City council, planning commission pleased with progress

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - As part of a new town center near the arch bridge, the city may construct housing units, restaurants and even a hotel. Until recently, the arch bridge-Bolton planning project was still very much in its infancy. LMN Architects Project Manager Mark Hinshaw had heard from city staff and residents alike about how the area should be redeveloped, but he and his associates were tasked with weighing dreams versus reality as they put a more specific proposal together.

That proposal was shared in a progress report to the West Linn City Council and West Linn Planning Commission during a joint session Monday, and both groups expressed general approval of the ideas presented.

“We’ve picked up a lot of positive direction,” Hinshaw said as the presentation concluded. “We’re going to take some pieces and refine them to the next level.”

The city received a $220,000 grant from Metro last fall to fund the planning process, and later hired LMN Architects to complete a master plan and implementation strategy. The project runs congruent to the redevelopment of the former Blue Heron Paper Company across the river in Oregon City as part of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project.

LMN’s latest findings centered around the demand for housing, restaurants and a full-service hotel in the arch bridge-Bolton area, with the bulk of development taking place near Interstate 205 and the West Linn Paper Company property.

“Over the long haul this is probably a 10-to-20 year planning horizon,” Hinshaw said. “It gets you all the ingredients of a town center in this compact and walkable area. You have streets, you have stuff on the streets that people want to go to, you have overlooks, passageways, connections, trails and other features.”

Hinshaw said the area could likely accommodate between 250 and 300 housing units, along with up to 30,000 square feet of office space and 20,000 square feet of retail property. The LMN proposal also suggested that a hotel would be ideally situated between the traffic of I-205 and the views of the river.

“That location is great for a hotel,” said Anne Fifield, a consultant with EcoNorthwest. “I’d block the sound (from the freeway) with walls, have it face the river and put meeting spaces in.”

Yet, as Hinshaw cautioned, that development was contingent on significant transportation changes, including the creation of a new “Main Street” by extending Willamette Drive closer to the paper mill and constructing an intersection at Willamette Drive and Willamette Falls Drive.

Such changes would, in turn, require the city’s purchase of the 76 gas station on Willamette Drive, which Hinshaw referred to as a “choke point” for redevelopment. The city has reached out to the owners of the station, according to Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt, but the owners did not respond.

LMN originally considered the idea of placing a roundabout at the intersection of Willamette Drive and Willamette Falls Drive, but Hinshaw determined that it would be “gargantuan” and ill-fitting.

“The land consumed would be far more than what you would want,” Hinshaw said.

Beyond constructing a new “Main Street,” LMN also recommended new investments at West Bridge Park, including an improved trail system, river overlooks and even a small beach with a boat ramp. In a memo to the city, Hinshaw described the vision of “a unique and dramatic park beneath the I-205 bridge, including a trail connection into and through the town center.”

Among the most important policy questions posed to the City Council and planning commission was whether maximum building heights could be raised as high as 75 feet, or approximately six stories, in the arch bridge area. Current city code allows for buildings as high as 45 feet.

“If something’s in the mill parking lot and four or five stories, it’s down from everything — it’s not blocking views,” Council President Jody Carson said. “It’s not like we’re allowing taller buildings all over the city, we’re allowing it in this part of the city.”

The council and planning commission agreed that, if planned and communicated properly, allowing taller buildings would be beneficial to the redevelopment effort.

Moving forward, Hinshaw and his associates will continue to refine the plan, which is expected to be finalized by the end of the year. In October, LMN will host another “open house” style workshop for residents. The public will also have a chance to comment at the Old Time Fair and the Willamette Falls Lock Fest.

And though significant progress has been made since the city received the Metro grant last fall, the plans are far from finalized.

“This is a long term project,” Mayor John Kovash said. “This is not something we’re going to do next year.”

By Patrick Malee
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