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Plan update wont soften high-density blow


Gales Creek Development plan dovetails with city council vote

A Forest Grove homeowner lost her bid to change the city’s comprehensive plan in a way that would allow a transition zone between her low-density neighborhood and a high-density development planned for property to the west.

The city council voted 5 to 1 Monday (with Councilor Victoria Lowe opposing) to approve an update to the comprehensive plan that did not include the transitional zoning Kathy Corey wanted.

Lee Leighton of Westlake Consultants, which represents Gales Creek Development, supported the vote. “The planning commission and the staff really looked at the issues we were raising and engaged with us,” he said at an earlier meeting on the update.

Corey lives on D Street and opposes a proposal by Gales Creek Development that would put high-density housing right next to her, on a 28-acre parcel sandwiched between D Street and Ritchey Road on the north side of Gales Creek.

The proposal requires at least 255 lots to be feasible, according to Leighton.

Before coming to the council, Gales Creek’s proposal was altered by the city’s planning commission, which approved a change to the comprehensive plan that expanded the parcel’s high-density residential multifamily zone further west than initially proposed, while retaining — even further to the west — a smaller low-density residential and R-7 zone to serve as a transition to the adjacent farmland.

The transition zone lowered the number of homes Gales Creek Development initially envisioned, but kept it at the 255-lot threshold.

Senior Planner Dan Riordan said the current comprehensive plan allows for high-density housing on the entire property, so this change would actually reduce the total number of homes permitted.

Corey argued that the transition zone belonged on the east side of the development, between the high-density homes and the large-lot neighborhood already there.

At the council’s Jan. 13 meeting, Corey noted that her home is on a quarter-acre lot, as are most of her neighbors’, although some nearby lots are as large as a half-acre.

“You could fit four of those houses on my lot,” Corey said, referring to the proposed high-density zoning, which technically allows up to 20 housing units per acre.

A neighbor’s lot could hold 11 such houses, she said Monday.

Corey requested the “transition” be reversed, with the higher-density zoning further to the west, near Ritchey Road, and the lower-density zones moved to the east. She characterized the current proposal as “an abrupt change with home size and lot size.”

“If it’s going to be a transition, it needs to transition from our neighborhood,” she said.

Corey also opposed changes to the city’s Transportation System Plan that would turn 19th Avenue — a gravel road now running from B to D streets — into a paved neighborhood street extending to E Street.

“That’s going to bring all the traffic from town,” Corey said, making her “rural-type neighborhood” a high-traffic zone.

Right now, she said, “I got about four cars on that street each day — me and my neighbors.”

Leighton noted that the city had originally proposed making 19th Avenue a much busier collector street and running it all the way to Ritchey Road.

He said Gales Creek got the city to make Pacific Avenue the collector street instead.

Leighton acknowledged a transition zone next to Corey’s neighborhood might seem to make sense right now, but that it would be inefficient, given that down the road the whole neighborhood will likely change to match its current zoning.

Corey’s property was once outside city limits, he said, but “she’s in a high-density residential zone now.”

As longtime property owners sell and move, those large lots will be filled with high-density housing, making it more efficient to keep the high-density housing Gales Creek is proposing right next door, Leighton said.

“There’s an element of creative destruction that helps a community stay vibrant,” he said. “Are there winners and losers? Yes.”

“We may have lost last night,” Corey said, “but I have not given up on our city and still hold out hope for change and a compromise.”

No formal application for development has yet been filed with the city, but developers were meeting with Forest Grove staff in December to discuss potential proposals and have also met several times with neighboring property owners.

The last time a development in the Gales Creek area was under consideration, the application process lasted several years. The 120-plus units initially proposed were later reduced to 87 due partly to the ire of adjoining property owners who feared the high-density subdivision would clash with their low-density neighborhood. Flooding and other issues played a role as well.

That proposal was ultimately approved by city councilors in 2007, but later was scuttled when the housing market crashed.