan for the area, since the City would own some of the properties it was planning for.

“The final part of the work that’s happening now deals with that part of the council goal to assess potential property acquisitions,” Morgan said, “which is, to a great degree, a financial analysis. What’s it going to take? What’s the cost? What’s the lost opportunity cost? What’s the gained opportunity cost?”

Mayor Russ Axelrod, for his part, said he was happy to hear about the progress, while also noting the importance of continued communications with various property owners.

"Acquisitions is only one piece of that,” he said. “One of our concerns was that we were recognizing that the planning process may draw out over the next couple of years while these other things fall into place ... and in the meantime, we didn’t want to lose the property owners or have them doing something kind of silly, or something that would be difficult to unwind or something that was inconsistent with what we wanted.”

Morgan added that the City has no way of preventing property owners from completing their own projects, thus making communication key.

“If one of them showed up today with a building permit application, we could not say no,” Morgan said. ‘”But we can give them a better alternative. That’s a big part of these conversations, to get them excited about waiting and being part of a much bigger process, a much bigger potential return on investment.”

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..