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City gives green light to Wizer block plan

Next step focuses on new development's design


by: VERN UYETAKE - Plans are shaping up for redevelopment of the downtown block owned by Gene Wizer. The city has approved an agreement allowing for up to 228 apartments as well as retail spaces and parking on the property near Millennium Plaza Park.Lake Oswego’s urban renewal agency will foot up to about $6 million of the bill for an estimated $92.6 million makeover transforming the Wizer property downtown into a new residential and retail development.

The Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency board on Tuesday approved a development agreement outlining terms of the project and providing for a public contribution to make it happen. The board is made up of the city council but oversees urban renewal districts in the city.

The vote was unanimous in favor of the agreement, although Councilor Mike Kehoe was absent from the meeting.

The city has long eyed redevelopment of the Wizer property, home to Wizer’s Oswego Foods and surrounded by other redevelopment sites. The property is sandwiched between Millennium Plaza Park, Lake View Village and a few dozen three-level townhomes and businesses on A Avenue to the west.

Councilor Donna Jordan said the urban renewal agency’s financial involvement would ensure the city achieves the type of development it wants for that block, between First and Second streets, Evergreen Road and A Avenue.

“I think the best way to ensure this is a quality project is to make sure from the beginning that the materials and the design are the type of development that we are used to, and that’s going to take a large investment of money,” Jordan said. “In order to get a return on their investment, (developers) are going to need the flexibility to do what they need to do.”

Several concerns are shared

About two dozen people testified during the public hearing at city hall.

Many residents were enthusiastic about the potential for redevelopment of the block, as well as the private developers involved in the effort. At the same time, many voiced concerns ranging from the size and massing of the proposed buildings, the number of rental units and potential impacts on traffic and parking, to the number of new dogs new apartments could introduce to the neighborhood.

Spanning the entire city block, the project will include three separate four- to five-story buildings with 215 to 228 high-end apartments. In addition, the development will include up to 28,000 square feet of retail space along A Avenue and First Street, and a public walkway will run through the block to connect First and Second streets. Parking will be tucked beneath the development with separate entrances for tenants and visitors to the new restaurants and shops in the area.

Carol Radich lives in the Evergreen neighborhood, where the project would be located, said she likes the idea of mixing retail and housing on the block and has heard the developers have been open to changing their designs because of residents’ input.

“However, I just can’t get past the number of units; I believe we only have 200 to 300 residential units in our whole neighborhood now,” she said. With an additional 200-plus homes, “I can’t imagine the impact that will have on our neighborhood.”

Whitney Braden lives on Lake Shore Road. She said the project should include fewer residential units than what was outlined in the development agreement.

“This project is changing the reason that people live in Lake Oswego,” she said. “Millennium Park is our living room. I feel a building certainly that would be five stories or maybe even four would just be overbearing in the setting it’s going to be built in right now.”

Peter Sweet said he’s among Lake Oswego residents who are increasingly considering renting rather than staying in big houses as they age, and allowing a large number of units in the development could also ensure the design and materials are of the highest quality.

For the project to pencil out with a reduced number of units, developers might be forced to skimp on quality, he said.

“Quality of construction here is something we shouldn’t lose sight of,” Sweet said. Using cheaper materials could “bring in people to downtown you wouldn’t want.”

In addition, he said, “adding more residential units in a walkable downtown, I think, is a big plus.”

Resident Bruce Brown spoke in favor of the project because it would increase the customer base for existing and new downtown businesses.

“Bringing a critical mass to the existing retail base downtown is key to transforming downtown from a local support retail area to a true retail destination,” he said.

Plans for the project continue to evolve

The apartments will range in size from one to three bedrooms, along with some possible studios available as executive rentals for visitors, according to the draft development agreement between developers and the city. Tuesday night brought a change to the plan, which will continue to evolve in the coming weeks: Patrick Kessi of W&K Development said 52 condos would likely make up one of the buildings, and that would reduce the number of rental apartments.

The development will still require exceptions to city code limiting buildings to three or four stories, although those stories would still be within the city’s height limits for downtown, and the top floors would be set back to reduce their heft, Kessi said. He noted his firm is working with a traffic engineer and plans to hire an acoustical specialist and other experts as the design process continues.

Redevelopment Director Brant Williams said several years have passed since Lake Oswego saw much new development in the downtown area, and the Wizer block, along with the Safeway block, are two of the biggest remaining redevelopment opportunities.

“It is a significant opportunity to revitalize an entire block in our downtown,” Williams said. “This is something we’ve been looking forward to.”

The project overall is estimated to cost $92.6 million. The city’s contribution will come in the form of up to $5.2 million in building permit fees, system development charges and construction excise taxes along with $749,000 toward construction. The remaining funding will come from private investment in the form of debt and equity.

For its investment, the urban renewal agency expects to increase property tax revenues from about $50,000 annually today to about $680,000 each year. In addition, the Lake Oswego School District would receive an estimated $240,000 in construction excise tax money.

Other public benefits include the complete renovation of a key city block, opportunities for new public art and the creation of 27 to 38 long-term jobs in addition to 1,000 to 1,200 temporary jobs anticipated during construction, Williams said.

Construction is expected to begin in September 2014, and the project would likely be finished two years after that.

Councilor Jon Gustafson said he liked that the building designs were inspired by the architectural styles common in Lake Oswego.

While the specific proposal is still evolving, the plan as of this week called for each of the three buildings to have its own distinct look inspired by the English tudor, Oregon rustic and arts and crafts styles that aim to create a European village feel in Lake Oswego.

The architects “did a commendable job taking relatively strict design standards and utilizing them in a creative way that’s inspired by this village idea, but is not some Disneyland replication, or some sort of cheap knockoff of one of these styles,” Gustafson said.

The LORA board has yet to approve design plans for the development, and even then the Lake Oswego Development Review Commission would still need to consider the proposal at a later public hearing.

The urban renewal agency is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 to consider the development’s proposed design.