City grants extra time for developers to rework proposal

by: SUBMITTED IMAGE - This illustration shows developers plans for a new retail and apartment building across from Lake View Village and adjacent to Millennium Plaza Park.Developers hoping to transform a mid-century shopping center into an upscale apartment and retail complex are heading back to the drawing board after the Lake Oswego Development Review Commission nearly rejected their proposal last week.

The commission, charged with deciding whether the project met the city’s guidelines for development downtown, was poised to deny it during a Feb. 19 public hearing, the third meeting on the topic in recent months.

But attorney Christe White, with the Evergreen Group of developers, instead asked the commission for an open-ended hold on the review process, giving designers time to reassess and tweak their plans rather than appeal the project’s denial to the city council.

“We have some significant work to do, as indicated by your discussion,” White told the commission last week. “Instead of just blundering ahead to the city council and hoping for the best, we’d actually like to revisit the proposal we have in front of you.”

Working with property owner Gene Wizer, who owns the block at First Street and A Avenue, developers hope to replace Wizer’s grocery store and shopping center and construct three new buildings in its REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Developers plan to preserve the tree on this corner south of A Avenue but hope to replace the existing shopping center with a multistory apartment and retail complex.

In the plan before the DRC, the buildings would contain up to 228 high-end apartments as well as about 28,000 square feet of retail space. The project would include pathways cutting between the buildings, a private courtyard for apartment residents and two levels of underground parking, including spaces for the general public.

The plan would require exceptions to city rules so it could have some residential entries on the ground level, a reduced amount of storefront window area, a retail parking entrance on First Street and a fifth floor on a portion of each building. The development would also remove a couple dozen trees, although developers have agreed to preserve a maple tree on the corner of A Avenue and First Street at the request of community members.

The project won support from the city’s urban renewal agency last year. Made up of city council members, the redevelopment board pledged up to $5.9 million in urban renewal assistance in hopes of creating a ripple effect of economic activity and boosting property values downtown.

The Wizer block, wedged next to Lake View Village and Millennium Plaza Park, is surrounded by lots that have already undergone redevelopment. Supporters say its revitalization would support the city’s economic development strategy, provide a broader tax base to support public services and offer more housing options.

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - On the left, the Wizer block, owned by Gene Wizer, contains a mid-century shopping center and remains a city target for redevelopment similar to adjacent Lake View Village.

But the redevelopment plan came under fire soon after it emerged.

Critics contend it’s too big and too dense, would damage the “village” feel of Lake Oswego’s downtown and should offer more in the way of parking.

Planning Commissioner Bob Needham said that while the project has been promoted as offering new retail space, it would actually reduce the amount of commercial space available on the block.

Commissioners also took issue with the overall size of the buildings, with the request for a fifth floor and whether they fit with the “village character” Lake Oswego shoots for downtown.

“My problem with it is it’s big and long, and it’s not articulated as nicely as Lake View Village,” Commissioner Gregg Creighton said. “What (Lake View Village) did really nicely with that project is, at the pedestrian level, they broke up the project. We don’t have that here.”

Commissioner Brent Ahrend agreed.

“When I read the definition of village character, it says it means a community of small-scale structures,” he said. “In my mind, this doesn’t really meet that. I’d prefer to see smaller buildings.”

Gramor Development President Barry Cain, whose company was responsible for building Lake View Village and A Street Station on neighboring blocks, has been a vocal opponent of the Wizer redevelopment.

After last week’s meeting, Cain said he was “relieved” the commission didn’t greenlight the project.

Although it’s zoned for mixed-use, he noted the Wizer block was long ago identified as one of four downtown intended to form the core of a compact shopping district.

“It should be primarily retail,” Cain said. “The biggest objection we get from other retailers who want to be down there is there just are not enough other retailers.”

In addition, he said the Wizer proposal wouldn’t fit with other renewal projects already completed downtown.

“A lot of people put a lot of effort into getting things started in the right way,” Cain said. “It’d be really bad to have something happen on this block that wasn’t consistent with what’s already there and the plan the city has in place.”

by: SUBMITTED IMAGE - This rendering of the corner at First Street and A Avenue shows one of three new buildings proposed in the redevelopment of the Wizer block downtown.

The design has been years in the making.

Developer Pat Kessi said his team received its first construction estimate in 2009. Then, about two years ago, as the real estate market was in recovery, the group began to consider market studies. About one year ago, developers inked a deal with Wizer. Since then, they’ve met with neighborhood leaders, community groups and city staff.

“From the beginning we’ve tried to use feedback and have a very transparent process with everyone involved,” Kessi said. “We’re trying to make this development the best possible development for everyone.”

Now, it’s unclear how much of an overhaul is feasible.

This week, Kessi said his team is considering all of the issues raised by citizens and the development review commission and hopes to have an amended plan submitted within the next couple of months.

But in some cases, a seemingly small change might have a ripple effect on the rest of the plan.

“If you change one thing, it changes a lot,” he explained. “There are layers and layers to the buildings, and we have to make sure we can do some of the things they want us to do.

“We’re committed to the development, but these are big changes.”

Adding to that complexity are lease agreements now in place at the Wizer shopping center. Most are about to come up for renewal, Kessi noted, and a long-term lease provides certainty to not only a property owner, but also to tenants investing in storefront improvements.

“For a development like this to happen in Lake Oswego, a lot of things have to come into play at the same time,” he said. In the real estate market, “there has to be demand. The financing has to be there. The city has to support it. ... Then the leases have to be terminated; it has to be available.

“The last thing is the seller has to want to do it. For all these things to come together at the same time, it can takes years and years.”

Wizer’s property is now ripe for redevelopment, Kessi said.

“It’s the perfect time for this,” he said. “If we don’t do it, they’ll put those leases back into place, then you’re waiting another 20 years for the possibility to come up again.”by: SUBMITTED IMAGE - A public pathway is visible in conceptual plans for redeveloping the Wizer block in downtown Lake Oswego. This is what the view might look like from Peet's Coffee and Tea at Lake View Village.

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