Lingering concerns surround design of Lake Oswego's D Avenue project
A project to redesign and rebuild much of D Avenue is approaching the end of its year-long design phase, but some residents of the First Addition neighborhood say they have lingering concerns about the project and its impact on local trees.
"There isn't support for this," said First Addition Neighborhood Association board member Jim Bolland. "You talk to people about it and they either don't know, or when you start describing it to them, they go, 'That sounds crazy. Why?'"
Bolland and others have argued that the scale of the project isn't clear to nearby residents and won't become clear until it's too late. Carole Ockert, who chairs the First Addition Neighborhood Association, told The Review that her board is opposed to the meandering design of the proposed road and was not given an opportunity to voice its concerns during the development process.
"They refused to work with the neighborhood association in putting together a presentation where we all participated in coming up with a design for this project," she said.
But City staff have pushed back, pointing to a long public engagement process and multiple opportunities for public feedback — input that consistently showed a majority of people were in favor of the project and its meandering design, they say.
"I know there's a couple of longtime residents that are absolutely opposed to the meander," said Rob Amsberry, the project's lead engineer. "But for what we're trying to do there for accommodating pedestrian and stormwater treatments and minimizing the impact to people's frontages, the meander fits the neighborhood from that standpoint."
Meandering vs. straight
The primary purpose of the $5.3 million D Avenue project is to add drainage and stormwater retention infrastructure to address localized flooding that occurs in the area. The project will also create a contiguous sidewalk along the entire 10-block length of the street.
But some neighbors say they are concerned about the proposed design, which will change the road from its current straight route to a "meandering" alignment that will gently curve back and forth within the public right-of-way.
As a result, the road would no longer match the uniform grid of the rest of the First Addition neighborhood, which advocates say is an historical feature. Ockert raised those concerns on behalf of the neighborhood association at a City Council meeting late last year.
"The First Addition grid was platted in 1888," she told the council while displaying a neighborhood map. "You can see here from this map of the neighborhood that it has a particular look, a classic grid design with straight roads and straight alleys. It is a wonderful historic element in this neighborhood."
According to Mary Lou Colver, founder and president of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society, the First Addition grid is historically significant — most neighborhoods in the city have curved streets due to the area's uneven topography, but some of the oldest neighborhoods were uniquely built as grids.
"Lake Oswego's curved roads and irregularly shaped lots belong to the 1920s, the 'Live Where You Play' era of Lake Oswego's residential development," she said, "not to the 19th century neighborhoods, such as First Addition, which were established for industrial workers. The D Avenue project would alter a part of our history that has been in place for 130 years."
Mockups of two alignment options — meandering and straight — were originally presented at a public Open House in May 2017, when guests were asked to provide feedback on each design.
The two options included most of the same features, such as a new continuous sidewalk, stormwater treatment features and equal parking spaces. But the meandering option had a couple of additional listed selling points: It could slow down traffic through the neighborhood, officials said, and could allow for more tree preservation by designing the road to curve around existing trees.
Of the 39 guests who gave feedback, 18 appeared to favor the meandering approach and nine said they preferred the straight alignment. Many of the pro-meander commenters said they hoped the design would slow down traffic, while most of the pro-straight commenters mentioned the design's consistency with the rest of the neighborhood.
The City selected the meandering option after the first meeting, in part due to the comments it received there and in an earlier survey of D Avenue residents. But according to Amsberry, there were also design considerations involved, some of which were refined at a subsequent Open House in October 2017.
"The meander is for a lot of reasons," he told The Review. "One is to get the drainage where it needs to go so we can treat it, given the slopes that are out there and where the water comes from and how to corral that as best we can without curbs."
Another reason was to give designers more flexibility to avoid impacting the frontages of houses along D Avenue, Amsberry said. Most of First Addition's streets are very narrow 14-foot roads in the middle of 60-foot right-of-ways, he said, and there are a number of private yard features and landscaping improvements that technically extend into the public right-of-way.
The meandering design allows planners to curve the road around some of the obstacles in order to avoid having to remove them, he said.
"We're trying to be equitable in how we impact those improvements and minimize the impact," he said. "There's a lot of established landscaping that we're trying to work with, and parking needs where we're trying to keep the parking on the streets."
The promise to curve around obstacles has also caused consternation among the project's detractors, particularly in light of the project's impact on some of D Avenue's existing trees. At the first Open House, one of the potential benefits listed for the meandering option was the ability to reduce the number of trees that would need to be removed by curving the road around them.
But a subsequent diagram published on the City's website last summer showed that the meandering design would actually remove 40 trees, compared to 41 with the straight design. Amsberry told The Review last week that those numbers had been highly preliminary, but they still raised concerns for some residents.
"It was portrayed that meandering would save more trees, but it was found that it wouldn't save any more trees other than one tree," said resident Susan Meckel.
Final numbers were posted on the City's website this week as project staff began the process of tagging the trees slated for removal and turning in tree-removal permit applications. The final total: 49 trees are expected to be removed as part of the project.
Meckel and other residents say they were shocked by the tally, and felt that the meandering design had been falsely sold to residents on the premise of increased tree preservation. Resident Sharon Gustafson, who chairs a neighborhood tree committee, says the group was also frustrated by not being given any input in the decision.
"Along D Avenue there are some really nice old-growth Douglas fir," she said. "There are some junk trees in there, but that's not what we're talking about — we want to save the healthy, big trees."
Amsberry told The Review last week that tree preservation was not intended as the primary purpose of the meandering design, but merely an incidental benefit. The design does allow developers to curve the road around some of the tree root zones, he said, adding that 22 of the 49 trees are invasive species and the project
will plant 75 trees as replacements.
"The pushback we're getting — they're focused on one aspect of the bigger project," he said. "They're focused on tree count relative to the meander and they're not looking at the bigger picture."
Meckel, Bolland and other neighbors all have similar comments about the city's approach, arguing that the scale of the project will end up adding to the very stormwater problems that it's intended to mitigate, due to the widening of the impermeable roadway and the removal of water-absorbing trees.
"They just need to fix the streets, period, and not do all this other stuff," Gustafson said.
The final design for the project is expected to be completed in the next few weeks, with construction tentatively scheduled to begin in the spring.