Wizer Developer Wins Award



                                   Wizer Developer Wins Award

     St. Johns Marvel 29 Takes Second Place in Regional “TopProjects” 


Portland, Oregon – May 2015  Marvel 29, the St. Johns development which pays homage to the copper spires of the historic suspension bridge, was just awarded second place in the Daily Journal of Commerce “TopProjects” private buildings. The premier awards program, now in its twentieth year, honors the best building and construction projects in Oregon and SW Washington.

In all, there were almost 100 finalists competing, with over 30 finalist entries in the private buildings category. Developer Patrick H. Kessi, founder of PHK Development Inc., said, “We were the only residential apartment building to win an award and I am honored. Just like Block 137, Marvel 29 is a downtown, mixed-use development and it too was designed to complement its surroundings and be built with a goal of receiving  certification under the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program..

Two years before the first dirt was moved, Kessi’s company turned to residents, business owners and the St. Johns Main Street Coalition for their input. The decision to include rare underground parking was in part a result of these discussions. The building had to fit in with two active streets and prominent use was made of brick to blend with nearby historic structures. Side by side live-work spaces and ground level retail were built on the active streets.

Concepts for the interior spaces were developed with the businesses and neighborhoods and led to the use of local talent and local materials. Most of the artwork in the building is local and many of the building finishes were sourced locally.

“My team shaped the structure of Marvel 29 but the people of St. Johns gave it life. We look forward to building another award-winning development in Lake Oswego – one which not only will be another landmark, but also will contribute greatly to the economy and be part of the long term, sustainable future of LO,” said Kessi.


It’s a Matter of Free Expression Versus Objectivity Under the Law

Letter by Roger Martin.  Originally published in the Lake Oswego Review 5/21/15

For years, some in this community have engaged in spirited discussions about what should happen with the dated Wizer Block. They had subjective opinions about what they would like to see there in place of the rather tired, mid-century building that housed a once-landmark business that had run its course.

Then in the past two years, when it became apparent that the private owner was close to a deal with a private buyer, debate intensified and subjectivity and objectivity became muddled. The free expression of personal opinions is sacrosanct in a democracy, but we are now at a stage with this project where objectivity must surely take over, before any more of our taxpayer money is spent on appeals unlikely to succeed.

Too large and too dense, not compatible with village character, the project doesn’t meet the intention of the city code — these are the subjective views of the opponents. But the Lake Oswego City Council has an objective code that must guide them in their development decisions. In September 2014, that code brought them to a 5-2 objective decision that the proposed development met city standards and the code.

Disappointed, the opponents moved to the Land Use Board of Appeals and requested LUBA overturn the city’s decision. The same argument that the project didn’t meet an implied definition of village character was used.  Again looking objectively and at the code, LUBA concluded that the city’s interpretation of village character “easily” met the required standard of review. So now the opponents of the project take their appeal on to the Oregon Court of Appeals, using subjectivity and “underlying policies” of city planning.

A dislike of the project and subjective interpretations of the intent of the city code fit into the category of free expression, and there is nothing wrong with that. But freedom of speech is not the issue with the Court of Appeals. And the court cannot substitute its subjective judgment for that of the Land Use Board of Appeals. The Wizer opponents’ chances of success really do drastically narrow here. The further up the appeal ladder a case goes, the more difficult it becomes to prevail.

I heard a while back that the opponents would fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. In my judgment, that would be a huge financial mistake for them, would cost yet more taxpayer money and would ruin the reputation of Lake Oswego as a place in which to do business.

Roger Martin is a resident of Lake Oswego.

Sometimes, courage is what it takes to sit down and listen

Letter by Brad Henry.  Originally published in the Lake Oswego Review 5/21/15

In her May 14 Citizen’s View (“Lake Oswego citizens are still standing strong on Wizer Block”), Save Our Village founder Lita Grigg said that the role of the city “was to protect our values by honoring a carefully thought-out and well-documented long-term vision.”

On that point I agree with Ms. Grigg, which is why the City Council’s 5-2 decision approving the Wizer redevelopment was the correct one. In that decision, the council objectively honored the long-term vision that is well documented in the city code. The Land Use Board of Appeals recently and resoundingly backed the City Council in its approval of the Wizer project.

Ms. Grigg argues that the Wizer project does not meet a believable interpretation of “small-scale structures,” and therefore does not meet the definition of “village character.” But LUBA found that the city’s interpretation of “village character” easily met the required standard of review.

So now opponents will appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals, inspired by Churchillian quotes like the one used by Leslie Pirotta in her May 14 Citizen’s View (“Wizer Block ‘still worth the fight.’”) She quotes Churchill as saying, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Courage is to be admired. But Churchill also said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

The city and LUBA have spoken. Dealing in objectivity, facts and with the code, both bodies approved the development. Under state statute, the Court of Appeals shall not substitute its judgment for that of the board as to any issue of fact. LUBA’s findings of fact will not be under review by the court unless the court feels that LUBA made a serious error in judgment. I and many other Oswegans think that is highly unlikely and that there is no legal basis to move forward with this appeal.

Again I agree with Ms. Grigg when she states that we in Lake Oswego have a very intelligent population of citizens. I disagree with her premise that the majority of those smart people want to move forward to the Court of Appeals. I admire her enthusiasm, but the strategy and tactics of the opponents of Wizer have so far yielded less-than-satisfying results.

This future appeal is also unlikely to yield the result the opponents want. So let me end with another short, applicable quote from Winston Churchill. He said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

Brad Henry is a resident of Lake Oswego.

Long Odds

Letter by Jamieson Grabenhorst, originally published in the Lake Oswego Review, 5/14/2015

It is with great interest that I have followed the debate, the code and the law in connection with the Wizer Block redevelopment. As a partner in a Lake Oswego business and someone who is seriously contemplating living in the community, I have watched closely the passion of opponents, the transparency of the City Council decision in favor of the project and then the Land Use Board of Appeals’ strong affirmation of the council decision.

Until now, this has been democracy taking its course, even though the opponents’ appeal to LUBA had long odds. But the standard of review for overturning or remanding a land-use decision narrows and becomes much more difficult as the case goes up the appeals ladder. At the Court of Appeals, the review is limited to the record at LUBA. No new arguments can be raised on any new evidence not already before LUBA or argued at LUBA. The odds of the opponents winning get even longer at the Court of Appeals.

Democracy has worked well in LO until now. Debate has been lively, the developer has hung in and most of the community seems ready to move forward with a project that meets code criteria and that, when built, will be another downtown landmark.

With such long odds, this weak legal case brought by a few seems more about delay, and that’s not what our court system was intended for. The process to date has worked and should be respected. Let healing and constructions begin!

Jamieson Grabenhorst 

Lake Oswego

One Appeal Too Many

Letter by Bill Gordon, originally published in the Lake Oswego Review, 5/14/2015

It’s unfortunate that the Evergreen Neighborhood Association (ENA) board — by a fairly close vote — and Save Our Village (SOV) decided to further appeal the Wizer project to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

At this point, it seems most citizens feel that the ENA board and SOV should have followed Barry Cain’s lead by not pursuing further litigation against our city and the project. The LUBA decision denying the appeal to that body was so strong that it left no doubt, in LUBA’s mind, that the appeal was baseless.

The same result is almost certainly coming from the Court of Appeals. ENA’s board and SOV must know this, despite the “Hail Mary” rhetoric coming from their attorney. But apparently even a frivolous appeal must be worth the cost and loss of community goodwill, just to try to create more project roadblocks and delays — particularly when one ENA board member has publicly committed to pay all of ENA’s legal fees.

Had the ENA board bothered to ask its neighborhood residents about the wisdom of suing the city yet again, the board likely would have received different feedback. After much discussion and debate and so many meetings, hearings and appeals, even many of the original project opponents are saying this is one appeal too many.

Bill Gordon 

ENA board member 

Lake Oswego

General Contractor Named for Wizer Project


Developer Names General Contractor for Lake Oswego Wizer Project

       CEO/President of Oregon Lease Crutcher Lewis is Lake Oswego Resident

Portland, Oregon – May 2015.  Patrick H. Kessi of PHK Development, Inc., the developer of Block 137 which also is known as the Wizer Block, announced today that employee-owned Lease Crutcher Lewis (“Lewis”) will be the general contractor on the development. Demolition of the existing Wizer building is scheduled to begin September 2015, to be followed by excavation for underground parking.

Kessi said that the Lewis team with its reputation for collaboration, innovation in energy saving methods, working with reclaimed materials and a focus on effective ways to eliminate construction waste is the perfect fit for Lake Oswego. “Lewis has built over one hundred LEED projects in the Pacific Northwest and has a reputation for award-winning, mixed-use projects,” he said.

The CEO/President of Oregon Lease Crutcher Lewis, Bart Ricketts, lives with his family in Lake Oswego and will oversee the Wizer re-development. He has spent twenty-four years in the construction industry, twenty-one of them with Lewis.  Ricketts said that the execution of this particular project will be one of the highlights in his career. “I have two children in the Lake Oswego school system and a stake in this community. I look forward to delivering an exceptional project to downtown and one that I know will become another community asset.”

Mayor Kent Studebaker said that the superior team being assembled to bring this project to fruition would ensure Lake Oswego’s Code and design standards would be met. “We move forward with the high standards in design that this town is renowned for,” he said. He commented also that an Oswegan leader of the contractor team who was clearly committed to the area was a huge plus.


It’s time for LO to move forward with Wizer project

Editorial by Gary Stein.  Originally published by the Lake Oswego Review 4/29/2015.

Twice in the past few months, The Review has editorialized against the construction of a 290,000-square-foot, mixed-use development on downtown Lake Oswego’s Wizer Block.

The proposed project will be too big and too dense for the corner of A Avenue and First Street, I wrote, and the infrastructure now in place will not be able to handle the influx of cars and residents that will surely be drawn to the 207 apartments and 36,000 square feet of retail space that will be located there.

I still believe that’s true.

But on the eve of writing that first editorial, I had a chance to sit down with developer Patrick Kessi, and this is what I told him: The Development Review Commission would reject his proposal. The City Council would approve it. And the state Land Use Board of Appeals would affirm the council’s decision.

Sure enough, all of that has come to pass.

I also told Kessi that he would eventually build his project in downtown Lake Oswego. And that despite my objections, I would likely add my name to the waiting list for an apartment that will sit almost directly across the street from The Review’s office. That will come to pass, too.

Because the process worked.

Opponents of the development, including The Review, had a chance to make their feelings known in an open and honest debate that wound its way from downtown streets to the Opinion pages of this newspaper, from the DRC to the City Council, and eventually to a college lecture hall in Eugene, where LUBA commissioners heard the case before issuing a decidedly one-sided and unequivocal ruling in favor of Kessi’s project.

Save Our Village, the Evergreen Neighborhood Association and LO 138 LLC (which represents Lake View Village) have argued that the Wizer Block proposal does not meet the Community Development Code’s definition of “village character,” and that the city used its own subjective interpretation of that phrase to approve the project. Opponents also contend that the code required the city to compare the proposed four-story development with neighboring lots to make sure it fit a requirement for “small-scale structures.”

On every point, LUBA disagreed.

On the definition of “village character.” On the need for comparisons with nearby structures. And on the inclusion of live/work units, a gym and a library on the first floor.

“We agree that the City Council’s interpretation of the Community Development Code easily qualifies as a plausible interpretation,” LUBA said, “… and that petitioners’ proffered interpretation to the contrary is inconsistent” with the code.

Opponents also raised one of my main objections — that the streets surrounding the Wizer Block will not be able to absorb the increase in traffic generated by such a dense mixed-use development. LUBA rejected that argument, too, as inappropriate for a general land-use decision.

I still disagree with the commissioners on that last point, and I guess we’ll just have to wait and see who was right. But I have always believed that the three buildings Kessi proposes for the Wizer Block — with their varied facades, pedestrian walkways and public spaces — will not only fit the definition of “village character” but also enhance the city’s downtown core. Kessi has always designed beautiful projects that blend seamlessly into their neighborhoods; I have no doubt that will be true in Lake Oswego, too.

I also like the mix of retail shops and residential units that Kessi proposes. “Retail begets retail,” opponents have argued, but there’s no denying the amount of vacant shops that already exist in downtown Lake Oswego. Even developer Barry Cain, one of the Wizer Block’s most vocal opponents, will ask the city’s redevelopment agency this week to let him use space on the ground floor of Lake View Village for offices instead of the required retail shops.

Even in a vibrant and thriving downtown, there’s a limit to how much retail space a compact shopping district can accommodate. And every business owner in that district will tell you that the key to their longtime survival is the very influx of residents that Kessi’s project will bring.

Obviously, the project’s opponents disagree, and they are now considering taking their case to the Oregon Court of Appeals. I think that time-consuming and expensive effort would be misguided.

If LUBA had wavered on any point, I might encourage an appeal. If there was even a hint that an issue in the LUBA decision could be considered “unlawful,” as attorney Greg Hathaway has argued, then I might encourage an appeal. If I had any reason to believe that the predictions I shared with Kessi months ago would not come true, I would encourage an appeal.

But I don’t believe that, because there was no wiggle room in the LUBA decision and no new evidence can be brought before the court; in essence, opponents can only recycle the same arguments that LUBA considered to be without merit.

I do believe this, though: The cost of an appeal is likely to be tens of thousands of dollars. The process would likely take three to four months. And in the end, Patrick Kessi will build his mixed-use development on the Wizer Block, just like I told him he would.

The time has come for me to put my name on the waiting list. For opponents to drop their appeal. And for the community to move forward with a project that is destined to become an integral part of the “village character” we all cherish.

Gary M. Stein is editor of The Lake Oswego Review.

City Council approves Wizer Block

By Saundra Sorenson. Originally published in the Lake Oswego Review 9/25/14


After eight hours of testimony and deliberation, the Lake Oswego City Council voted to overturn the Development Review Commission’s rejection of the latest Wizer Block design.

The City Council voted 5-2 Wednesday evening to allow developer Patrick Kessi’s plan to build a 290,000-square-foot, mixed-use development at the corner of A Avenue and First Street in downtown Lake Oswego.

Councilor Karen Bowerman expressed concerns about how funds from the Lake Oswego Redevelopment Agency would be paid back, in the event the residential and commercial project did not hit anticipated revenues. But Bowerman’s question about the Evergreen Group’s “exit strategy for payback to the city as a creditor” was judged by the council to be outside the purview of the hearing.

Councilors Bowerman and Lauren Hughes proved to be vocal critics of the project.

“The exceptions are very specific,” Hughes argued. “As I went back and read DRC minutes, it seemed to me that what they were really stuck on was scale. (It was) too massive. That to me is kind of the heart of the matter, is we’ve gone to four stories all the way around, ringing it, where I don’t think that’s what the code meant to say.”

“They couldn’t approve the project because of sale issues, it being too big,” she added. “I feel like we’re at a point where we’re being asked to push the code beyond where it intends to be. And push the (Urban Development Plan) into a place where it was never intended.”

But Councilor Jeff Gudeman did not feel the UDP should be regarded as a controlling document.

“The UDP is a visionary statement,” Gudeman said. “We’ve already gone beyond that visionary statement in the UDP with the building of Lake View Village.”

He added, “While the opening paragraph of our code in this particular area does set out the vision, the specifics of it — which the DRC has acknowledged they met the specific criteria listed — leads me to having to say the DRC erred in their decision. And as they noted in their report and material, they struggled with trying to define ‘small scale.’”

Mayor Kent Studebaker agreed.

“I may not like this particularly, I may think it’s too large, but this is what the code says, and I think it’s our obligation as the council to go with what the council says, rather than to say, I’m going to go with subjective (criteria).”

Studebaker also said it was a disservice not to provide certainty to any developers considering projects in the city.

But Bowerman found the largely residential project was not in the spirit of the UDP.

“The point is for there to have a sense of vitality offered in this compact shopping district, and that is not offered by what is private space, used by just a couple hundred people,” She said. “Retail begets retail. Retail in quantity begets customers. That’s what we’re trying to build in a compact shopping district. That’s what is missing by failing to support that particular part of the code.”

Hughes cautioned the council against signing on too quickly with what she viewed as essentially a “public-private partnership.”

“We are looking at close to $6 million,” she said. “I feel like we do very much have an obligation to assure that what goes in there is the right thing, and that it has community support. I don’t think it has enough community support.”

Photo Credit: REVIEW: VERN UYETAKE - City Councilor Jon Gustafson (foreground) listens to a second night of Wizer Block testimony Tuesday. The council was expected to vote on the project Wednesday night.

Photo Credit: REVIEW: VERN UYETAKE – City Councilor Jon Gustafson (foreground) listens to a second night of Wizer Block testimony Tuesday. The council was expected to vote on the project Wednesday night.

Jordan said that much of the criticism about the project was likely due to the fact it would house rental units, not condos.

“It is different to have a downtown rental complex, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. And that doesn’t mean that because of the quality of the materials, the expense that’s going to be brought into this block to make it fit the Lake Oswego style, it’s going to be something that you will be ashamed of.”

Councilor Skip O’Neill, who made the motion to approve the proposal, reminded the council that his campaign was largely based on attracting “quality developers” to Lake Oswego.

“What we (don’t) want to do is to get wrapped up in the motion, and (ask) the developer to redesign and redesign until at some point we either exhaust him and it goes away, or we decide it’s appropriate,” he said. “That’s now the way development works.”

He took the city’s more than 300-page building codes to task, saying the city needed to simplify.

Ultimately, approving Block 137 “sends a good message to the community that we have a first-class developer, first-class architect and first-class development that everyone will be proud of,” he said.

“I don’t think we’re going to change each other’s minds on this,” Hughes said. “I do agree with Councilor O’Neill that we have a horrific code.”

The council passed a motion to approve the plans with some conditions set, thereby overturning the Development Review Commission’s ruling.

Studebaker, Gudman, Gustafson, O’Neill and Jordan voted to approve the motion, while Bowerman and Hughes voted against it.

The council is expected to finalize its decision during its Oct. 7 sessi

Lake Oswego City Council overturns decision on Wizer Block development

By Michael Bamesberger. Originally published on Oregon Live 9/25/14


The Lake Oswego City Council on Wednesday sided with the prospective developer of the downtown Wizer Block, finding that the proposed project meets city standards and codes.

The 5 to 2 vote overturned a July decision by the city’s Development Review Commission. The council found the seven-member commission erred in its reasoning for denying the $93 million residential and commercial development.

The vote came after three nights of hearings and nearly eight hours of testimony. Lake Oswego residents both for and against the project crowded city hall nightly awaiting the City Council’s ruling.

Representatives of the Evergreen Group, the developer, argued that their project, which includes 207 apartments above retail, office and parking space, did meet the city’s “village character” and is allowed within the Urban Design Plan.

But opponents of the plan, who believe the project is simply too massive and residential focused to meet the intention of the code, backed up the Development Review Commission’s decision. The project, they said, does not meet the part of the definition of village character which calls for “small scale structures.” In addition, the project, which has residential uses on the ground floor of one of the buildings, is incompatible with the objective of a “compact shopping district” in the 1988 Urban Design Plan.

The proposed development:By the Numbers
$92.6 million
Three four-story buildings
207 apartments, six of which are live/work units
36,500 square feet of retail
268 residential parking spaces
155 retail parking spaces
Overall square footage of 290,000

A majority of the councilors, however, were not convinced. Council President Jeff Gudman said the Development Review Commission denied the project using elements of the city’s codes and standards that are not clear criteria. The standards of village character, he said, are actually clearly met through requirements on massing, building design, parking and more — criteria the project meets. The “small scale structures” wording resides in a definition, is itself not defined and is not actually a criteria.

Councilor Jon Gustafson agreed and said the city has a legal obligation to approve projects that meet city code. “Our code is full of definitions,” he said. “If you always had to fall back on the definitions as criteria, you would never have an idea what your property rights were.”

Councilors Karen Bowerman and Lauren Hughes disagreed with the majority of the council. Bowerman said the block is meant to be a shopping district. Retail begets more retail, she said, and this key commercial space should not be wasted on so much residential use.

Hughes said she believes the code actually calls for buildings of up to three stories, with allowances for a fourth for only certain circumstances.

“I don’t think anyone envisioned 207 apartments going there,” Hughes said, adding that since more than $5 million in redevelopment funds are going toward the project, the council has an obligation to wait for the right project — one that’s supported by residents.

After the ruling, Patrick Kessi, principal of the Evergreen Group, said he was excited to move forward with the project.

“This project complies with the code, it’s compatible with its neighbors and it completes the vision of downtown,” Kessi said.

Opponents of the project say the fight is not over. Lita Grigg, who organized the group Save Our Village, said she plans to take the project to the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals.

The project, she said, is overwhelming in size and not compatible or complementary with the rest of downtown.

“We’re very disappointed the decision,” she said. “The project does not meet the compact shopping district or village character.”

The official findings and conclusions will be approved at the Oct. 7 City Council meeting.

Some ‘rights’ are ‘wrongs’

Letter by Ellie McPeak. Originally published in the Lake Oswego Review 9/18/14

I take issue with the editorial two weeks ago (“Wizer decision isn’t about right and wrong,” Sept. 4) in which The Review seemed to equate opinions about the Wizer Project with “rights.” We are all entitled to opinions. But the “rights” involved in approving or denying a proposal to redevelop a block in our downtown are embodied in documents considered and enacted after public debate by elected members of our City Councils.

The Review states that the “vision … for a compact shopping district rejects large-scale residential projects in favor of a greater concentration of retail space.” I believe The Review is wrong in its interpretation. The Wizer Block is, indeed, in the central core of our downtown. But the 1988 Urban Design Plan describes aspects of what buildings could look like in the district. It explicitly includes placing “high-density multifamily housing” on the upper floors of buildings that can be two, three and four stories high. The Urban Design Plan talks about mixed use, including housing, bringing added activity to the core area. This is the “right” actually embodied in the Urban Design Plan.

“Village character” is also embodied in our development code. It isn’t an opinion; it is a stated series of characteristics that “create village character.” And the Wizer project includes those characteristics, with fewer exceptions than were granted for Lake View Village. “Small-scale structures” have those characteristics. The opponents have no code-based “right” to think they are not small-scale. The code says that they are small-scale.

Some “rights” are right. Other “rights” are “wrongs,” if they ignore our properly-enacted plans and the code. I believe the DRC booted its job. I believe the City Council will do the “right” thing: follow the applicable plans and the code and approve the Wizer project.

Ellie McPeak

Lake Oswego