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Friday, March 23, 2007

Operating outside the law

The Oregonian distributor unlicensed for decades
Early morning disruptions lead to an interesting situation and renewed life for a neighborhood association

Like a lot of people, residents on Laurel Street wake up every day to The Oregonian. But unlike the newspaper's subscribers, neighbors of an Oregonian distribution center in Lake Oswego get their wake-up call at about 2 a.m. as trucks gather, unload newspapers and drivers begin work at the unlicensed facility.

The distribution center, which is run by a third party and not by The Oregonian, operates from about 2 a.m. until 6 a.m. One city official described nighttime activity there as "similar to the day when all the kids on the bikes would show up and pick up all their papers."

Dawn D'Haeze, a neighbor of the distribution center for the last year and a half, is somewhat new to the Laurel Street nightlife. Today, she said, delivery drivers arrive in cars, collecting papers from a single-axle truck that arrives and unloads while the mostly residential neighborhood sleeps. D'Haeze said the truck's rear gate drops onto a concrete loading dock and rattles while newspapers are unloaded. Traffic is also disrupted.

But what started with D'Haeze's complaint to city hall about noise has put all parties involved in the distribution center on notice. Though the facility has operated for more than 20 years, according to the building's owner, it does not have a business license and is not an approved use for the area, which is zoned for neighborhood commercial.

The Oregonian is not stepping in to resolve problems. Transportation Manager Tad Davis said the distribution center is run by an independent contractor and not affiliated with the newspaper.

Though a voicemail at the building refers to the operation as the "Lake Oswego Oregonian" and takes messages on circulation needs, also funneling donated newspapers to the Newspapers in Education program, the paper is waving off the disruption caused by its contractor.

Flanked by the Oregonian distributor and an unlicensed landscaping business, D'Haeze began working with city officials on noise from unlicensed businesses several months ago. The landscaping business, a specifically prohibited use in neighborhoods, has already been shut down.

The distribution center, however, is currently straddling a gap in city code. It is not specifically prohibited. It also is not allowed.

Brandon Buck, code enforcement specialist for the city of Lake Oswego, said as businesses evolve, local code is interpreted on a case-by-case basis to keep pace. Small businesses like bakeries, salons and repair shops are currently allowed in the neighborhood commercial zone. The code is mum, however, on newspaper distributors.

"Sometimes there are uses which the authors of the code never envisioned. That use is not one of the listed uses … however, it's also not a specifically prohibited use," he said.

The Oregonian distributor is now applying for an evaluation to determine whether it fits in with businesses allowed in the zone. City code also allows for the city manager to make determinations about whether a new type of business can be allowed.

Mark Grimm, who owns the building where the Oregonian distributor operates, said the reason the business has been there for more than 20 years is because - until recently - no one has had complaints. He said city code used to allow for newspaper delivery by bicycle. "It specifically points out newspaper deliveries to back in the day when the Oregon Journal was around," he said, and does not call for licenses for paper routes.

How the newspapers are delivered has "obviously changed over the years," Grimm said, but he believes the type of business should be approved for neighborhoods in the spirit of the old code.

Also a neighbor of the distribution center, Grimm doesn't consider it any more disruptive than a garbage truck. He is working with the owner of the Oregonian distribution center to get the business licensed and approved for the zone. Grimm said the business's easy comparison with a bakery, which operates roughly the same hours and is permitted in neighborhoods, should make it a fit.

D'Haeze, meanwhile, is gathering written statements from neighbors to show there's support for quieter nights on Laurel Street. Her work may offer benefits to those in the McVey/South Shore Neighborhood. She learned through the process the McVey/South Shore Neighborhood Association had been dormant for more than five years and was prompted, through her experience, to resurrect the association.

A first meeting drew about 20 people, where the group hatched plans to elect officers, improve a trail along Lost Dog Creek and provide input to traffic issues.

The Lake Oswego Review, Mar. 22 By LEE VAN DER VOO

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