Neighbors hope to expand Lake Oswego's Hallinan Woods

Published in the Lake Oswego Review, Thursday December 29, 2016

by Anthony Macuk

Hallinan Woods has long been one of the most prominent and popular features of Lake Oswego's Hallinan neighborhood, but a recent development proposal for an adjacent lot has left several neighbors concerned about negative impacts to the city park.

In an effort to maintain the park in its current state and avoid losing the surrounding forest trees, several Hallinan neighbors have recently launched a long-shot effort to try to persuade the City to buy the land instead and expand the park.

"We neighbors are launching a movement to create a Hallinan Nature Park, and to get the City to buy that property," says Hallinan resident Donald Mattersdorff, one of the main proponents. "What we would like to do is combine it with the public lands that are there already, and to create a nature park encompassing the entire woods."

The group describes their efforts as preliminary; Mattersdorff says he tried to make the case to the City on his own for the past two years but didn't make any headway, so he reached out to other neighbors to try to build a broader movement — and found plenty of supporters. The group recently created a website and online petition to help spread the word.

"We walk that trail every day to school," says Natalie Bennon, who created the website. "It gives me a sense of calm to have that daily access to nature, and I think it's good for my kids as well. That's part of the reason we moved to this neighborhood."

Lake Oswego City Councilor Jackie Manz is also a resident of Hallinan, and while she's not involved in the effort, she says the desire to maintain the woods has been a consistent sentiment among her neighbors for many years.

"I think they're in an awareness campaign," she told The Review. "There's always been a strong desire to maintain and expand that open space area. "

City Manager Scott Lazenby told The Review that members of the group have raised the issue during budget committee meetings in the past two years, but none of the discussions went beyond that.

The privately owned property is fenced off, so the current 3.75-acre public space in Hallinan Woods would remain unchanged if the property were developed. But the forest currently extends across the border and covers much of the 2-acre private property as well, so the neighbors say the loss of the surrounding trees would still negatively impact the quality of the woods.

"It's one cohesive woods," Mattersdorff says. "Development would greatly reduce the footprint of the woods; housing, looming fences — it would kind of ruin the woods even for the portion that is not built upon."

Longtime residents say they have fond memories of the woods as a natural location for children to explore and play, and they want to preserve the forest setting for future generations. One of the group members, Don Flowers, says it's critical to maintain wild and undeveloped spaces in suburban areas.

"We've lived here since 1985, we've seen generations of families use that woods and cherish it as a place that is really pretty special, especially for kids," he says. "All our kids used the woods and had adventures there that helped shape them growing up in positive ways."

But the group says it's not just about maintaining the scenery. The goal would be to expand the park's trails into the northern half and add amenities to make the park more kid-friendly and an outdoor learning environment.

"It would be a wonderful nature park — and a nature lab, you might call it — for the kids in the schools," Mattersdorff says. "I personally think about it as a mini Springbrook Park. It adds enormously to the quality of the schools."

If the proposal did move forward, the neighbors say the City would find many volunteers eager to clean up the northern area and integrate it into the rest of the park. Hallinan residents Jim and Barbara Fisher have spent several years coordinating work groups to help remove invasive species and restore the woods. The pair were recently honored with an Unsung Hero award from the City for their efforts, and they've also expressed support for preserving the northern property.

"When we moved here, it just seemed natural to have the woods," says Barbara Fisher. "Many hundreds of people have worked on restoring it, maintaining it, and bringing it back."

But while the idea has the support of many neighbors, it faces an uphill road to becoming a reality. The current property owner is moving forward with plans to subdivide the lot, and he told The Review that he has not been in contact with the group.

"Nobody has contacted me, nor do I have the interest in that particular proposal right now," said owner Raghunandan Kamineni. "It's in the development process — the permits are pending with the City."

Kamineni said he'd be open to the possibility of the City buying the land from him for its full value, but no such proposal has ever been on the table. He added the he would be willing to consider the idea if the neighbor group could convince the City to purchase the property, but expressed skepticism that the City would have the funding to do so.

"If there's an option of the City buying, and they're willing to buy at the market price — sure, why not?" he said. "But I doubt the City would be able to pay what the cost of the land is at this point."

Mattersdorff says the City needs to find the money, arguing that Lake Oswego has not done enough to expand its inventory of public open spaces in the past 20 years despite a consistently growing population.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that won't come back," he says.

Flowers says the group has also tried to keep track of the development process, and will work to make sure the impacts are mitigated as much as possible, if it comes to that.

"We're going to continue to lobby the City to make the purchase," he says. "If that (development) plan does proceed, it's going to have to conform to all the applicable environmental rules and impacts.

"But it would be nice if the woods could be saved. We're seeing all over the area, you can't hold back progress, but it's still nice to have a forest in the suburbs, at least here and there in Lake Oswego."

Link to Lake Oswego Review article online here