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DRC set to debate Wizer block plan

Concerns include height, parking, traffic and construction impacts


by: SUBMITTED - This rendering of the view at First Street and A Avenue shows one of three new buildings proposed in the redevelopment of the Wizer block downtown. Each of the three buildings would represent a different architectural style, in this case, Oregon rustic. One would be entirely residential, while the other two would feature a mix of rental housing and retail offerings.Lake Oswego’s development review commission will soon debate a controversial retail and residential complex that could drastically change downtown.

Evergreen Group, representing property owner Gene Wizer and W&K Development, has proposed an upscale development on what is known as Block 137, long the home of Wizer’s Oswego Foods and a target for urban renewal.

If the proposal is approved, the existing shopping center would be demolished and three new buildings erected in its place, south of A Avenue next to Lake View Village and Millennium Plaza Park.

Opponents and supporters have butted heads in recent weeks over whether the change would be good or bad for Lake Oswego.

On one side, proponents say the project is the missing piece in a thriving downtown, offering 217 to 228 apartments or condos suitable for young families or downsizing seniors and within walking distance of restaurants, shops and public services. The buildings would be built to high environmental standards, the development would offer more landscaping than required and a new public walkway would cut through the block.

Parking garages would be tucked underneath and additional spaces would be available on the street. In all, the project includes more parking than is required by the city, developers said, and spots intended for the retail portion could be shared by the general public.

Patrick Kessi of W&K Development has also touted the economic benefits, including 100 new, permanent jobs and a broader property tax base to benefit all Lake Oswego residents.

“This is a long-term asset for everyone,” he told the development review commission last month.

Kristin Johnson, who was 22 when she was elected to the Lake Oswego City Council in 2006, told the commission she wanted to talk about the Wizer proposal’s relationship to “young professionals.”by: SUBMITTED - The city's Block 137 is also known as the Wizer block because it is owned by Gene Wizer, whose market in the complex is considered by many to be an institution. A new development could bring new housing, retail and parking options to the location, which is next to Millennium Plaza Park.

Rental apartments could house younger adults who now live in downtown Portland or the South Waterfront area and commute to Lake Oswego for work, but who may not have enough money yet for a down payment on a house, she said. Rental units are lacking in Lake Oswego.

“Who would want to live in smaller apartments with one parking spot? It’s me,” Johnson said.

She said young professionals might not be interested in taking a car to the grocery store and seniors interested in safe housing in a walkable area might not be able to drive at all, easing some traffic and parking concerns.

But others have raised concerns about everything from the size and mass of the buildings and potential parking and traffic problems to whether excrement from new residents’ pets will overwhelm the available grass.

Lita Grigg lives in a townhome on the block next to the Wizer property and helped form Save Our Village, an organization opposing the redevelopment project. Among her concerns were construction impacts of the project such as noise and vibration over multiple years of work.

“What would the city and developers do to protect the concerned citizens who are impacted the most on Second Street?” she asked.

Grigg said high-density apartments could also overpower surrounding “village structures.”

Businesses now in Lake View Village and representatives of that complex’s developer, Gramor Development, have also protested the plan for Block 137. They say the new buildings would be incompatible with the surrounding area and argue the proposal lacks adequate parking.

Doug Lee owns Zeppo restaurant at Lake View Village. He worries about any new development’s potential to shade the sidewalks outside the popular dining spot.

“I accept the fact that something will be built,” Lee said. “I just want it to be something that belongs there, that logistically works, and something that doesn’t rob me of that much sun.”

Barry Cain, a Lake Oswego resident and president of Gramor Development, said the Wizer project would compete with existing businesses for parking. In that case, apartment dwellers and their guests wouldn’t be the economic boon some envision; instead, they might take up parking spaces on the street or use the parking lot intended for downtown visitors and customers at Lake View Village.

“Right now we have it pretty good in downtown Lake Oswego,” Cain recently told the development review commission, noting people don’t have to walk far from available parking to visit stores or parks in the area. “The downtown has a nice, high-quality, low-density feel to it.”

He also gave a brief history of his development south of A Avenue.

Years ago, Cain and Wizer were part of a team aiming to redevelop three blocks downtown. Wizer’s property was in the middle of those three.

But a change in laws involving urban renewal meant their project could be appealed by initiative, and it was. A vote in 1998 “was a referendum on the project,” Cain said. “After that we licked our wounds and thought maybe we should give it another shot and do it one block at a time.”

By 2003, Cain had redeveloped Blocks 136 and 138, although he said he had to “tone down” the projects and collaborate with community members to gain the city’s acceptance.

Meanwhile, Wizer’s property, sandwiched between Cain’s projects, remains much the same as it was back then.

Redevelopment plans for the site would require some exceptions to city code. While the buildings would be within downtown height limits overall, they’d have more stories than typically allowed. Other exceptions include allowing some residential entries on the ground floor, a reduced amount of storefront window area and a retail parking entrance on First Street. The project would also remove 25 trees, though developers plan to preserve a maple tree at A Avenue and First Street at the request of community members.

City planners have recommended approval. The Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency, the city council’s urban renewal arm, has also signed onto the plan.

After multiple public hearings and hours of testimony, the issue is now before the development review commission. Whatever the DRC decides could be appealed to the city council.

The commission’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday at city hall, 380 A Ave.




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