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Ed Zumwalt, a longtime resident of Milwaukie, asks 'Where is the infrastructure for all of this development?'

In 1969 when ODOT began construction on the Milwaukie Expressway to slash through the Northern end of town and open a new gateway to southern Clackamas County, there was another undesired result: Milwaukie's downtown business district was devastated. It didn't happen overnight, the major exodus of businesses took about 10 years, a little more, to reduce our downtown to a ghostly remnant of its former self. Windows were boarded up all along Main Street, and more. It looked like Milwaukie Lumber had a half-price sale on plywood sheets.

It wasn't just the number of businesses that left, it was the overall type. Every business that was viable, needed and an integral part of a downtown was gone. The historic loss of certain businesses was not only catastrophic, but sad. Historic, age-old firms just disappeared. Part of our legacy and feel as a city were gone.

The Milwaukie Downtown Development Association tried their best, even taking bus trips to various cities for renewal ideas, but to no avail. There was no way to lure other businesses.

The starvation of a city was over. Now, the glut began. It was slow at first, one small business at a time, but in 1994, Metro won right of taxation on a broader scale and complete authority over land use within the urban growth boundary. Most people thought this was a step in the right direction, until Metro took an authoritarian stance and pointed out how our cities were going to look in the future and that we had nothing to say about it.

Then the issue of light rail to Milwaukie came up, and many of us realized this was a dagger to our heart. Light rail is a development tool, and Metro's "smart growth" theories made us believe that the infrastructure would be ignored.

All of Milwaukie's mayors for 25 years have acquiesced to Metro and Trimet, completely ignoring citizens' desire to stand up for livability. 

A 15-year fight over light rail only resulted in a long delay, but we made no headway in our desire for infrastructure and services. What about new sidewalks/streets/sewers, assistance for school growth, and expansion of fire and police services? Reasonable, right? Not in the eyes of Metro and our city councilors. 

Now, according to City Councilor Lisa Batey's comments in the December issue of the Milwaukie Pilot (the city newsletter), on top of Ed Zumwaltover 70 single-family homes and 130 apartments recently built, we've got 170 senior-living units being built on Rusk Road, from 300-400 affordable housing units planned for Hillside (I heard the figures 500-700 at a recent city meeting) over 200 apartments behind the Milwaukie Marketplace and about 150 new units at Coho Point. On top of that, the council is anxious to start infill in existing neighborhoods, as required by legislation passed last year in Salem, HB2001. 

Where is the infrastructure for all of this development? Should Metro pay, along with the legislature? Lots of luck on that! What does our city leadership think the effect of these new residents will have on downtown Milwaukie with its lack of parking, narrowing streets with added dump-outs at the corners and planned new construction of ever taller buildings? No way to park, no way to shop — congestion. Of course, out-of-towners could always ride light rail to town, pick up a couple of small items and hop the train out again. It's ideal for that. 

Where was the vision necessary to foresee this upcoming leap to chaos and misfortune for our downtown? Tall buildings and congestion do not ensure a city's greatness.

Ed Zumwalt is a longtime resident of Milwaukie.


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