Opinion: McLoughlin Boulevard lacks zoning to support livability
As the chair of the Park Avenue Community Advisory Committee (PACAC), I would like to share my perspective regarding the recently completed, and tabled, Park Avenue Community Project (Development and Design Standards).
In spring 2019, Clackamas County sought volunteers from among residents, businesses and property owners in the half-mile around the Park Avenue light-rail station to be part of a community advisory committee that would propose standards for development in the rail station area.
Development of the area has been considered previously, however, this time a group of citizens applied for and received a $180,000 grant from Metro 2040 funds to support a community centered development plan with a focus on stakeholder engagement.
The plan was expected to adhere to the vision of the McLoughlin Area Plan that was developed by the community at large in 2011. Therefore, the grant was submitted to the county by the McLoughlin Area Plan-Implementation Team (MAP-IT). The county pledged another $45,000 in funds to augment the work.
There were two phases. The first phase was to assess the community and to plan an inclusive and extensive community engagement process. The second phase created the Park Avenue Community Advisory Committee (PACAC), as the vehicle for engagement within the community. Following county protocols, requests for proposals were put out, and SERA Consultants were hired for both phases of the project.
PACAC members were selected by county staff with input from the Grant Management Team, which included a representative from MAP-IT and the study area. Seventeen volunteers representing residents, property owners and businesses were affirmed by the Board of County Commissioners.
They first met in the fall of 2019. I was elected chair with Ann Muir as vice-chair. At the first MAP-IT meeting after taking on the role of chair, I was congratulated by a MAP-IT member who also expressed the opinion that the project would not have a chance of being approved by the BCC. It was a fair warning, although at the time I did not understand.
The first task of the PACAC was to create guiding principles, through which the rest of the work of the PACAC would be assessed. A draft of the guiding pinciples was presented for community input and discussion at a workshop in February 2020, the project's only in person workshop. The guiding principles were completed in July 2020 and amended in November 2020, after the pandemic raised the issue of health and sustainability.
The second PACAC task was to create a framework vision for the study area. This was the most engaging task for the community, but by the time the PACAC began working on it, the world had shut down and only online work was possible.
The PACAC adapted to Zoom meetings. Some members dropped out as the pandemic interfered with their ability to participate. A core group of 11 people were able to stay with the project until the end, even with the timeline pushed forward from July to November 2020.
A second workshop with a detailed survey was offered online on June 30, 2020, after using emails, postcards, flyers, phone calls and street signs to safely engage people within the half-mile radius, More than 280 people participated in the survey, demonstrating strong community interest in the project.
The vision of the community included places to eat, shop, work and gather. It included a vision of people walking or biking protected from throughway traffic, with safe crossings over McLoughlin Boulevard and pedestrian and bicycle connections for neighborhoods to the east and west.
The vision reflected the activity clusters envisioned by the 2011 McLoughlin Area Plan (MAP), (centers at specific intersections along McLoughlin, characterized by community centered design with housing and shops and employment opportunities).
The Vision Framework Plan was completed in August 2020. The plan was consistent with the Clackamas County Comprehensive Plan found in Chapter 10: Community Plans and Design.
The last PACAC task was to propose changes to the Zoning and Development Ordinance (ZDO). This technical work involved learning about zoning and design standards and understanding how zoning and design can foster the kind of vision that a community wants.
The PACAC looked at housing density and parking space requirements, learned how street design could affect safety and community appeal, and considered what made walking safer while encouraging businesses and job creation.
The decision to limit new car-related businesses was made in light of information presented to the PACAC and feedback from the community that overwhelmingly supported proposing such a restriction. There are similar restrictions at other light-rail station areas.
Restricting new car-related businesses increases pedestrian safety by limiting new driveways across the sidewalks. This is a fact noted in the Clackamas County Comprehensive Plan.
Throughout the conversation, support for current businesses was expressed. No one suggested asking current businesses to move or to change. The restriction was a tool to encourage pedestrian safety, diversity of businesses and a community-friendly area around any new housing. It only applied to new business ventures, and only within the study area. These facts have been overlooked.
Also restricted were storage facilities that do not employ many people or provide street level activity that fosters community. These facilities can be placed outside of activity clusters.
The Park Avenue Plan increased housing units per acre, allowed cottage cluster housing, and permitted artisan manufacturing to encourage job creation within the study area. Design standards included street level landscaping for a healthy community.
Throughout the project, MAP-IT was kept informed, and presentations were given to county commissioners, the Community Planning Organizations and the Economic Development Commission. An online Design and Zoning Standards workshop was offered to the community in September 2020, with an accompanying survey, both publicized through the same available means.
On Dec. 3, 2020, the PACAC presented its work to the Board of County Commissioners, which voted unanimously to move the project forward to the Planning Commission with two caveats. Commissioner Paul Savas requested more outreach to the property owners and a working session on displacement. Prior to the December BCC meeting, MAP-IT submitted a detailed critique of the project. At the January MAP-IT meeting representatives from MABA (the McLoughlin Area Business Alliance) expressed dissatisfaction with the Park Avenue plan indicating they had an alternative plan. MABA members then helped to organize the April 21 business forum requested by Commissioner Savas.
The forum included businesspeople who did not own businesses or property in the area. Their main concern was that they should be allowed to sell or lease their property without any restrictions. Others believed current businesses were being forced out, or that restrictions would be implemented all along McLoughlin.
Property owners were given five minutes or more to speak. As the chair of the PACAC I also had five minutes on the agenda. Other PACAC members were present but were given only 90 seconds to speak, although they had been told they would have the normal three minutes for community input. This forum was the first public opportunity for new BCC members to hear from the PACAC. It was poorly facilitated.
The displacement workshop took place June 22, just prior to the BCC policy session planned to determine the next step for the Park Avenue project. At the policy session, county planning staff recommended that the project move forward to the Planning Commission.
The BCC had by this time, six months after approving the plan, received input from the community, those in favor and those opposed, and rather than offering leadership, they decided to pause the entire project (4-1, Sonya Fischer dissenting). Chair Tootie Smith suggested the community could come back next year with a plan that everyone agreed on.
Despite the work of the PACAC, those who opposed the final plan were given as much weight, or more, as the people who spent nearly two years engaging with one another, with county planning staff, SERA consultants and over 280 community members. The PACAC spent thousands of collective hours in meetings, learning about the issues, discussing alternatives and engaging the wider Park Avenue Study Area community.
At the June 22 policy meeting the Oak Grove Community Council (OGCC) was accused of "leaving the table." This was apparently a reference to the OGCC vote to put participation in MAP-IT on hiatus until August. That decision had nothing to do with the Park Avenue project, which had already been completed and critiqued by MAP-IT members. Since MAP-IT is not a decision-making body, the accusation was bizarre.
The PACAC, empowered by the BCC, did their work. A community development vision with zoning changes to foster success cannot be created without some dissenting voices. The people who had invested their time and participated in periodic reviews expected affirmation and leadership from their governing body.
Instead, the BCC threw the project back to the community, effectively killing it after spending over $200,000 in public funds to create it.
Considering the amount of housing slated to go up along McLoughlin Boulevard in the near future, I am concerned about the lack of zoning to support a livable environment. Without zoning codes in place to ensure the desires of the community are upheld, the future seems to portend large housing units surrounded by car lots and other autocentric businesses rather than pedestrian-friendly walkways and desirable destinations.
Valerie E. Chapman has served as chair of the Park Avenue Community Advisory Committee.
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