Arch bridge storefront studio attracts bevy of ideas

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Studio Cascade Principal Bill Grimes was impressed with the turnout for West Linn's storefront studio, and said the three-day event was very constructive.Over the course of three days the walls of a vacant Central Village storefront filled with satellite maps, Post-It notes and conceptual drawings. Dozens of residents filtered in and out of the building, at times in droves when lunch hour hit and Subway sandwiches were promised, or during the evening community workshops. Some came by themselves or with their spouses, curious to see what all the fuss was about.

It was exactly what West Linn planners hoped for when they partnered with LMN Architects to host the city’s long-awaited “Storefront Studio” workshop series. Open to all residents, the storefront studio at 22000 Willamette Drive housed three all-day “open studio” times and two organized community workshops, each meant to spur residents to share their ideas for how the arch bridge and Bolton area should be redeveloped.

“It’s very constructive for us because we get to have in-depth conversations,” said Bill Grimes, a principal at the LMN–affiliated Studio Cascade. “We certainly appreciate the community’s involvement … this is a plan that is going to be the community’s.”

The suggestions and opinions touched on everything from traffic issues to riverfront housing and business development. The city’s overall goal is to create a plan for the Bolton Town Center, which would be a hub for community activities, commerce and housing.

The city received a $220,000 grant from Metro last fall to fund the planning process, and later hired LMN Architects to complete a master plan and implementation strategy. The project, which is expected to be complete by the spring of 2015, runs congruent to the redevelopment of the former Blue Heron Paper Paper Company across the river in Oregon City as part of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project.

The hope coming into the storefront studio initiative was to redevelop without sacrificing any of the community’s fundamental character, or its relationship with the environment. The community’s responses echoed that sentiment.

“People are certainly concerned about not dramatically changing the character of this more established (Bolton) area,” LMN Project Manager Mark Hinshaw said. “But I think there’s a willingness to look at the area south of (Interstate) 205 for maybe more noticeable changes.”

Indeed, Hinshaw said that representatives from the West Linn Paper Company have expressed interest in sharing unused land at the facility, including a large parking lot where significant development could occur.

A number of residents also emphasized the need for affordable apartment complexes, preferably with a river view.

“You’re getting a population in West Linn and Lake Oswego that’s getting older,” Bolton resident Kurt Pothast said. “They can’t take care of their 4,000-square- foot houses anymore, and they don’t need to because all their kids have moved away. There’s no place with great views that an older couple can move to when the kids are gone.”

Pothast envisioned condominium or town house buildings, perhaps even with restaurants on the ground floor.

“People don’t want to leave the city, but they also don’t need the homes anymore,” Pothast said. “And it would encourage families to move in if those houses became open.”

Grimes agreed that the area appeared to be ripe for residential development.

“This is the area where we’ll find higher density housing like apartments,” Grimes said. “It has great river views, and there’s already an established urban pattern. It’s kind of wacky, it needs to be redefined … but that’s the area where we’ll get 100 to 150 of our units.”

Other participants, like the middle school students from the Youth Leadership Academy, were more focused on transportation issues.

“They said, ‘Build a transportation system we can use to get around safely, independently, so we’re not always relying on our parents,’” Grimes said. “It was great because they wanted that level of empowerment. It wasn’t like other communities where kids say, ‘we’re bored.’”

Another Bolton resident, Lee Anderson, saw a need to expand Highway 43.

“It’s always congested,” Anderson said. “If you live in these neighborhoods, good luck getting out — at any time of the day. Redeveloping 43 and making it more accessible is most important.”

The storefront studio was part of an evaluation period that is just the first step in the planning process. The real heavy lifting will come in the second stage of the planning project, which includes identifying design alternatives and ultimately drafting the master plan for redevelopment by the fall of 2014.

The third and final stage of the project involves what Associate Planner Sara Javoronok called “implementation strategy”: identifying “catalyst” projects — such as redeveloping the old police station — and their associated costs while also searching for partnership opportunities with both public and private institutions and drafting any necessary amendments to city plans or codes.

That will be completed by the spring of 2015, if all goes according to plan.

For now, the city is pleased with the feedback obtained at the storefront studio.

"I was impressed by the level of public participation so far," City Councilor Thomas Frank said. "Citizen engagement is my goal for the city and the storefront studio is a promising model for us to follow again."

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