Lake Oswego Flood Zone Changes

Lakefront property owners in Lake Oswego are pretty comfortable overall with the knowledge that the lake is managed and dammed, and so concerns regarding rising water during heavy rains etc are not prevalent. The lake is owned and managed by the Lake Oswego Corporation (LOC), a local entity to which lakefront residents establish membership and pay dues. Every few years the lake is drained for a few months to allow residents to clean and repair boat docks along the lake and canals, and generally speaking, it is understood that the lake is a controlled body of water. Even so, in the flood of 1996, water did spill over in some areas because it was not able to be released quickly enough at the dam to compensate for the heavy inflow.

FEMA recently completed a study of the Lake Oswego area and has determined that it will change the flood zone designation for properties on the lake, as well as properties surrounding the canals, Tualatin River, and Spring Creek. The maps for the 100-year flood zone have been altered, and are available for viewing at The city’s website states: “Text amendments are intended to comply with FEMA’s regulations so that the City can retain eligibility for participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.”

Lake Oswego must be compliant with FEMA’s requirements in order for Lake Oswego residents to be able to take advantage of their flood insurance policies in the event of a natural disaster. Lake Oswego property owners, especially those near the lake, would be well advised to double-check their property’s location on these new maps and its relation to the new flood zones, as they may be required to carry flood insurance now, even though that was not the case when the property was purchased.

According to Kelley Woodwick at Chicago Title, there is good news for sellers, in that flood insurance contracts may be transferred to new buyers at grandfathered rates and zones. Again, check the city’s new maps before June 18th to acquire information on the grandfathered areas… after the 18th, I am told that the information will most likely be removed from the website.

There are also new regulations resulting, including elevation requirements for remodeling and new construction. Significant remodeling jobs now require that the structure be at 104.5 ft elevation as compared to the old standard of 103.5 ft. New construction after June 18, 2008 will also be required to meet a 104.5 ft elevation requirement.

Checking with the City of Lake Oswego is always a good idea, and much information can be found at their website (above). Stay informed, stay protected, and stay dry!

Why the Property Blotter?

fish-sculpture.jpgYes, our blog has an unusual name. It’s based upon a local phenomenon that we’d like to help you to understand.

Lake Oswego is a small town and has a very small town personality. There is a local newspaper that is widely read called the Lake Oswego Review.

Being a small town, this paper carries lots of local stories. It is great fun to see photos of and to read articles about people and places that you know. There are weekly stories about schools, restaurants, local politics, special people, and just a nice wide variety of community news. If you subscribe to the paper, it is delivered by mail every Thursday.

There is one column in the paper each Thursday that is particularly interesting and that is the Blotter. It is a published run down of all police activity for the preceding week. And we do mean ALL activity. The Lake Oswego police department has a 100% response policy. That means that if you call 911 to get police, you will get a patrol car responding to your home. One of the things that Lake Oswego DOES NOT have is a reputation for crime. There just simply isn’t much of it. So the Blotter tends to have numerous accounts of cats in trees, minor disturbances, and domestic confusion. It is written with a certain wry wit that is both amusing and entertaining. Here are some actual prior entries:

  • A resident of Oswego Pointe reported the mysterious draining of his fish tank. He found no puddle, no signs of forced entry, and his fish scattered around the bottom of the tank.
  • A resident of the Parkridge I apartments on Greenridge Drive says he can’t go on to his back porch for fear of being attacked by a vicious cat.
  • An “unknown hairy thing” found stuffed in a trash can at New Waluga Park and described as “heavy” was determined to be a stuffed animal.

As you can see, this is a great source of amusement and entertainment. It is a truly local phenomenon. And taken to its full blossom, a book was inspired by the Blotter. Written by Elisa Minor Rust, “The Prisoner Pear” was published in 2005.

So when the time came to name our blog, we found that the idea of the Blotter had a local appeal and somewhat defined what we are trying to achieve. We want the Property Blotter to be locally unique, reflective of what is going on in our community, and, hopefully, somewhat entertaining.

Trees in Lake Oswego

Trees in Lake OswegoIf Lake Oswego is anything, it is a place where quality of life is an essential part of decision-making and planning. People tend to move here to take advantage of the excellent school system, and to become involved in a tightly knit community of individuals who really want to safeguard a set of values that ensures the livability of the community.

If I had to take a stab at listing some values common to people living in Lake Oswego, I’d include: Safety for children and families, Excellence in education, Involvement of citizenry, Support for small businesses, and Beauty.

Yes, that’s right–Beauty.

This shows up in many ways, including the hanging flower baskets you see along main arterials, the sign codes that keep the view open and uncluttered, the cleanliness that is typical of the city in general, the chirping birds signaling that it’s safe to cross the street (yes, this also serves safety and aids the sight-impaired as well), and the trees… they seem to be everywhere! Yes, trees take precedence in many building and planning decisions as far as the City of Lake Oswego is concerned. Some consider this an annoyance, and some appreciate what the city is trying to accomplish.

According to the city’s website:

A tree removal permit is required for any tree that is five inches or more in diameter at four and a half feet from the ground, which measurement is known as Diameter at Breast Height (DBH). If you intend to remove a tree, one of six permits is required.

A Type I Permit is an over-the-counter permit for cutting up to two trees of 10 inches or less per calendar year as long as those trees do not fall into several categories including: A tree located within an area that has been placed on the Historic Landmark Designation List, a Heritage Tree, a tree located within the Willamette River Greenway overlay district, a tree located within 25 feet of Oswego Lake Special Setback, a tree located on property owned by the City of Lake Oswego or dedicated to the public, including parks, open space and public rights-of-way, or a tree located within a Resource Conservation (RC) or Resource Protection (RP) sensitive lands overlay district. A completed Tree Removal Application and a site plan are required with Type I permits. A Type II Permit applies to trees that do not qualify under the parameters set for Type I Permits, i.e. dead trees, hazard trees, Emergency Permits or Verification Permits. (Please call the city at 503-635-0270 for more information on permits.)

“Topping” trees is also illegal in Lake Oswego. The city warns that “it will make a tree more susceptible to crown and root rot, and weaken its strength and health.” Citizens are advised to remove ivy from trees as it is known to be a parasite that will kill a tree, and they are warned against stockpiling dirt, chemicals or construction debris at the base of any tree.

On a real estate note, if you are thinking of having any sewer line work done in Lake Oswego, please have your contractor check with the city first. Lake Oswego will send out an envoy to make sure that no tree roots will be disturbed in the process.

Granted, if you are living in Lake Oswego, and have a tree on your property that you believe should reside somewhere else (or not at all!), going through the city’s processes in order to gain approval for your plans can be an annoyance, and will definitely put a crimp in any timelines you had envisioned before realizing that this might be an issue. However, most will grudgingly agree that one of the things that makes living in Lake Oswego what it is, is the ever-presence of trees.

While the city talks about environmental deficits that would ensue if we did not have these rules in place including erosion, hotter temperatures in the summer, and less wildlife, I believe that the root of all this hubbub around trees is the common shared value of Beauty that those who live in this gentle place just outside the urban environment of Portland love so much. Mt. Hood is a stupendous view… but I will continue to enjoy it while leaning a little to the right off my deck… just to the other side of another beautiful view… that of luscious, green Lake Oswego trees.

The leaning is good exercise anyway!

About Oswego Lake

Lake Oswego MarinaOswego Lake is a 405-acre lake around which the City of Lake Oswego has grown.

The natural lake is fed by the Tualatin River at the West end and spills over a dam, down into Oswego Creek and into the Willamette River at the East end. There is a natural lake that was originally about 150 feet deep with steep cliffs on the South side. Over time, the lake was made larger by damming its waters and by excavating canals. There are several canals with homes that have access to the main lake as well as two bays: West Bay at the West end and Lakewood Bay at the East end.

The lake is privately owned and managed by the Lake Oswego Corporation. It is a navigable lake with a private boat launch at the East end. Being privately owned and managed, use of the lake is strictly controlled. The right to use the lake is deeded through property ownership. Obviously, those who live on the lake have use of it. However, there is a one-time initiation fee of $5,000 to activate lake usage when waterfront property is purchased. In addition, most citizens of Lake Oswego do have use of the lake, and this is accommodated in two ways.

First, many homes that are not on the lake have deeded lake rights through lake easements. Put simply, years ago when there were lots for sale on the lake, the developer of a neighborhood could buy a lot and deed it to an entire neighborhood. These lots are called lake easements. All of them have membership associations who collect dues and maintain the easements. Most easements have boat slips, picnic facilities, canoe storage, and docks.

To use an easement, you must pay dues into the easement association. Upon paying dues, you will usually receive a key that allows you to open the gate at your easement. Use of boat slips at easements usually requires waiting for a slip to become available and can sometimes take several years. Properties with boating rights, but no available boat slips, can put boats in for day use through the Lake Oswego Corporation. In addition, you may be able to rent a boat slip at the small marina maintained by the Lake Oswego Corporation.

The second way to use the lake, even if you don’t have a waterfront home or a lake easement deeded with your house, is to go to the public swim parks. There are two of them, one at each end of the lake.  The swim park on the East end of the lake, 250 Ridgeway Rd, is operated by the City Parks and Recreation Department.  It is open to all residents of the City of Lake Oswego and is open July and August, noon to 6pm, daily.  There are life guards on duty and there is no charge for admission. Info on this park is easily found at the City Website.   At the other end of the lake is the Lake Grove Swim Park, 3900 Lakeview Blvd.  It is open June thru Labor Day.  It is operated by the Lake Oswego School District and is available to all households that are within the school district boundaries for the old Lake Grove School District.  This is the most confusing of the two swim parks as the boundaries no longer reflect school attendance area at the West end of the lake.  Newer neighborhoods on the West end, such as Westlake, didn’t exist during the time that the Lake Grove School District was active and so many newer neighborhoods do not have access to this swim park.  This swim park does not appear to have a website, but you can get information about whether or not your home is located to allow you to use the park by calling 503-635-0355 or 503-534-2000.  The first time you go one of the swim parks, bring identification and proof of residence and, if you are eligable,  you will be issued a membership card. The swim parks have swim areas that are restricted so that young children are contained and life guards are on duty. Swim lessons, snack shacks, volley ball, and picnicking are just some of the amenities.

Any vessel put into the lake must be registered with the Lake Oswego Corporation annually. This includes motor boats, sail boats, canoes, and even surf boards. The lake is patrolled by The Lake Corporation with hired security who confirm vessel registration, enforce speed limits, and see to the safety and well being of those who use the lake.

About every 5 to 10 years the water level of the lake is dropped by releasing water through the dam into the Willamette River. The lake does not completely empty, but it does drop quite a bit. This allows property owners along the edge of the lake to build and repair sea walls, docks, and boat houses. The draw-down of the lake is always done in the winter and lasts for several months before being refilled in time for warm weather use. The last draw-down of the lake occurred in 2006.

Lake Oswego: At A Glance

Here are a few facts about Lake Oswego to get you oriented:

Pronounced oss-WEE-go.

Located 10 miles south of Portland on the West side of the Willamette River.

Total land area is 11.3 square miles, of which 1.3 square miles is Oswego Lake.

Population as of the 2000 census is 35,278 people.

Mostly in Clackamas County, Lake Oswego also has small portions located in Multnomah County and Washington County.

Median per capita income is $42,166. Median household income is $71,597.

There are 14,769 households in Lake Oswego of which 32% have children under 18 years of age.

Age of population: 24.8% are under 18 years old; 6.1% are 18-24; 26.8% are 25-44; 31% are 45-64; 11.4% are 65 or older.

The City owns 573 acres of parks and open spaces that include:

  • 24 parks
  • 1 amphitheater
  • 1 swim center
  • 2 swim parks on the lake
  • 1 water-sports center on the Willamette River
  • 1 adult community center
  • 1 performing arts center
  • 1 public golf course
  • 1 in-door tennis center
  • 2 outdoor tennis courts
  • 5 picnic shelters
  • 1 community garden
  • 1 off-leash dog park

“Live where you play” is further enhanced by

  • The privately owned Oswego Country Club
  • The privately owned equestrian riding club

There are 25 recognized neighborhood associations: Oak Creek, Forest Highlands, First Addition, Westlake, Holly Orchard, Uplands, Country Club-Northshore, Evergreen, Foothills, Lake Forest, Waluga, Lake Grove, Lakeview Villas-Summit, Lakewood, Old Town, Bryant, Blue Heron, Westridge, Palisades, McVey-Southshore, Hallinan, Glenmorrie, Rosewood, and Mountain Park.

There are 23,061 registered voters.

There are 10 citizen advisory boards.

There are over 500 community volunteers.

There are 487 citizens trained for emergency community response.

Lake Oswego: A History

Lake Oswego SmelterThe Clackamas Indians originally inhabited the area now known as Lake Oswego. The Indians called the lake Waluga, meaning wild swan.

Lake Oswego is only about 15 miles North of Abernathy Green, the historic end of The Oregon Trail. Being so close to the destination of those traveling West, the earliest settlers brought a scattering of homesteads and farms.

The town of Oswego was founded in 1847 by Albert Durham who named it after his hometown of Oswego, New York. In the early days of the town the lake was known as Sucker Lake and the creek from the Tualatin River that fed into the lake was known as Sucker Creek. Albert Durham built a sawmill along Sucker Creek.

Waterways were the main means of transportation and commerce and Lake Oswego was very much a part of that. Goods could be transported down Sucker Creek, across the lake, and down to the Willamette River. This allowed river traffic to circumvent the falls along the Willamette River that are next to Oregon City. Today you can see evidence of this river traffic in the ferry crossings and ferry launches. One of the old ferry launches is still visible in downtown Lake Oswego at George Rogers Park, and there is still an active ferry crossing South of Lake Oswego between West Linn and Canby.

The first blast furnace on the West coast for the smelting of iron ore was built in Lake Oswego in 1865. At the time, the early industrialists hoped to turn Lake Oswego into “The Pittsburg of the West”. This may very well have happened if not for the advent of railway.

The coming of reliable trains had two huge impacts on Lake Oswego. First, better quality and less expensive iron ore could be manufactured elsewhere and quickly transported where needed, which pretty much doomed the iron ore industry in Lake Oswego. And second, the railroad made travel between Portland and Oswego easy and affordable. At the height of the rail service between Portland and Lake Oswego, in 1920, there were 64 trains daily. This same rail line is still in use today and known as the Willamette Shore Trolley. It remains a lovely way to see the river and enjoy a leisurely ride into Portland.

With transportation convenient between Lake Oswego and Portland, the town of Oswego blossomed. The lake drew people down for the weekend. To this day you will see a mix of small cottages that were built in the 1920’s and likely used as summer recreation homes for people who lived in Portland. Again, as transportation continued to improve with good roads and the ownership of cars, people were able to not just vacation in Lake Oswego, but also to live in Oswego and work in Portland.

The “City of Oswego” became the “City of Lake Oswego” in 1960 when the city annexed the town to the West, Lake Grove. The two names were combined to create Lake Oswego. And for clarity, the city is “Lake Oswego” and the lake is “Oswego Lake”.

The draw that has always made people want to live here is the same now as it was when the city was founded in 1847. It is next to the Willamette River and has a huge lake in the middle. The scenery is gorgeous and opportunities for recreation are plentiful. The close proximity to a major city with a major port allows people who live here to be near good jobs. And the town has always been a well-loved and well-cared for by the community. New residents are nearly always overheard mentioning how wonderful it is to live in a community where people really care, and where participation in everything from schools to local government is so full and vibrant.