By Patrick Kessi. Originally published in the Lake Oswego Review 9/11/14
There was much I agreed with in last week’s Review editorial (“Wizer Decision isn’t about right and wrong: it is about shaping the city’s future,” Sept. 4.) Shaping positive futures for neighborhoods and designing sustainable buildings that enhance their surroundings is what we do. Looking to the future for Lake Oswego’s downtown core involves vision and long-term commitment, and that, too, is what we do. But we also rely on the facts to accomplish both objectives. So while I am not going to disagree with the opinions of The Review, I am going to disagree with the facts upon which the newspaper bases some opinions.
The Review’s opinion is that “decades of planning for a ‘compact shopping district’ with a small-scale village feel can’t be ignored.” With that I agree, and that is exactly what we accomplish with the Wizer redesign. But The Review’s facts are wrong when it claims that in writing development plans for this part of downtown, planners only supported commercial uses. That is simply not true.
The Lake Oswego Urban Design Plan (UDP) is the only document with a definition of “compact shopping district.” The UDP, under “compact shopping district” says:
1. Consider the four blocks surrounding the A Avenue/First Street intersection as a special retail district; and
2. Explore placing high-density, multifamily housing and commercial space on upper floors of shopping-district buildings to add activity to the core.
All this we have done. We have offered ground-floor retail and commercial space and balanced it with high-quality residences above, to fuel the retail. This is exactly what the UDP encourages.
The Review’s opinion that the design is not “small-scale” is also in error and factually incorrect. “Some buildings would be as long as 273 feet without any real breaks,” the editorial states. One Wizer building is 273 feet long — that is the longest. The longest building without a break at Lake View Village is 311 feet, or 38 feet longer, yet that met code and was judged to be “small-scale.”
Wizer is well within the code-allowed height, density and story allowance, as the Development Review Commission found, and is richly designed in the Lake Oswego architectural style. The fact is, Wizer is “small-scale,” and the code says so.
The Review’s opinion is that the downtown infrastructure cannot handle additional traffic caused by new residents in the core. Instead, the paper calls for far more retail. These two opinions are in conflict, and facts are being ignored. Retail and office trips account for the highest number of trips in and out of downtown areas. The mixed-use Wizer Block proposal reduces these trips. Wizer residents will walk to the core. But there is another important fact missing here. The UDP identifies a four-block district of residential, retail and office uses. Wizer and Lake View Village are only two of those blocks. Our proposed mixed-use design leaves traffic capacity for the remaining two blocks across A Avenue. With heavier commercial use on the Wizer Block, The Review would, in essence, remove capacity for those remaining blocks and violate the terms of the UDP, which calls for and encourages mixed use.
Thomas Jefferson said that “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” The Review and I agree on principle, but our opinions differ. In my business, we cannot ignore the facts.
Patrick H. Kessi is principal of Evergreen Group LLC, developer of the Wizer Block (Block 137).