The mayor of Milwaukie and the city's planning director are playing politics with land-use planning. They're planning for a dangerous intersection, which will set a dangerous precedent.
Unless we speak out now, the Hector Campbell neighborhood will be subject to a massive infill project with no formal public testimony. Our neighborhood is not opposed to the housing project under consideration for the old McFarland site; we're opposed to how transportation decisions are being made without public input.
The proposed Monroe Apartments would consist of 234 new units (317 bedrooms), 295 parking spots, and a single driveway at 37th Avenue and Washington Street. This location creates a number of problems, including compromising the Monroe Street Greenway with the intention of routing commuter traffic towards 37th Avenue and Railroad Avenue. This intersection is already complicated by a railroad crossing and quiet zone. When passenger and long freight trains pass, this intersection comes to a standstill, and drivers look for alternative routes through the skinny neighborhood streets nearby, many of which do not have sidewalks. Why would city planners want this?
There's a better way to route drivers to and from these future apartments. First, move the driveway to Monroe Street, which is a collector street designed for significant traffic flows. Second, build a roundabout at the intersection of 37th and Monroe, to keep that traffic moving at all times. Third, encourage traffic to enter the apartment driveway from the west, and exit out to the east. Finally, encourage neighbors to bike and walk to the bus and light-rail station downtown.
I met with Marc Wyzykowski with Johnson Development Associates (JDA) in Milwaukie, in Tacoma and twice by phone. He indicated that placing the driveway across from Washington Street was not his preferred option, however, he is taking his guidance from Denny Egner. JDA submitted their land-use proposal for the Monroe Apartments on July 26, and a community meeting is scheduled for Sept. 9 to discuss their project plan.
The biggest roadblock to resolving this problem is Milwaukie Senior Planner Denny Egner, who has made certain assumptions about traffic patterns on both Monroe Street and 37th Avenue, and he is unwilling to consider alternatives.
We need to know:
1. What assumptions were made about how the types of work-live units planned for this project on Monroe Street?
2. What assumptions were made in planning the driveway to intersect the Monroe Street Greenway at Washington Street?
3. Why not plan the driveway on Monroe Street, which is already designated a collector in the Traffic System Plan?
4. Who is at risk by placing the driveway at the intersection of the Monroe Street Greenway Washington Street Alignment?
I also met with Denny Enger and Associate Planner Vera Kolias to discuss the situation. Denny acknowledged that he is not a transportation planner, and had made the decision to place the driveway at Washington Street based on "assumptions" on how to manage the flow of traffic to and from Highway 224 at International Way. Further research indicates that multiple driveways had been considered on Monroe Street — and at Jefferson Street — at public forums in the past.
Mayor Mark Gamba has acknowledged the conflict between the driveway and the Greenway, and the associate planner has advised that she prefer we do not speak to City Council, but that there is no rule indicating that we cannot. Council refuses to hear our concerns, citing a very narrow and poorly constructed argument pertaining to land-use-review policies. We have no other recourse as there will be no formal land-use hearing. Denny Egner has all authority, and he is advising council not to listen to public comment on this situation. These dangerous politics will lead to a dangerous driveway unless speak out now.
Come to the community meeting on Sept. 9 to let the developers know it's unsafe to build a single driveway at the intersection of the Greenway. It must be moved for the benefit of the families in the neighborhood, and the apartment residents too.
Chris Ortolano is a longtime Milwaukie resident, member of Monroe Greenway Public Advisory Committee member and editor of the MilwaukieRIP.org blog.
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