Councilor Mike Kehoe walks out of meeting in disagreement on process

The Lake Oswego City Council has approved a long-term conceptual plan for development in the Foothills district that relies on a proposed streetcar line and formation of a new urban renewal district.

The council voted 4-2 in favor of the plan at the end of a four-hour public hearing at City Hall Tuesday night, allowing consultants from Williams, Dame and White and project officials to start drafting code amendments for city approval, negotiating agreements with potential developers and working toward creation of an urban renewal district.

Officials have long sought a way to revive the 107-acre district between downtown and the Willamette River, hoping to increase its value with new infrastructure, housing and retail spaces and to transform the lightly used industrial area into a new residential neighborhood.

Councilor Mike Kehoe did not vote Tuesday; he left the meeting after a disagreement over process. In a departure from its usual procedure, the council first took testimony from other elected officials, members of involved citizen committees, neighborhood associations and similar groups before hearing from the general public - rather than taking comments in the order in which people signed up.

Voting against the plan with councilor Mary Olson, Jeff Gudman said he wanted to wait until after a citywide advisory vote on the streetcar proposal in May. The Foothills plan relies on transit-oriented development: It is linked to a proposed streetcar line between Lake Oswego and Portland that is still in the planning stages.

'The proverbial streetcar is before the horse,' Gudman said.

Voting in favor of the plan with Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman and councilors Donna Jordan and Sally Moncrieff, Bill Tierney said he thought a lot about whether the council could or should wait. In the end, he focused on language in a predevelopment agreement with Foothills property owners.

The city in 2010 entered into a contract with area landowners to craft a development plan based on a streetcar line. Regardless of whether the transit project comes to fruition, the city must approve the framework to 'trigger payment' from those property owners, who are footing 10 percent, or up to $130,000, of a roughly $1.3 million bill.

Aside from that, Tierney said, the plan is conceptual at this point. And Foothills projects would still go through regular channels for review.

'I think Foothills is a very important element to the future of Lake Oswego,' he said.

The framework

The plan addresses longstanding obstacles to the area's development such as street access and traffic, sewer plant and floodplain issues.

Officials hope that Foothills will offer 'market rate' housing attractive to young families and seniors looking to downsize.

Buildings up to seven stories tall are intended to blend in because of natural elevation changes. The streetcar would run along a rebuilt Foothills Road, ending at a transit center on the east side of State Street, across from Millennium Plaza Park. Park-and-ride lots would sit at a stop two blocks north of the streetcar line's terminus in new buildings straddling B Avenue, which would extend across State Street and into Foothills. A large staircase would act as a 'vertical park' to this streetcar stop. Pathways would also be built between area parks and plazas.

An independent review found the plan is financially feasible, generating billions of dollars in return on the city's investment. About $56 million in public projects could be covered by the district's development, according to the financial review.

If a streetcar isn't ultimately approved, the council would likely have to begin a discussion of possible amendments to the framework plan, according to Tuesday's discussion.

Input mixed

About 125 people attended the hearing. Of those to testify first, about 11 supported the plan, while several neighborhood and homeowners association representatives spoke against it.

Ann Lininger, a Clackamas County commissioner, lives in Lake Oswego.

'I want to make my life in Lake Oswego, and this is the kind of development that is going to enable us to live here throughout all stages of our lives,' she said. 'It's a great vision for what Lake Oswego can become. It builds on what we are.'

Paden Prichard, who was on a 14-member citizen advisory committee helping to shape the plan, said the group began with 'fairly divergent views of what Foothills should be,' but came away believing it could be a 'positive force for desirable change.'

To him, opposition seems rooted in concerns about the streetcar proposal, and he thinks those fears are 'based on costs' and 'incomplete information.'

Ralph Tahran, a citizen member of the Foothills oversight committee, said he has worked in local neighborhoods for 30 years, and 'no one wants any more density.'

'For 25 years now, everyone has said 'put it in Foothills,'' Tahran said. 'If this plan goes away, probably we will end up with piecemeal, haphazard development.'

Alternatively, he said building in Foothills could relieve development pressure in the Stafford area, outside of city limits.

Lake Oswego School Board member Linda Brown told the council school district leaders have formally endorsed efforts to redevelop Foothills and to use urban renewal money to do it. She said it would benefit schools not only long-term but also in the short run.

Today, property values in Foothills are so low the district doesn't receive much from taxes there. However, with redevelopment, the district would see 'actual cash' in the form of excise tax revenue as soon as permits are applied for. In the future, increased property values would bring more money to the district, she said, and 'any school bonds which would be potentially passed would be spread over a larger tax base so current property taxpayers would see benefits.

'We are confident it will draw families,' she added, noting Lake Oswego has room for students in its existing schools.

Vidya Kale, a member of the city's sustainability advisory board, said people who prefer to 'do nothing' may claim that would keep Lake Oswego great, but 'along with it comes stagnation, an aging population, a declining tax base, dwindling numbers of school-age children and ongoing dependence on the car.'

Foothills, on the other hand, could become a new residential neighborhood supporting compact, sustainable lifestyles and a more diverse population drawn to creativity and a sense of community, he said.

'Where will people be when the city fails to renew itself and falls into the morass of ongoing decline?' Kale asked. 'This is our opportunity.'

But while Bill Ward of the Lake Grove Neighborhood Association feels Foothills is underdeveloped and should be revitalized, he doesn't believe public money should finance the improvements.

Ward said many people in Lake Grove also oppose the streetcar and its links to the Foothills plan.

'We feel it's unnecessary,' he said. 'It's terribly, terribly expensive, and it will not really add much to our area.'

Lydia Lipman of the Stampher Road Homeowners Association lives near the planned streetcar route and proposed Foothills redevelopment. She said residents in that area 'are going to be suffering collateral damage because of the development of Foothills,' which, according to the framework, would include a rebuilt Foothills Road running parallel to Highway 43 and a new intersection at Terwilliger Boulevard. She said residents are concerned about crossing streetcar tracks to get to their homes and about noise from traffic.

More testimony

The remainder of public testimony came from 15 to 20 people against the framework and a dozen favoring the plan.

Marcus Schiff said he is 'very much in favor' of the redevelopment of Foothills and the streetcar proposal: 'There's a tremendous opportunity there.'

However, he said, to bring commerce and 'social discourse' to Lake Oswego, the city needs a destination at the end of the streetcar line: A civic center, a new library or maybe a hotel.

'If you're going to have a streetcar, it should arrive at a spectacular designation,' Schiff said. 'In this plan, it dies with a whimper.'

R A Fontes, describing the streetcar as slow and inconvenient, said taking the bus is a better option.

He and his wife moved downtown so they'd have access to decent transit options, he said. 'It really, really bugs us you want to take it away from us.'

Art Scevola said from an investment view, the combined streetcar and Foothills efforts are not only too risky, but they'll also take a long time to achieve. He cited a recent survey in which a majority of local residents were opposed to efforts to extend Portland's streetcar network to Lake Oswego.

'This thing won't get built for a lot of us until we're already in the end stages, so to speak,' he said.

'No matter how cute and green' some believe it will be, 'no matter how many cool new businesses (developer) Homer Williams thinks will be located in Foothills,' no matter how convenient it is for people who commute to Portland, and no matter how many studies are conducted and elections are held, Scevola said, 'The people in this room and outside of this room said 'no' to the streetcar. And if it's tied to Foothills, then that means Foothills shouldn't be discussed further.'

Jim Bolland said the council should be aware of the country's 'new economic reality.'

'Americans are justifiably becoming debt-averse and risk-averse; debt limitation is the new dictate,' he said. Meanwhile, city projects, regardless of their type, all require debt and 'don't really exist independently of each other.'

'My foreboding fear is in your zeal to transform Lake Oswego into a starkly different community that you are sowing the seeds of our financial undoing,' Bolland told the council.

On the other hand, local small-business owner Paul Graham said he feels 'huge potential in Foothills … is underrealized' and supports the new plan.

'In order to maintain our successful downtown business district, we have to continually grow it to meet the needs of the community,' Graham said. 'Development of Foothills would be good for business. It would be a positive addition to downtown and our community.'

He also encouraged the council to eventually produce a comparison of the development potential of the area with and without a streetcar.

Roger Martin, who bought property in Foothills 50 years ago that he has since sold, offered some 'historical background.'

'The cement plant is long gone, and that's a boon to the entire city of Lake Oswego, if for no other reason than we don't have cement dust raining on your cars,' Martin said. Still, until now the industrial landowners have never come together with a long-term plan, and 'letting private developers do it means the north end will stay the way it is for a long time.

'Government investment is needed,' he said, adding that traffic congestion is a concern. 'We better face that and do something intelligent about it.'

Former Mayor Judie Hammerstad, speaking in favor of the framework plan, said it has been in the works for many years.

'It was apparent that with property tax limitations and the growing expectations of our community and the effect of inflation, the only way Lake Oswego could be financially stable in the long run was to develop' additional housing in its borders.

She said the council's decision to require agreements holding developers accountable for guaranteeing future public revenue minimizes risk, and the city's regular land-use and building rules are rigorous.

Tom O'Connor said when he was growing up, Lake Oswego had 'much more diversity of income, housing types and folks who lived here.'

This plan will bring some of that back while protecting the character of existing neighborhoods, he said.

'What I fear will happen if we don't have this opportunity for young people, for seniors to live in our community, is we're just going to end up with teardowns of our existing small houses and huge McMansions built up on those properties that drive the moderate- to middle-class folks out.'

Yet others worried the plan actually ignores some housing needs.

Tom Cusack, a former Oregon director of the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, said the city should meet goals for affordable housing by requiring it in new Foothills developments. The plan today only calls for 'market rate' apartments, he said.

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