Residents of Palisades neighborhood in Lake Oswego and the Stafford Hamlet worry about recreation center, Rassekh Park projects' potential impact on roundabout

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Palisades and Stafford Hamlet neighbors are concerned about traffic at the roundabout on Stafford Road, Atherton Drive and Rosemont Road.

Residents of the Palisades Neighborhood and the Stafford Hamlet are concerned about the preponderance of recreational development planned for the area — and particularly about the potential for traffic issues at the roundabout on Stafford Road, Atherton Drive and Rosemont Road.

Specifically, these neighbors point to the looming buildout of both the Lake Oswego Recreation and Aquatic Center and Rassekh Park, as well as the potential for more activity at Luscher Farms and the impact of future tolling. They are skeptical that the roundabout will continue to function adequately once all of these changes come to fruition alongside existing sports fields like the ones at nearby Lakeridge High School.

In turn, they want the city of Lake Oswego and Clackamas County to take more decisive action to upgrade infrastructure or reduce the impact of these projects. Both the Rassekh and recreation center projects are awaiting approval from the city's Development Review Commission before officially moving forward.

The aquatic center is being built at the Lake Oswego Municipal Golf Course and will replace the aging pool at Lake Oswego High School. It's being built in partnership with the Lake Oswego School District and will be used by students and residents alike. The city acquired the nearly 10-acre Rassekh parcel across Stafford Road from Luscher Farms in 1996 with the intent to develop it into a park, and that project is finally moving forward after voters passed a parks and recreation bond in 2019.

"The position of the PNA (Palisades Neighborhood Association) is that, if the roundabout is failing now and we're adding more volume through these projects, something needs to be done," said neighborhood association traffic coordinator Nancy Sage, adding: "When there's a single event like a game at Lakeridge, it fills up the Mormon church, Hazelia Fields (at Luscher Farm) and more. It overwhelms the area."

Different studies, different findings

Despite Sage's assertion, the question of whether the roundabout is actually failing depends on which city report you examine. An initial traffic study the city conducted — which occurred early on in the COVID-19 pandemic and included a traffic multiplier to account for significantly reduced driving volumes — showed that the intersection was already faltering during afternoon peak hours and that the situation would deteriorate further after Rassekh and the recreation center are built out. However, earlier this year, the city released another study without the multiplier, which showed that it would still operate at an adequate level even after development has concluded.

Traffic engineer Will Farley said that the initial study over-projected traffic volumes and the newer evaluation took place during a time period that could be considered a new normal — with school in session and an uptick in traffic from early in the pandemic.

"Using current and accurate information is better than modeling or assumptions. We wanted to get the most accurate and recent information," City Engineer Erica Rooney said.

Mike Bezner, the assistant director of transportation for Clackamas County, further said that it's generally expected that traffic volumes will not reach what they were prior to the pandemic.

"The general feeling and the state of the industry is that traffic is pretty close to what it's going to get back to. There is going to be (a) permanent reduction (due) to people changing the way they do things and working from home," he said.

The determination that the roundabout is functioning adequately — and will continue to in future years — may have bolstered the viability of these park projects or at least made it so major changes to plans weren't needed.

"If our project is impacting or forcing a facility to fail, it's a totally different thing than if it's a facility that is functioning adequately," City of Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Director Ivan Anderholm said. "If it's failing, that goes back to the agencies that have jurisdiction and for them to make suggestions as far as what we can do to mitigate the impact and bring the transportation facility back into an acceptable level of performance."

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - The Palisades neighborhood sits along Atherton Drive near the roundabout.

Mitigation possibilities?

Sage said Palisades is not against recreational development. The neighborhood association just wants the city and county to take steps to reduce congestion and other impacts like a lack of parking. Stafford Hamlet leader Rick Cook said widening the roads to add more lanes could be a solution.

At a July 9 DRC hearing regarding the proposed Rassekh development, longtime resident Anni Miller, representing Palisades, reiterated the idea that the roundabout is already overburdened.

"I can tell you there's tons and tons of cars. If you haven't been there at 8 in the morning, 9 in the morning, 4 in the afternoon, 5, 6 … or during games, it's a mess," she said.

Though it indicates a functioning roundabout, the second study showed that traffic volumes in the area are projected to increase with or without the new projects in the coming years. Specifically, the study projected that Rassekh would add 72 trips and the recreation and aquatic center would add over 2,000 trips during the typical weekday. Sage was skeptical about the Rassekh numbers considering the addition of a skate park — which was not included in initial plan concepts.

Bezner noted that the city of Lake Oswego is responsible for maintaining the roundabout, while the county would be responsible for improving it. He said the county may add a project to enhance the roundabout into its transportation systems plan. However, the county is already spending $12 million to implement a roundabout at Stafford Road and Childs Road, and Bezner said there are only so many resources to devote to infrastructure upgrades.

"It's (Stafford Road and Childs Road) an intersection in worse shape than Rosemont," he said.

Still, Cook felt that the city and county are not preparing for the future when it comes to the Stafford, Atherton and Rosemont roundabout. He surmised that they would have to act reactively instead of taking steps now to prepare for more congestion.

"How come the county, city and ODOT doesn't come together and say, 'How do we fix this thing?'" Cook said, adding: "Palisades, none of us are against the park, but they're cramming so much stuff in here and not looking at the bigger picture."

Rooney, who said the roundabout does not function perfectly but is generally fine, added that each land use process to add new development includes traffic analyses to determine if the local infrastructure can handle it. She said local governments are often cautious about expanding facilities because doing so can impact nearby property owners.

The city is also paying Alta Planning $73,800 to conduct a study of Stafford Road and McVey Avenue to see if improvements are needed. This will include public input. However, Rooney mostly mentioned the addition of lanes and amenities for pedestrians and cyclists in terms of potential needs for the thoroughfare.

"It can be, at times — especially peak hours — a difficult road to cross as a pedestrian. It's a good time to do a corridor analysis. What, if anything, can we do to meet the needs and interests in the area out there?" Rooney said.

As for examining the potential impact of I-205 tolling on local roads, Rooney and Bezner said they simply don't have information yet as the Oregon Department of Transportation is still planning that initiative. However, Bezner said that he was sure there would be some impact.

Regarding Luscher Farm, the city is undergoing a process with Clackamas County to determine which recreational uses could be allowed there under current exclusive farmland zoning. The city previously tried unsuccessfully to bring that facility within the urban growth boundary. During a recent Lake Oswego City Council meeting, Anderholm suggested that site as a potential destination for pickleball courts. However, in an interview he said it is premature to say which activities would be allowed.

Anderholm added that the department goes through the same processes that any other developer would and must follow code to get new facilities approved. He also said that a key aspect of planning is making sure park facilities are spread evenly throughout town and felt that this was the case in Lake Oswego despite the number of fields and recreational spaces near the roundabout.

"From a geographical standpoint, I think we have a very fair distribution of parks, open spaces and opportunities throughout the community," he said.

Along with traffic, Palisades neighbors are concerned about parking in their neighborhood.

The city said during the July 6 DRC hearing that it would clean up signage, so it's understood where parking is and isn't allowed.

The DRC will again consider the Rassekh project at a meeting Monday, July 18.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.

Have a thought or opinion on the news of the day? Get on your soapbox and share your opinions with the world. Send us a Letter to the Editor!