by: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Steve Butler, Milwaukie's new planning director, stands in front of a city map in the department headquarters on Johnson Creek Boulevard.The new year brings Steve Butler, Milwaukie’s new planning director, a full plate of issues.

Butler, 55, says he’s ready and excited to take on everything from light-rail construction to downtown plans to new neighborhood retail. He has a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from University of Wisconsin in Madison, and from there he worked as a city planner in Wisconsin, Maine and Washington.

“I’m really looking forward to a lot of interesting and rewarding projects,” he said.

The city’s former planning director, Katie Mangle, left Milwaukie for a similar job in Wilsonville after the city manager barred her from light-rail work to avoid any appearance of conflict, because her husband started working for TriMet (“Milwaukie takes director off light-rail work,” Feb. 29).

by: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - City Manager Bill Monahan leads the Milwaukie Council, including newly elected Mark Gamba (left) in setting goals for 2013 at a Dec. 5 work session at the Public Safety Building.Butler is also coming on board at an interesting time for City Council with the election of two new members taking office in January, one of whom is upset that the rest of the councilors want to continue studying potential issues before removing the Kellogg Dam. Councilor-elect Mark Gamba said the city has worked on the dam’s removal for 20 years to restore salmon habitat to Kellogg Creek, so he’s baffled that elected leaders are now wary.

“We’re in negotiations with a company that’s prepared to spend $15 million of its own money, and they’re saying they need more answers, but they’ve had report after report saying we’ve got the green light,” Gamba said. “We know that the fish will be able to get up there because all the fish biologists say they will, and they certainly won’t be able to get up there if the dam’s in the way.”

But Butler’s role could help him avoid Milwaukie political pitfalls. The planning director doesn’t help come up with a grand vision for Milwaukie, because department directors work at the direction of the city manager, who in turn takes marching orders from City Council.

City councilors will continue in January to discuss their goals for 2013, but they’ve already agreed on several big projects to develop with Butler’s help:

1. Public-area requirements and strict limitations on ground-floor uses have made it difficult for new businesses to open in downtown Milwaukie. The regulations force the Planning Department to deny uses that would help to make downtown a diverse and unique place, officials say. The Planning Commission will continue public hearings on proposed code amendments on Tuesday, Jan. 8.

by: RENDERING COURTESY: CITY OF MILWAUKIE - This artist's rendering of a community plaza shows how a potential Adams Street connector project could make light-rail areas through Milwaukie more pedestrian-oriented by connecting 21st Avenue with Main Street.2. Another potential project that so far has the support of City Council to continue studying would turn part of the parking lot next to the Post Office into a 12-foot-wide pedestrian walkway by the time light rail comes in 2015. The Adams Street project would cost somewhere between $364,000 and $788,000, depending on whether it includes a pavilion west of Main Street and a multi-use plaza in the park.

3. The Planning Department is also working on council goals to complete Riverfront Park, a library expansion and railroad quiet zones.

We sat down with Butler recently to get his take on these and other projects.

Question: The Johnson Creek Watershed Council recently won $10,000 in an online contest for salmon habitat restoration at the new Tacoma Street/Johnson Creek MAX station. What work is being done on our side of the county line in preparation for light rail?

Answer: Right now we’re halfway through the Tacoma plan, and a lot of attention has been paid to the downtown plan, but with a grant from ODOT we’ve been able to focus on this area that definitely extends into our sphere of influence, as I like to call it, in the North Industrial Area of Milwaukie.

Since the stakeholder meetings, we’ve been able to create a preliminary draft of the preferred concept trying to incorporate the ideas of stakeholders and from public meetings, with the main focus being on what’s going on in the city of Milwaukie. We also heard from developers and business owners, and we’ve also held public meeting to get input from neighborhoods.

We’re looking at opening up a little bit more, to get a little bit more office and commercial uses that would bring a mix of uses instead of just the light industrial we have now. With that, we’re looking at what types of street improvements we can make, not only for cars, but also for pedestrians and bicycle riders, and we’re also making sure there’s enough parking.

Two “Opportunity Sites” were identified early on: One is the Pendleton site next to the Springwater Corridor, and it sounds like the owner there is interested in doing something more with the property, and the other is the ODOT building that City Council had considered for a baseball stadium.

The next step is to hone in so that we can go from a preliminary draft, and we’ll have a series of public meetings in the spring, including review by the Planning Commission so that the City Council could adopt the final plan in June.

Q: OK, do you have time to work on anything else, not light-rail related?

A: We’re also working on an update of the Transportation System Plan, and we did a major update in 2007 and ended up with this stellar document that was award-winning, so what we’re doing now is what we’re calling a minor update — just a light touch.

We’re identifying projects that have been completed between 2007 and now and seeing if any additional projects need to be added. If anyone wanted to know what’s Milwaukie plan for bike-access improvements, well, there’s a Bicycle Master Plan. Because it’s a minor update, we’ve been briefing the Planning Commission and having some public involvement, but it won’t be as intensive as before.

We were working on a set of what we were thinking would be a bunch of minor amendments that we thought would be quick and simple updates to the regulations governing downtown. The Planning Commission met with the City Council and agreed that the Planning Commission could make minor recommendations, but there’s a perspective that we have to make a much more detailed review of downtown policy with fairly intensive public involvement.

Our overall goals are to make sure that the city’s rules are overall clearly stated and fit in well with what we want to see downtown with strengthening business.

Q: What about the other neighborhoods, which many people say get less attention than downtown?

A: Last spring, Portland State University students did a pretty intensive study on new retail areas.

They were looking at two areas, around Safeway on King Road and the other neighborhood-based commercial area on 32nd Avenue, that could serve neighborhood residents in a way that they could actually walk. There was a lot of support for what they were recommending.

We’re hoping to make sure that the zoning would allow the types of uses that people want. We need clearly indentified uses, and small restaurants and coffee shops were two of the most highly ranked and popular uses.

Q: Back to light rail, we almost forgot to discuss what’s going on in the area south of downtown.

A: We are reviewing some of the final Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail projects. Some of the final permitting is being done.

One of the final things that Kenny Asher was doing (before the community development director left for Tigard) was trying to figure out if there’s interest in developing that downtown/Lake Road station triangle piece. That’s part of what we’re going to be doing as part of the detailed review of downtown policies.

We’re also working on the Adams Street connector project to make it more pedestrian-oriented, connecting 21st Avenue with Main Street.

There could be a nice pedestrian walkway with street trees and lighting, if we could find some additional moneys, lighting of a more artistic nature, with beacon markers, that would have the functional aspects of providing lighting while being aesthetically pleasing and possibly have something that functions to speak to the history of Milwaukie. It’s being phased so that over time it could fit into the other projects.

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