Former neighborhood president proposes merging associations

When Dean Suhr stepped down as president of the Rosemont Summit Neighborhood Association in the fall of 2011 and the group stopped holding regular meetings, it wasn’t because the concept of community involvement was falling by the wayside.

It was true, yes, that the Rosemont Summit association had seen attendance dwindle at its meetings and the area’s property was almost entirely built out. But Suhr never lost his belief in the importance of neighborhood associations, and he is now proposing that the defunct Rosemont Summit group resume activity and merge with the Hidden Springs Neighborhood Association.

“The idea is to join together, which would make us about the size of the Willamette Neighborhood Association and the other larger ones,” Suhr said.

Such a move would be the first step in what Suhr refers to as a “pie in the sky” plan: to reconfigure West Linn’s 11 neighborhood associations into four larger groups, each representing about 6,000 residences.

Neighborhood associations are generally referred to as “arms of the city,” designed to foster and encourage communication between residents and city hall.

“Engaging people at the neighborhood level is always a good idea,” Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt said, “because that’s how people most clearly see their community. So it’s something we definitely value.”

Yet activity varies between the 11 West Linn neighborhood associations. Five associations — Bolton, Marylhurst, Robinwood, Savanna Oaks and Willamette — meet once each month, while others like Hidden Springs, Parker Crest and Skyline Ridge meet annually or as needed.

“The challenge (right now) is that there are 11 neighborhood associations, and they range from 250 to 2,500 households,” Suhr said. “The sizes and issues and responsibilities are very different. The city has challenges communicating with that big of a group, and I don’t think it works very well for the neighbors either.”

At a joint meeting between the city council and planning commission Jan. 6, council President Mike Jones said neighborhood associations may have become outdated.

”Neighborhood associations were created in the 1970s as gateways,” Jones said. “And in my opinion they have become anachronistic gatekeepers. I think they bottleneck things more than they do good now, and they represent a very small group of people.”

Jones’ comments were made during a broad discussion about how the city could better communicate with citizens.

“When I was on the planning commission for 10 years, I can’t tell you how many ways staff, council and planning commissioners tried to engage and increase the effectiveness of neighborhood associations,” Jones said. “And in fact the numbers are dwindling rather than going up. So we’re spending a tremendous amount of resources on a very small amount of people.”

For now, Suhr and Hidden Springs President Alex Kachirisky are focusing on the Rosemont Summit merge. They held a meeting about the possible change Nov. 19.

“We have a lot in common,” Suhr said. “So my goal is that by joining together, we would have more people represented by leaders who are actively engaged and have more things to work on.”

City policy on boundary changes requires that the neighborhoods notify all residents and seek their approval before taking the proposal to the city council. The council must approve the boundary change before it is reflected in work processes, documents and city correspondence. “There will need to be some discussion with staff and council as to what the actual process should be,” Suhr said. “This is not really a neighborhood association boundary change, although that process might generally want to be followed.”

Though both the Rosemont Summit and Hidden Springs neighborhoods are almost entirely built out — thus limiting prospects of future development for community groups to weigh in on — Suhr still views neighborhood associations as a vital part of the city as a whole.

“I think they provide a unique communication vehicle from the community to the city, and then back,” Suhr said. “These days, there are emails and newsletters, but there’s still value in person-to-person communication — sitting around a table and tossing things around.”

Suhr cites the current debate surrounding the “Cut the Red Tape” project as an example of something that would benefit from streamlined neighborhood associations. The project covered everything from building applications to land use appeal processes and the city’s comprehensive plan — the overarching goal being to “remove inefficient and unnecessary regulatory barriers to businesses and developers.”

“That’s the kind of issue where the city could benefit from input in an organized fashion,” Suhr said, “and not just individuals testifying at a council meeting.”

Savanna Oaks Neighborhood Association President Ed Schwarz, for his part, views communications between neighbors and the city as satisfactory in their current state.

“I think we have fairly good communication with the city,” Schwarz said. “Not only do we have the neighborhoods themselves, but also the neighborhood association presidents group, which meets monthly.”

But Schwarz wasn’t dismissive of Suhr’s idea, and he expressed interest in learning more going forward.

“There are some neighborhood associations in West Linn that are inactive,” Schwarz said. “If something can be done to revitalize or re-establish those associations, I think that’s a good idea.

“Anything that can further citizen involvement is probably a good idea.”

For now, Suhr will focus on bringing the Rosemont Summit-Hidden Springs partnership to life — a process he expects will take about six months. The rest of his “pie in the sky” proposal will be revisited farther down the line.

“I’d love to be invited to a neighborhood association presidents meeting to discuss the Rosemont Summit-Hidden Springs combining,” Suhr said, “and to broach other potential consolidations.”

Patrick Malee can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 106. Follow him on Twitter, @pmalee_wl

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