Abernethy Place hotel project clears hurdle in Oregon City
Hampton Inn's project in downtown Oregon City overcame its last major barrier by avoiding an appeal by the McLoughlin Neighborhood Association to City Commission.
MNA representatives voted 33-20 on Nov. 21 to rescind a neighborhood steering-committee decision to appeal the 99-room, five-story Abernethy Place hotel project. Neighborhood leaders had planned to refer the Planning Commission's Nov. 13 approval of the project to city commissioners, but a special meeting was called at the request of former Mayor Dan Fowler, one of the hotel developers.
A second phase of construction on 2.1 acres across from the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is planned on the 1.9-acre parcel to the north: 131 apartment units, 9,500 square feet of retail space, and a 2,500-square-foot coffee shop.
Mayor Dan Holladay has passed over MNA-recommended appointments to the Historic Review Board recently. A majority of MNA members voting at the Nov. 21 meeting seemed to think that the neighborhood would have been taking its increasingly adversarial relationship with the city a step too far in appealing a hotel project outside of neighborhood boundaries.
MNA members expressed their support for Fowler's effort to boost tourism in a "blighted" area of town. Choosing to pick its battles, the neighborhood is still planning to appeal the City Commission's "refusal to consent" to a HRB review of historic structures at the proposed Public Works Operations expansion at Waterboard Park.
State officials mandated that the City Commission hold a Nov. 15 hearing on the issue after the city manager tried to revoke consent to a historic designation without a hearing, and MNA will again appeal the issue to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).
The Nov. 2 MNA meeting only had local homelessness and Clackamas Fire bond items on the postcard agenda mailed to about 1,700 neighborhood residents and business owners. A new postcard with the hotel-project agenda item drew about double the number of voting MNA members to the Nov. 21 meeting.
"The vote at the last meeting was totally out of order," Fowler said at the Nov. 21 MNA meeting. "We didn't even know that it [our hotel project] was going to be on the agenda."
Former City Commissioner Jim Nicita represented the MNA steering committee's decision to appeal the project.
"The applicant has assembled a great number of his friends to load up this meeting," Nicita told the crowd of approximately 70 who packed the Oregon City library community room.
Fowler alluded to the fact that the Nov. 21 revote by MNA members could be seen as a political rematch: The former mayor supported Nicita's recall as a city commissioner. Fowler alleged that Nicita's opposition to the hotel project was the product of a lingering political grudge.
"I don't have any other feelings toward Mr. Nicita, and some of you know what I'm talking about in this room," Fowler said.
Nicita said that he had great respect for the historically sensitive plans approved during Fowler's administration as mayor, particularly the End of the Oregon Trail master plan of the early 1990s. Nicita said his past decade of active politics in Oregon City had "a lot to do with my desire to save Mr. Fowler's plans from Mr. Fowler."
Nicita said that the "pre-fab, cookie-cutter" designs of the hotel at 1737 Washington St. contributed to "20 to 25 violations of code in this application" for a hotel in a community attempting to market itself as authentically historic. He asked whether MNA members "have the spinal fortitude to stand up for what's right" in questioning a hotel design "like anything you'd see at any freeway interchange anywhere in the United States."
Fowler said that the No. 1 priority of his development team was to save the 1893 Hackett House, which will remain next to the hotel. As for the hotel itself, "There was a lot of effort made to make it blend in with that area," Fowler said. The hotel will be constructed with wood and Oregon stone to include a tower "emblematic" of the 1893 tower next door.