Rarely used petition process forces citywide vote on approved projects

by: VERN UYETAKE - A car travels on Goodall Road, which has been widened multiple times over the years as properties have developed. A citizen has used a rare provision in the city charter to challenge additional road expansions recently approved by the city council, paving the way for a special election this spring.Lake Oswego voters are on track to weigh in on recently approved road expansions next spring, following a citizen’s use of a rare appeal process.

Chris Robinson, chairman of the Forest Highlands Neighborhood Association, has challenged three council-approved road expansions, which would take some private property to widen small stretches of Douglas Way and Goodall Road, adding pathways and similar amenities as new development takes place.

“It was kind of being imposed upon us,” Robinson said. “The idea of pathways is wonderful, but when it involves the taking of private property, that has a diminishing effect on the value of that property.”

The looming election stems from a provision in the city’s charter, the legal document outlining how the city government works. Added decades ago, the provision requires the city to hold a special election if a citizen gathers 25 signatures from voters opposed to certain road projects. Projects that qualify include new roads wider than 32 feet and the widening of any existing road that would be 20 feet or wider after its expansion.

Voters approved the provision in November 1976, a time when many citizens were up in arms over a planned Bryant Road expansion, which they feared would forever alter Lake Oswego’s small-town character.

But while the challenge process has been written into city rules for three decades, its use has been rare.

According to the city, only one road-widening project has come up for a public vote this way since 1980, when the charter section was last amended. In that case, although citizens challenged the council’s approval of an expansion of Jean Road in May 1999, voters ultimately approved the measure, allowing the project to go forward.

Robinson said the issues on Goodall Road arose around 2006, when a lot of new real estate development was taking place in the Forest Highlands area. The recession a couple of years later put a damper on development, but a recent bump in the economy has brought building activity — and discussions about improvements in the right of way — back to the neighborhood.

In all, Robinson petitioned to have voters weigh in on three projects, although he said he hopes to withdraw one of those from the ballot. That one, he said, adding 9 to 12 feet of road width by a planned veterinary clinic at 3996 Douglas Way, was “inadvertently” included in his challenge, and he doesn’t want the project reversed or delayed. However, the other two, which would widen the street by about 3 feet in front of 13900 and 14050 Goodall Road, remain concerns.

Robinson thinks the city could be more creative in how it accommodates cars, people and cyclists without requiring any dedication of private property.

“We would love to see pathways over the existing right of way, for the city to do that rather than taking residents’ property,” he said.

In addition, neighbors have questioned the city’s overall vision for that road. Because paths are mainly being added as new development takes places, they exist only in front of some properties.

“The right of way improvements that are required have been done inconsistently throughout the neighborhood,” Robinson said.

It’s not uncommon for cities to require developers to dedicate some land for right-of-way improvements to carry out Lake Oswego’s long-term plans for the development of streets and other public facilities, said Guy Graham, public works director and city engineer.

“This is part of the process of developing property, and it’s typical anywhere you go in the state of Oregon and in other states as well,” Graham said. “We’re not asking anything of these developments we haven’t asked of other developments.”

Erica Rooney, assistant city engineer, said the incremental approach to making improvements is also standard, especially when the changes are relatively small.

“As properties develop, they pay for their fair share” of impacts on the city’s facilities, often through making improvements at the front of their properties, Rooney said. “We do the piecemeal approach when we can make it work — which we can in this case, because the widenings are so minimal. ... The only other option is for the city to pay for it with street maintenance fees or street fund fees at the expense of existing taxpayers.”

And while the challenge process in the city’s charter was partly aimed at preventing the creation of new highways and other major thoroughfares in Lake Oswego, the changes regularly made on streets like Goodall Road — which has seen five or six such expansions in as many years, according to the city — are modest, she said.

Goodall Road lacks sidewalks, although some more recently developed sections between Knaus and Country Club roads have paved pathways carved out alongside the road. With the recently approved development projects, the city required construction to widen the street from about 11 feet to 14 feet, making space for a paved shoulder.

“It’s not changing the capacity of the roadway,” Rooney said. “It’s just making it a little bit safer and a little bit wider so people can traverse it both on bikes and in cars.”

The city council has not yet discussed the likely election, which City Recorder Cate Schneider said could occur as soon as March.

Lake Oswego will pay $15,000 to $18,000 to Clackamas County for a special election, with the total cost depending on returns; only primary and general elections are free for GOOGLE MAPS - A citizen challenge could send road-widening projects in front of three properties, marked here at 13900 Goodall Road, 14050 Goodall Road and 3996 Douglas Way, to a special election ballot this spring.

Kara Hansen can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 107. Follow her on Twitter, @LOreporter.

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