Lake Oswego City Council to consider selling riverfront parcel
That's the foremost question on the minds of residents who oppose the potential sale of the Walker property, an obscure piece of Lake Oswego park space on the edge of the Willamette River.
The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing about the property at its Sept. 4 meeting.
The council hearing is the final step in a City process for determining whether a given piece of park real estate should be considered surplus land. The process was created after a previous possible sale of the Walker property; the City was approached in 2011 with a $750,000 purchase offer from a couple who wanted to build a house on the site — a deal the council rejected because of negative public feedback.
But the incident did highlight the fact that the City had no clear criteria or process for determining if park land could be sold, according to Parks & Recreation Director Ivan Anderholm, so the council called for the creation of an evaluation procedure for similar situations in the future.
There's no buyer currently lined up for the Walker property, but the City Council has prioritized selling off surplus land in recent years, and Anderholm says the evaluation process was initiated late last year for the Walker property in order to get a definitive answer for some of the questions that lingered after the 2011 debate.
Although they haven't taken an official position, some councilors say it's worth discussing a possible sale of the park because of its low use, limited access and estimated sale price of more than $1 million — money that could be used to fund the purchase of other park properties.
"I think even the most ardent of supporters would agree that the usage (of the Walker property) at this point is really quite low," says Councilor Jeff Gudman. "The argument for selling it is that we still have significant river access at a number of points along the Willamette, and given the low usage of this (property) and the opportunity to use the dollars elsewhere, it would be an opportunity to have a bigger bang for the buck."
But opponents of the sale say that the property was acquired for a specific reason, which still applies: It has the potential to be better-used in the future and offer a unique benefit to Lake Oswegans.
"This land was purchased knowing that it was a long-term process for other projects to be able to invigorate this property," says Bill Gordon, who co-chairs the City's Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Advisory Board. The board voted unanimously earlier this year to recommend retaining the property, concurring with a Parks & Recreation Department evaluation.
"As far as we're concerned at this point, it's not surplus property," Anderholm says.
The Walker property is located on Stampher Road. It features a small parking lot and a pathway that connects to a pedestrian ramp that leads to a public floating dock in the middle of Tryon Cove, where Tryon Creek empties into the Willamette River.
According to Gordon and longtime advocates Debbie and David Craig, the dock and the cove are what make the Walker property unique. Together, they provide public access to the Willamette River at a point that is naturally sheltered from the swift currents and heavy boat traffic of the river's main channel, making the spot an ideal point to launch kayaks and other non-motorized watercraft.
The dock is also used for fishing and swimming, which are not permitted at the City's other docks at Foothills and Roehr parks.
"Doing our best to get motorized (river) traffic separated from the non-motorized traffic is a good thing," Gordon says.
The Walker property isn't the only public access point for Tryon Cove; at the south end of Stampher Road, Tryon Cove Park also extends down to a small beach next to the mouth of Tryon Creek. But supporters say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won't approve the addition of a new dock near the mouth of the creek out of concern for salmon populations, so losing the Walker property means losing dockside access to Tryon Cove. According to Anderholm, the Parks & Rec Department's evaluation bears that out.
"It's not entirely impossible, but it's highly unlikely," he says.
At the moment, that loss would be felt by a relatively small number of Lake Oswego residents. The kayak and stand-up paddleboard rental company Alder Creek uses Tryon Cove Park and the Walker dock as launch points in the summer and sees about 1,000-1,300 visitors per year, according to Anderholm.
The site is less popular than George Rogers Park, but there's a good explanation for the dock's current lack of popularity: The low-lying shore area around Tryon Cove is isolated by a pair of natural and artificial barriers, making it extremely difficult to get to.
To the south, the area is cut off from Foothills Park by Tryon Creek, which flows through a steep ravine. A freight rail track crosses Tryon Creek and runs on top of a berm along the cove area's west side; the berm also cuts off the cove area's north side as it curves east to carry the rail line out to a bridge over the river.
There are currently no pedestrian walkways over Tryon Creek or the berm, and the sole vehicular access point is Stampher Road, which branches off from Highway 43 and passes under the berm as a single-lane road with hairpin curves and no safe space for pedestrians to walk.
"It's out of sight, out of mind," says Councilor Skip O'Neill. "It's kind of a goofy road to go down there."
The isolation of the area is also why Tryon Cove Park hasn't been significantly developed, apart from the Alder Creek rental facility. According to Gordon, the park is on the City's Capital Improvement Projects list, but it's unfunded and listed as a low priority.
"It's down the list a ways because a few other things need to happen first," he says.
Debbie Craig, who also fought for the bond measure that funded the purchase of the dock, says the Parks Board knew about the limitations of the site back when it acquired the Walker property in 2004. They also knew that there were a couple of long-term plans in the works that would eventually change the access situation, she says.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is designing a project to replace the concrete box culvert that carries Tryon Creek under Highway 43 and the railroad berm. The replacement culvert would be an open-floor arch in order to allow salmon to swim up Tryon Creek on a natural streambed, and it could also potentially be large enough to accomodate a pedestrian path next to the creek.
That project is of interest to the City of Lake Oswego and Metro, because the two agencies are separately developing a project that would connect Foothills Park to the Tryon Creek State Natural Area via a new path through Tryon Cove Park. The Army Corps culvert is listed as one of the possible options for getting the Tryon Cove trail safely across the track and highway, along with two at-grade pedestrian crosswalk options.
The Tryon Cove trail project would also include a new pedestrian bridge over the mouth of Tryon Creek to connect the Cove park and trail with the Foothills Park riverfront trail, which currently dead-ends at the north end of the park.
That's the part that Debbie and David Craig say they're most excited about; with the pedestrian bridge in place, visitors could park in Foothills and walk a short distance up the trail to reach both Tryon Cove Park and the Walker property, creating an easy new river access point.
"This would be a beautiful spot to take the pressure off George Rogers Park," says David Craig.
The Corps of Engineers and Metro projects both currently lack identified funding, so there's no certainty about when — or even if — they'll break ground. But even though it's early in the process, Gordon and the Craigs say the fact that those projects are in development means it makes even less sense to sell off the dock.
"We bought the Walker property to be patient for the future, and we're not being patient," Debbie Craig says. "Why now? Our waterfront is starting to get connected. We're finally getting the vision to take shape down here."
There's another drawback to selling the property, opponents say: It was purchased using parks bond funding that was earmarked for new spaces, which means the proceeds from the sale can only be used for additional land acquisition. According to Anderholm, no potential acquisitions have currently been identified, although the City could still sell the property and hold onto the proceeds until a purchase option becomes available.
Citing the purchase restrictions, O'Neill told The Review last week that he doubts the council would vote to sell the property.
"The property probably should have never been bought," O'Neill says. "If we could use that asset to build the bridge from Foothills down to Tryon Cove and drill underneath (Highway) 43, to me that would be money well spent. But it can't be used for that. So I would say it's just going to stay as a park that gets minimal use."
The public consensus also appears to be opposed to the sale; Gordon, Anderholm and Gudman all say they've heard many comments in support of keeping the dock and few or none in support of selling it.
"Most of the feedback is, 'Don't sell,'" says Anderholm. "I really have not had any contact from the public that has said, 'Go ahead and sell the property.'"