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Council ignored plea to preserve our downtown

When Mayor Kent Studebaker campaigned, he said, “Lake Oswego is a great place, and I’d like to make sure we maintain that quality and character of the town. I’d like to make sure people can afford to stay here and they’re not worried about what the government is doing to them.”

Did Lake Oswego citizens witness disloyalty and misuse of leadership by Mayor Studebaker and four members of City Council when they voted to overturn the Development Review Commission? The DRC, led by expert architects and a specialized attorney, twice rejected the Wizer proposal. The DRC reasonably determined that the proposed development, too large to even fit on a Portland city block, did not meet code for village character in mass and scale, and that the apartment complex, proposed for a block clearly designated in the Urban Design Plan as our “compact shopping district,” lacks critical retail.

Lake Oswego citizens have a government that ignored a year-long plea by a majority of citizens to preserve our downtown, deny this project and ask the developer to break up the buildings into smaller scale and add more retail to the ground floors as required by the DRC.

Mayor Studebaker and Councilors Gudman, Jordon, Gustafson and O’Neill had seven months — since February — to carefully study code and testimony regarding the most important decision our community is facing. Instead, they appeared unfamiliar with relevant issues, including details of parking and traffic, the actual size of the proposal in relation to other buildings downtown and the history of downtown development plans. Despite an overwhelming outpouring of citizen concerns, they appeared to rely on a staff that citizens called out for driving this redevelopment in favor of the developer.

These five council members appeared to ignore citizens’ concerns that letters were submitted in favor of the project by a Portland PR firm on behalf of Kessi and residents of Kessi’s Northwest Portland building. None of the writers of the supportive form letters had a connection to Lake Oswego. Yet, the vast majority of Lake Oswego organizations and residents rejected the proposal in favor of smaller-scale buildings and more retail. Only Councilors Bowerman and Hughes represented the interests of those who elected them.

Perhaps nothing will destroy our picturesque small downtown more than a 60-foot-high, massive apartment complex that is not “small-scale” and lacks “random village scale” (page 27 of the UDP). Instead of walking along A Avenue to window-shop at a quality antique store or a children’s boutique or a restaurant filled with diners, Lake Oswego residents will stare into apartment lobbies, wait in traffic and watch as double-parked moving vans unload beds and sofas.

It is a sad time for Lake Oswego residents who cherish downtown and hoped to have Wizer’s redeveloped in a way that preserves our unique, charming downtown. As one of the compelling citizen testimonies underscored, “You would never see the current Wizer proposal built in Cannon Beach, Essex, Conn., Los Gatos, Calif., or Carmel.”

With the upcoming election, look carefully at the candidates. Other downtown blocks and the Foothills neighborhood are primed for redevelopment. Only two candidates have taken a stand against the current Wizer proposal: Jackie Manz and Matt Keenen. Councilor Jeff Gudman voted in favor of the Wizer proposal, and candidate Joe Buck testified in favor it.

Leslie Pirrotta is a resident of Lake Oswego.

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