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Kessi says he'll appeal DRC's rejection of Wizer Block proposal

Once panel affirms its decision, developer will take his case to the City Council in September


Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Development Review Commission members listen to public testimony during the second of two hearings last week on the proposed development of the Wizer Block in downtown Lake Oswego. Developer Patrick Kessi said this week that he will appeal the Development Review Commission’s rejection of his proposal for a 290,000-square-foot, mixed-use development on downtown Lake Oswego’s Wizer Block.

Kessi said he was surprised by the DRC’s 3-2 vote, which came shortly before midnight on July 30, because commissioners appeared poised after hours of discussion to grant the few code exceptions he requested.

“By straw vote, the majority of the commission found (the proposal) fit all the criteria,” Kessi said. “After hours of discussion about how the project met the code, the vote to deny was pretty unpredictable.”

The DRC will now meet Aug. 18 to adopt its findings; that would open a 15-day window for appeal to the City Council, which next meets in September. Any decision by the council also could be appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

In his appeal, Kessi will not be allowed to make any changes to the proposal he submitted to the DRC. But he said he stands behind what he calls “a substantial redesign” that addressed concerns raised earlier this year by neighborhood groups, community leaders and city officials.

“I’m really pleased that we’ve completed this important step in the approval process,” Kessi said. “Now I’m really looking forward to presenting (this) much-improved design to the City Council.”

The DRC’s marathon session last week followed a five-hour hearing July 21 and three more hours of public testimony July 23. At issue is a redesigned proposal from Kessi’s Evergreen Group LLC to replace the former home of Wizer’s Oswego Foods with three four-story buildings at the corner of A Avenue and First Street. The development would include 207 residential units and about 36,000 square feet of retail space.

DRC Chair Bob Needham and Commissioners Gregg Creighton and Kelly Melendez voted to reject the proposal; Vice Chair Brent Ahrend and Commissioner David Poulson voted to approve it. The discussion seemed to come down to two main points.

First, the commission was divided on whether Kessi’s proposed design reflected downtown Lake Oswego’s “village character.” Largely at issue was the sense that the buildings’ massing did not conform to the city’s code provision regarding the aesthetics of downtown buildings.

Kessi had attempted to address that criticism in his revised plan for Block 137, creating building fronts that featured a variety of setbacks, plane changes, material changes and breaks in rooflines.

Second, the commission was split on how much of the structures’ ground floor was devoted to residential use and on what kind of residential/commercial split was appropriate for the so-called “compact shopping district.”

Ahrend argued that, by city code, “mixed use” was up to a developer’s interpretation. “What they’re proposing ... we don’t have anything to say that’s right or wrong,” he said. “Personally, that’s a liberty ... that I can’t deny. A builder-developer has to have that ability to mix it up himself.”

Needham mostly agreed.

“If you say that, hypothetically, someone came forward with a project that was first-floor retail, do we have any say of what percentage is on the second or third floors? No, we don’t,” he said.

“It’s clear,” Needham added, “this town needs high-density housing. But it’s also clear it’s been identified and earmarked in the Urban Design Plan” for locations other than in the downtown core.

That point was met with substantial applause from the audience.

The commission emphasized the decision would not be final until it meets again at 7 p.m. on Aug. 18, at which point it will likely adopt its findings.

Brant Williams, the city’s redevelopment director, said that like Kessi, he, too, was surprised by the DRC’s decision because commissioners seemed amenable to the project through much of the night’s discussion.

“We assumed all along it would be a close vote,” Williams said, but Kessi’s proposal met all of the terms of his agreement with the Lake Oswego Revevelopment Agency.

Among other requirements, that agreement stipulated that a minimum of 28,000 square feet of the mixed-use design had to be earmarked for ground-floor, active retail use; that there would be public parking within the block itself; that quality materials be used in the buildings’ construction; and that the development would increase the city’s tax base.

A final report from city staff to the DRC on July 11 recommended that Kessi’s proposal be approved, but opponents flocked to City Council chambers to make their case, on one night filling Municipal Court space and spilling out into City Hall’s foyer.

Most of the arguments against Block 137 included charges that it was too dense to fit the city’s vision for the downtown core, and that added traffic congestion would choke the area and have a devastating impact on retailers. Save Our Village, the local organization that led a grassroots campaign to oppose the development, praised the DRC’s decision this week.

“We are pleased that the Development Review Commission has affirmed Lake Oswego’s redevelopment codes calling for small-scale structures on the Wizer block, designated as our ‘compact shopping district,’” said Save Our Village founder Lita Grigg. “Our followers remain committed to preserving Lake Oswego’s village character. We will continue to work for responsible growth.”

But Kessi warned that the rejection could prove to be a deterrent to other developers in the future.

“What you should be able to count on is predictability,” he said. “You should be able to count on clear and objective standards to get a development approved. Your code should be predictable and fairly applied. And that’s why the vote was disappointing, because it’s troubling for this project and future projects.”

Contact Saundra Sorenson at 503-636-1281 ext. 107 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .