After 26 years in downtown LO, ‘I think there is a better way’

Created on Thursday, 02 July 2015 01:00 | Written by Phil Chizum

I agree with the neighbors and businesses opposed to the proposed large apartment/retail complex on the Wizer Block in downtown Lake Oswego.

By approving the development plan with not nearly enough parking spaces for the apartments and the 36,000 total square feet of retail (equal to three Glass Butterfly stores), the City Council has guaranteed there will be more problems for the neighboring residents and businesses if the project eventually gets built.

Lake Oswego is known for good schools and being a residential community. It is not a destination for shoppers, because of the natural barrier of the Willamette River and the opening of many shops at Bridgeport Village and on Kruse Way. It will be difficult to lease retail space in these conditions. Most people do not drive to Lake Oswego to shop and live within five miles of downtown.

Where is Plan B for this block? I believe one exists or should exist, should the current plan fail due to appeals or not being financially viable.

The Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency has improved the downtown look of the area — but at what cost? Loss of local businesses, subsidizing developers with our tax dollars, higher rents and always fighting with the neighborhoods, businesses and citizens who do not want it.

Few people realize that all of the tax dollars of businesses in the redevelopment zone above their assessed values in 1986 go toward future development, not to the schools or city budgets. LORA was formed as a small department in 1986. It has now grown to an annual budget of $23 million in 2015-16 and includes over 20 blocks of the downtown core. LORA plans to borrow another $25 million in 2016- 2017 (ci.oswego.or.us/finance/lora-urban-renewal-budget). And we thought spending $17 million on SAFECO was a bad idea. Look out, Lake Grove: a redevelopment district was added there in 2013.

Doing business in the redevelopment zone is not an easy thing — always facing a new plan, government owning property and making no improvements on them, no long-term leases so you can improve your own business, the threat of being sold to a developer looking to make money. I say these things not as a bitter businessman who is closing his store. It was difficult to run a business in this environment, but we were able to succeed and I am grateful for the many years making a living as a small business, working with great employees and very loyal customers.

I am very much looking forward to retirement, travel and working part-time. I spent much of my life here, graduating from Lakeridge High School and owning a business downtown for 26 years. But I will no longer be a part of it. I think there is a better way.

Urban renewal districts in other cities have been eliminated and local laws passed, dedicating the urban renewal money to schools or other priorities. A new Clackamas County law forbids cities to declare urban renewal areas without a vote of approval by the residents. Any future urban renewal district will and should be decided by a vote of the people of Lake Oswego.

Go back to being a residential community. Fund schools better. Cut down the increased traffic. Quit wasting taxpayer money. Keep local small businesses. Let Lake Oswego voters decide what needs to be prioritized. End the constant madness downtown. End LORA.

Phil Chizum is the co-owner of Glass Butterfly in downtown Lake Oswego.

Article originally posted with the Lake Review @ http://www.pamplinmedia.com/lor/49-opinion/265482-138882-citizens-view-after-26-years-in-downtown-lo-i-think-there-is-a-better-way-

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