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Covenant restrictions still in place may hinder development of bridge over I-5, though City officials are confident they will be lifted

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Regal Cinemas objected to the removal of covenants that might hinder the City of Wilsonville's plans to build a bridge across I-5, which would land on this Town Center property.

The City of Wilsonville cleared an important hurdle in its plans to develop a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over I-5 and into Town Center last week. But the project still faces roadblocks.

In November, the City agreed to purchase a Town Center property that could serve as the landing space for the bridge with one caveat — that it could be absolved of the agreement if it could not persuade nearby property owners to agree to the removal of restrictive covenants, such as structural height requirements, that might prevent the bridge from being developed.

And though many of the owners have acquiesced, nearby Regal Cinemas objected to the proposed covenant amendment.

Despite the potential risk, Wilsonville City Council unanimously voted to finalize the purchase of the 67,000-square foot property next to Fry's Electronics for about $1.5 million at a meeting Monday, May 6. That evening, Wilsonville councilors voiced enthusiasm about the bridge project and its importance to the City's plans to spark redevelopment in Town Center.

"I think it (the bridge) could be very attractive for the city of Wilsonville and especially Town Center," said Wilsonville Councilor Charlotte Lehan. "It could make it very easy to get to Town Center from Villebois or anywhere on the west side."

"This could both be a landmark and really important in facilitating that kind of vibrancy that we're looking for in Town Center," said Council President Kristin Akervall.

One reason the City agreed to purchase the property is staff felt that Regal, which has concerns about parking and impacts to its irrigation and lighting systems, eventually would lift its objection.

Assistant City Attorney Amanda Guile-Hinman told the Spokesman that the City has made a couple concessions that they hope will quell concerns. Regal uses the property the City purchased for overflow parking and, with the bridge purchase, would have three fewer parking spaces than what is required by City code.

However, Guile-Hinman said the City would still consider Regal in conformity with the code. It also said it would reinstall utility connections for Regal if they are impacted by the bridge development.

"I'm pretty positive we will get them to consent to the amendment to the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions)," Guile-Hinman said.

The main restriction that could prohibit the development is a height requirement, though Guile-Hinman said there is some ambiguity about whether that would actually disallow the bridge from going up since the restriction was likely intended to apply to commercial buildings.

"There are potential ways, even within the CC&Rs, to build the bridge, but it's simpler and cleaner to have them removed," she said.

City Attorney Barbara Jacobson said some property owners were concerned that if they agreed to remove the covenants and then the City subsequently sold the property, it would allow a future property owner more autonomy over the lot. So the City added an important stipulation to the amendment.

"The way the amendment to remove the restrictive covenant is written now, it only applies if the City uses the property for a public purpose, so that takes away that concern," said City Attorney Barbara Jacobson.

If all else fails, the City also could rezone the property and therefore remove the covenants unilaterally, though Jacobson said that is unlikely to happen.

The City also wanted to act quickly because it determined that the property was the last currently available option for a bridge landing spot in Town Center after Wilsonville Investment Properties purchased a nearby lot in 2018 to build an EyeHealth Northwest health clinic.

"It was the only option where the bridge landing would only impact undeveloped property," said Zach Weigel, Capital Projects Engineering Manager. "If it were to be located somewhere else, it would conflict with property that's already developed."

Former Council President Scott Starr expressed skepticism last year about whether the City could get its money back if it were forced to sell the property in case the bridge project founders. Jacobson was more bullish and said redevelopment in Town Center could bolster its value, but market fluctuations are difficult to predict.

The City is also running up against a deadline. Wilsonville received a grant application from the Metro regional government to complete designs for the bridge project between February 2019 and September 2021. And City staff said they needed to know where the bridge would land in Town Center before starting the designs.

"We do need to get the work underway, but it's not a tight timeframe at this point," Weigel said.

However, the City has yet to decide where the bridge will land on the west side of the bridge, though Weigel said it could be in a public right-of-way.

"When we get into designs, we can figure out if we have to get private property or if it could be designed within existing right-of-way," Weigel said.

Weigel said the City likely will hire a consultant to help with bridge designs this summer and then begin the project thereafter. The design project will include determining a bridge type, coordinating with the Oregon Department of Transportation and completing an environmental assessment.

The City estimated that the bridge could cost about $10.8 million and had not yet determined how it will fund the project. However, the City added the project to the Transportation System Plan in 2013 and in turn could use system development charges — fees to developers for impact to City facilities — to help pay for the project.

Planning Director Miranda Bateschell said determining how to fund the bridge will be a part of the City's financial strategy for funding the highest priority projects in the Town Center Plan, which also includes developing a mixed-use main street, among other projects.

Bateschell said that the bridge is a critical component of realizing the vision of the Town Center redevelopment plan.

"If it did not happen, there would be something missing from the vision," she said. "I think you would lose the direct connection between our transit center (South Metro Area Regional Transit on the west side of town) and Town Center, and that would be unfortunate."

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