Clackamas County court to interpret May 2016 ballot measure authorizing $9.2M for library 'improvements' now proposed to be used for tearing down, rebuilding

Milwaukie City Council is hoping that a Clackamas County judge will grant the city the authority to proceed with library construction, after project plans have changed significantly since voters approved new library taxes in May 2016.

RENDERING COURTESY: HACKER ARCHITECTURAL TEAM - This concept rendering shows what the front entrance of the new Ledding Library might look like.According to the official Voters' Pamphlet statement submitted by the city and approved by 60 percent of voters, "This measure would authorize the city to issue up to $9,200,000 of general obligation bonds to pay for capital costs and finance issuance costs for improvements and updates to the Ledding Library and Pond House."

Milwaukie officials had hoped to break ground on the city library within a year of the measure's passage and have fallen more than a year behind that schedule. Now the city is hoping to sell the Pond House to pay for the project that went more than $1 million over budget. And rather than expanding and renovating the Ledding Library as originally envisioned, city officials want to completely raze and rebuild the structure.

Timothy V. Ramis, attorney for the city of Milwaukie, submitted a brief at the Clackamas County Circuit Court on May 11.

"The [Milwaukie City] Council commences this validation proceeding for the purpose of efficiently and effectively establishing the regularity and legality of the actions," Ramis wrote.

In May 2016, Milwaukie officials said that the expansion would add 10,000 square feet to make the Ledding Library a 22,000-square-foot library. Officials had said that the Pond House, which can only hold 49 people by Fire Marshall standards, would get renovations so that it could hold 75-person seating for public events. Now the city is hoping to sell the Pond House to a private entity to be determined.

Tom Madden, on behalf of the Historic Milwaukie Neighborhood District Association, filed an appeal on April 30 with the city Planning Department opposing the city's library plan. Madden said that Milwaukie's plans constitute a replacement of the library, and not merely "improvements" as proposed in the May 2016 measure.

Madden sought review of the Planning Commission's 5-1 approval of the project on April 10 based on issues including parking, size and design of the new 20,000-square-foot building, natural resources, noise, safety and construction impacts. In addition, Madden raised an issue over the language of the 2016 ballot measure describing to voters how the city planned to use the $9.2 million in new tax-funded bonds for the library project.

Based on the language of the ballot measure, Madden said that the city lacked authority to proceed with the complete demolition of Ledding Library and construction of a new Ledding Library building.

"The voters were not asked to vote on the replacement of the library building(s) in lieu of repairing, improving and updating technology in them," Madden wrote in the appeal of the Planning Commission's decision. "The decision approves the demolition and replacement of the current library rather than repairs, improvements and updates as approved by voters."

At a meeting Tuesday, June 5, Milwaukie City Council held a public hearing on Madden's appeal of the city's proposal; councilors voted unanimously to affirm the Planning Commission's decision, with the tentative decision to be considered at another hearing June 19. According to a legal notice published in this newspaper, anyone who wishes to contest the city's interpretation of the measure must do so in court by June 18.

Ramis said that Madden's interpretation of the measure, and his appeal of the land-use decision "establish a justiciable controversy" for the court to consider. Milwaukie City Council is seeking a judicial examination "as to the regularity and legality" of its actions consistent with Measure 3-477.

A hearing date has not yet been set by Circuit Judge Susie L. Norby.

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