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Neighbors discuss limited development but caution against losing the Lake Oswego park's 'natural feel'

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - Neighbor Peter Wright (left) and Mackenzie design team member Steven Tuttle discuss design options for the Woodmont Natural Park at a public outreach meeting last week.Two dozen Forest Highlands neighbors gathered last week for the first in a series of public outreach meetings designed to help guide the City's development of Woodmont Natural Park, and they all had a clear and consistent message: Keep the park natural.

"I thought the meeting was fantastic," said resident Karen Ingels. "There was so much support for leaving it natural, and I wasn't sure that was going to come through."

The 6.8-acre park sits in the middle of Forest Highlands, north of the point where Atwater Lane branches off from Atwater Road. Atwater Lane's right-of-way runs through the middle of the park, but the road surface doesn't connect at the center, so the park only sees foot traffic. A Tryon Creek tributary stream also passes through, creating a riparian wetland area in part of the park.

The City of Lake Oswego acquired the property in 1997 after the death of former owner Donald Meyer. Meyer's family moved onto the property in 1913 when he was 6 years old, and he lived there for the rest of his life. Over time, he allowed the park to revert from its previous use as a farm to a more natural landscape, and he negotiated an agreement with the City in 1991 in order to preserve it in that state.

The agreement imposes a number of restrictions on the City's ownership, such as maintaining the park as a natural area and not adding any hard surfaces. Even the park's name is mandated in the contract, which is why it's known as Woodmont Natural Park instead of — as one audience member suggested — Meyer Park.

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Woodmont Natural Park was donated to the City on the condition that it remain undeveloped, aside from a few baseline features that are currently under discussion.However, the agreement does allow for limited development of a few small structures, such as restrooms, a parking area and a "grass soccer field." It also mandates that the City keep the park free of invasive plant species and construct a small dam on the tributary that runs through the park in order to provide a habitat for waterfowl.

None of those features have been developed so far, and parts of the park currently feature non-native Hawthorn trees and other invasive species. But the City's Parks & Recreation Department was able to secure funding for the park last year, and it hired the Portland architecture firm Mackenzie to begin the restoration and development process.

A few neighbors are serving on a Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) for the project and have already had an initial meeting, but last Thursday was the first chance for other neighbors and members of the public to weigh in on design concepts.

"We want to get public input," said Brad Theurer, the project manager for Mackenzie. "What people like about it, and how they use it. What accommodations do they want?"

Design team member Nancy Hamilton began the meeting by asking the attendees how long they'd lived in Lake Oswego. Nearly all of them said they've lived in the city for more than 10 years, and a majority for more than 25. Most also said that they visit the park weekly, can walk to it from their homes and often walk their dogs there.

After an initial presentation, the neighbors broke into five groups to discuss ideas and develop lists of recommendations. Those lists turned out to have several things in common, most notably a strong desire to keep development to a minimum and preserve the park's existing natural feel.

"Less is better," explained one participant. "We want to maintain the spirit of the park."

The five groups were unanimous in requesting that the central road remain unpaved and unconnected. There was clear support for pedestrian access, with some groups advocating for improving the existing trails and adding benches, but without turning the park into a driving destination — the groups all supported minimal car parking or none at all.

A majority of the groups also rejected the idea of adding restrooms to the park, citing concerns that their inclusion would be a first step toward further development. A "nature play" area for children was discussed, but only one group expressed tentative support for the idea.

Although Woodmont is a city park, there was a consistent desire among the attendees to maintain it as a "neighborhood park" used primarily by visitors who had walked from nearby locations. That vision came into play during the discussion about the potential soccer field, which proved to be one of the more contentious topics.

"It's a neighborhood park, and it seems like they really care about that property," said Bruce Powers, the project manager for Lake Oswego. "People get really afraid we're going to come put in a ballpark, and I understand that."

Many of the neighbors were open to the idea of the field being used for soccer and other sports, but there was a clear consensus that it should be limited to non-regulation uses such as kids playing pick-up games rather than any kind of official or scheduled team play. Hamilton assured the group that no matter which approach was selected, the only goal would be to encourage casual use.

"We're not going to be have a big field with lighting and night games and things like that," she said.

Based on feedback gathered at the meeting and an online survey open to all city residents, Mackenzie will develop three design concepts for the park. They will be presented at a public meeting on May 22, when attendees will get a chance to vote for designs and features.

"We will create three options, basically," said Theurer, "and then what we want to do out of that meeting is get more refinement."

A second online survey and additional public meetings will follow in April and June, leading to a Master Plan that will be reviewed by the PAC in August. That plan will be presented publicly at a third outreach meeting in September and a neighborhood-wide meeting in November.

If all goes according to schedule, a final plan will be submitted to the Development Review Commission in early 2018. Construction would begin once the City obtains a conditional use permit.

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..