Planning Commission wants to reconsider zoning for whole area

by: NEWS-TIMES GRAPHIC: CHASE ALLGOOD - Two parcels in the light gray area at the west end of a proposed development are no longer available. They would have provided lower-density housing than the rest of the site.A much-discussed but still-unfiled proposal for a high-density housing project between Pacific Avenue and Gales Creek on the west end of downtown Forest Grove may be smaller than initially reported after plans by the developer to acquire two land parcels fell through.

Jon Holan, the city’s community development director, informed the city council of the change during its Feb. 10 meeting. It was confirmed later in that same meeting by Lee Leighton of Westlake Consultants, which represents the potential applicant, Gales Creek Development.

“This is a very fluid process. This is a very dynamic process,” Leighton told the council.

The two parcels in question, a 16.9-acre tract just east of Ritchey Road and an adjacent 6.6 acres east of that, had been highlighted by the developers as a potential “transition zone” from the project’s higher-density housing located closer to the city center. All the land in the area had previously been zoned for high-density housing (approximately 20 units per acre), but there was concensus forming to change the 6.6-acre parcel to low-density housing (12 units) and the 16.9 acre tract to R-7 zoning (6 units).

Leighton said the breakdown in the acquisition of the two properties had nothing to do with the proposed rezoning.

“My understanding from my client is that they had an agreement with respect to those properties,” he said. “And it came time to talk about renewing that agreement and the parties simply could not reach terms on which to extend that agreement.”

According to a report by the city planning department, this leaves approximately 21.3 acres in the area zoned for high-density housing, which could become part of the planned development. The report noted that this area would roughly coincide with that of a controversial housing project called Gales Creek Terrace, which was ultimately approved by councilors in 2007 for 87 units, then scuttled amid the subsequent bust in the housing bubble.

However, the zoning in this area has also been questioned by some city officials, according to Holan. He said discussion during a recent work session with the planning commission and a subsequent email from the commission’s chairman, Tom Beck, expressed a desire to revisit the overlay.

“There are some commissioners who feel the entire zoning for the entire area should be examined,” Holan said.

The difficulty is that changes to the area’s zoning would also require changes to the city’s comprehensive plan (which trumps the zoning in any case of discrepancy between the two). But an update to the city’s comprehensive plan is due April 15 and based on conversations with the city attorney, Holan said, it would be unwise to attempt to further revise the comp plan this late in the update process.

City Manager Michael Sykes agreed, saying the planning commission could still evaluate the property and request an amendment to the comprehensive plan at a later date. Leighton, too, urged the council to move forward.

“There’s plenty of time for the planning commission to focus on this area specifically, and to give it some more thought,” Leighton said. “It won’t surprise me a bit if the outcome of that discussion is a proposal to not change anything. I think the proposal before you is very well reasoned.”

The council ultimately agreed unanimously to let the comp plan proceed without any further changes.

“If we continue waiting for every star to align, we’re going to be waiting for a very long time,” Mayor Pete Truax concluded.

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