Created on Thursday, 04 September 2014 01:00 |
City Councilor Jeff Gudman was asked the other day about the biggest challenges he’s faced while serving on the Lake Oswego City Council, and we found his answer intriguing. The toughest calls, he said, “involved the conflict between two or three or four ‘rights.’”
To be clear: Gudman wasn’t talking about the Wizer Block, where developer Patrick Kessi hopes to place a mixed-use development with 207 apartments and 36,000 square feet of retail space. That issue won’t come before the council until later this month, and councilors are rightly keeping their feelings pretty close to the vest.
But on this controversial issue, in which the public discussion has revolved more around accusations, interpretations and insinuations than it has around facts, Gudman’s simple statement rings absolutely true.
There are a lot of “rights” here.
Kessi himself is right when he says that he walked away from Development Review Commission hearings earlier this year with the clear understanding that he would have to revise his proposal if he hoped to overcome the DRC’s objections. And he’s right when he says that he addressed the commission’s concerns in a redesign that includes significant changes.
Kessi’s scaled-down proposal for a three-building, 290,000-square-foot development at the corner of First Street and A Avenue now includes multiple facades to reduce the project’s monolithic feel and incorporates a more-traditional “village” architectural style. Kessi increased commercial space by 30 percent and reduced the number of residential units by 21. Gone is a proposed fifth story that would have required an exemption from city codes.
Most importantly, Kessi is right when he says that, except for a few minor requests for exemptions, his proposal meets the basic requirements of city code. And his contention that developers should be able to count on “clear and objective standards” that are predictable and fairly applied is about as right as it gets.
His opponents, led publicly by the group Save Our Village and behind the scenes by a variety of urban planners, local developers and others, say Kessi hasn’t done enough. They say that his project does not meet code requirements for “village character,” which essentially call for small-scale structures that “appear and operate like a traditional small town.” And they’re right, too.
The project is still massive and still dense. Despite the architectural changes, some buildings would be as long as 273 feet — longer than a typical city block — with no real breaks from corner to corner. Retail space would be half of what now exists at the Wizer’s shopping center. Parking would still be inadequate. And despite what Kessi’s traffic studies predict, the infrastructure is simply not in place to handle the increase in new residents or new visitors drawn to what is, at many hours of the day, already a gridlocked nightmare.
Local small-business owners and the Chamber of Commerce are right when they say that downtown Lake Oswego desperately needs the economic shot in the arm that would come from a mix of new residents and new retail establishments. That infusion of shoppers and diners would go a long way toward reinvigorating an area that now features several vacant storefronts.
But others point to a vision — crafted by city planners and endorsed by public vote — for a “compact shopping district” in the city’s core that rejects large-scale residential projects in favor of a greater concentration of retail space. A small-scale, pedestrian-orientated retail development would attract the kind of high-end shops and restaurants — and customers — that neighboring businesses now covet, the argument goes. And that sounds right, too.
Which leads us to this: What do you do when you’re faced with a lot of “rights?” How do you make a decision when, objectively at least, neither side is truly wrong? We think you do what the Development Review Commission did last week: You listen to both sides, you consider the applicable rules and regulations, and then you take a stand based on what you believe is best for the future of a city you love.
In the end, it can’t be about right and wrong. It must be about seizing an opportunity to step back, reflect on evidence and experience, consider principles and priorities. It must be about crafting a long-term vision based not only on the facts, but also on what you see when you look ahead.
It must be about leadership.
What will Jeff Gudman and the rest of the City Council see when they meet to consider the Wizer Block project this month? We hope they see what we do: that decades of planning for a “compact shopping district” with a small-scale village feel can’t be ignored; that you don’t have to accept a pretty proposal just because it meets the letter of the code; that the DRC was right in rejecting the Kessi proposal; and that when you are given an opportunity to shape the future, you grab hold with both hands.
In the end, that is the only “right” thing to do.
Article originally posted with the Lake Review @