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The battle of Hallinan Heights

Plans to build 16 new homes meet city requirements, but neighbors are worried about safety and angry about a zoning conflict that dates to the 1890s


Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Construction has already started on a 2,600-square-foot home at  1287 Bickner St. Sixteen new homes are planned in a reedevelopment project that has created controversy in the Hallinan Heights neighborhood.Change does not come often to Hallinan Heights.

Some families have lived in Lake Oswego’s second-oldest neighborhood for generations, tracing their roots back to the 1940s and beyond. Most of the single-family homes were built before the 1970s, and there has been very little new development since.

It is an area of wide streets and tidy, landscaped yards, where children can walk to Hallinan Elementary School and Freepons Park. A grocery store, post office, restaurants and coffee shops also are nearby.

But over the past 22 years, longtime residents Dave and Debbie Craig have been buying up properties in the neighborhood. They’ve kept some homes as rental properties, torn down others and maintained the empty lots.

Five years ago, the Craigs began talking with experts about their redevelopment options. They worked with the city to subdivide some of their holdings. And then they sold their properties to a builder who plans to construct as many as 16 new homes.

The Craigs, who have lived on Cedar Street in Hallinan Heights since the 1940s and plan to build a new, smaller family home there, say their intention was to avoid unplanned, piecemeal infill with “McMansions.” But their neighbors say high-density infill is exactly what they're getting, and that the city made questionable exceptions to zoning laws that allowed it all to happen.

Donald Mattersdorff, chair of the Hallinan Heights Neighborhood Association, calls the controversy “the battle of 1028 Cedar Street” for the property where four new homes will replace one. But by any name, one thing is certainly clear: Change has surely come to Hallinan Heights.

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Dave Craig and Debbie Freepons Craig say two generations of Craigs and Freepons have lived in Hallinan Heights, where the neighborhood park is named for her parents.

‘A great deal of forethought’

Dave and Debbie Craig say their intention is simple: They want to improve the livability of Hallinan Heights and restore vibrancy to an area where the aging process has taken a toll, not only on homes but also on residents.

“Frankly, redeveloping our neighborhood was kind of just one more step toward improving our town and our environment,” says Debbie Craig, a family law attorney who currently serves as board chair of the Meyer Memorial Trust. “It’s not meant to be some incredibly invasive, offensive procedure.”

Craig says that she and her husband Dave, an emergency medicine physician, began purchasing aging homes in the neighborhood 22 years ago. Some had no foundations, one home had partially burned and several had mold and rats, she says. The worst of the homes were torn down.

“This was not done without a great deal of forethought or planning,” Dave Craig says.

Five years ago, the Craigs began meeting with redevelopment experts and builders in an effort to determine their next step. During that time, Debbie Craig says, the couple were approached by the Lake Oswego Sustainability Advisory Council, which identified Hallinan Heights as a “walkable neighborhood” that was well-suited for smaller homes on smaller lots.

Based on the advice they gathered, the Craigs say, they sold their eight existing lots — as well as the 2.5 acres where their own home currently sits — to developer Roger Edwards of Silver Oak Custom Homes. Edwards agreed to build houses of the right scale in a style that would be complementary to the neighborhood, Debbie Craig says.

“We picked him because he’s established and capable,” she says, “and he embraced the idea.”

Edwards’ designs for the new homes show compact, two-story buildings that integrate some design elements of homes that already exist in the neighborhood. The homes, which will range in size from 1,600 square feet to approximately 2,800 square feet and are expected to cost $500,000-$750,000, will be built in two phases.

Edwards has already broken ground on a 2,600-square-foot home at 1287 Bickner St., and Debbie Craig says other previous rental properties will also have homes on them this year. The family property at 850 Cedar St. will likely be developed in a year or more, she says, and will involve tearing down the Craigs’ current home. Four additional homes will be built where one home now stands at 1028 Cedar St.

“There's a net gain on Cedar Street, in the first part of the project, of one house,” Debbie Craig says. “When (neighbors) talk about a 16-home eventual subdivision, it's actually 10, because six (lots) have had homes on them before.”

Parts of Cedar Street will be improved and a storm sewer line will be enlarged, Debbie Craig says, but no other changes to the area’s infrastructure are planned.

“I think we feel that one of the beauties of the neighborhood we're in is that it does have the feeling of a smaller community,” she says. “I think to go in and put in infrastructure with sidewalks and everything else does not fit.”

Many of her neighbors disagree.

More houses mean more traffic in an area where children play and pedestrians walk to school, the park and nearby shops, they say, and that endangers the lives of everyone who lives in Hallinan Heights. The city should have slowed the redevelopment process and listened to their concerns about infrastructure and street design, neighbors say.

“Who made the decision not to have a master plan here?” says Wendy McLennan, a lab coordinator and instructor at Lewis & Clark College who lives on nearby Spruce Street. “Who made the decision to break (the property) up into small pieces? I mean, at some point, it’s either negligence or consciously deciding our inadequate infrastructure didn't matter.”

‘The battle of 1028 Cedar Street’

At the heart of neighbors’ concerns is a conflict between current city zoning codes and plat maps that date back to the 1890s. It’s a conflict that can get fairly detailed and technical, but without a so-called “ministerial” decision by the

city to follow the old maps, the Craigs would not have been able to build as many homes as they now plan for the 18,400-square-foot lot at 1028 Cedar St.

That lot — which includes one small, yellow home that neighbors refer to as “Ada’s house” for the now-deceased woman who lived there for more than 60 years — is zoned R-7.5 by the city. According to code, the property should only be subdivided into two lots, because the zoning requires each buildable lot to be at least 7,500 square feet.

Those 1890s plat maps disagree, however.

According to the old maps, the property is actually composed of two complete platted lots (each 50 feet by 100 feet); portions of two other platted lots (each 25 feet by 100 feet); and three slivers of platted lots that measure 17 feet by 85 feet, 17 feet by 15 feet, and 17 feet by 100 feet. None of the platted lots meet the requirements of the current zoning code.

But because the lots were platted before current zoning regulations were created, the city says, they are, in essence, "grandfathered in."

In a Dec. 24, 2013, memorandum, Deputy City Attorney Evan P. Boone found that five lots on the site were lawfully created and, therefore, have development rights. Boone also wrote that the property owners could seek “a variance or exception to some of the zone requirements, to address the lesser lot area than a standard R-7.5 lot.”

Edwards and the Craigs did seek — and received — city approval for lot-line adjustments. Although Boone said five homes could be built, they opted to create four buildable lots: two are 50 feet by 100 feet, and two are 42 feet by 100 feet.

And here’s the rub: The city says it resolved the conflict between zoning and platting by “ministerial decision” — in other words, the city says, the decision was based on a set of clear and objective standards that are not subject to public notice, and which are not subject to public appeal. The city simply determined the existence of facts and applied them as required by law.

“We just review it," says senior city planner Jessica Numanoglu, "and if it meets the standards, it’s approved.”

In the case of 1028 Cedar St., the city says, platting maps showed five legal lots of record. “It required research,” Numanoglu says, “but we found the (lots) to be legally nonconforming.”

It's not clear how many properties in Lake Oswego would be eligible for similar lot-line adjustments. The issue is most likely to come up in older neighborhoods, such as First Addition-Forest Hills, Evergreen and McVeigh-South Shore . But the issue has come first to Hallinan Heights, and neighbors there say they wish the city would just keep its “facts” straight.

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Neighborhood resident Joanne Rollins stops at the corner of Cedar and Bickner streets in Hallinan Heights. Rollins family once owned the property where four new homes will be built.Joanne Rollins, whose family owned the property at 1028 Cedar St. before the Craigs bought it, says her brother-in-law, George Tinker, exchanged emails with associate planner Leslie Hamilton in July 2009 in an effort to confirm zoning requirements. He asked whether the property could be subdivided into “two buildable single-family residential lots meeting the 7,500 sq. ft. requirement,” provided the existing house was removed.

Hamilton said it could.

"The property located at 1028 Cedar Street is zoned R-7.5, which is a single-family residential zone with a minimum lot size of 7,500 square feet," Hamilton wrote. "Based on the Assessors Tax Map ... the property is approximately 18,400 square feet in size. It could be partitioned into two lots provided the zone standards for size, dimension and setbacks, etc. are met, in addition to standards for access and drainage."

That the Craigs’ request for lot-line adjustments was approved strikes opposed neighbors as, at worst, a double standard.

“(City officials) made numerous errors, and we did our very best to point them out to them,” Mattersdorff says. “But they went ahead and made that (ministerial decision) anyhow.”

Not only that, opponents say, but the decision was sloppily applied. The subdivision of the property at 1028 Cedar St. still calls for parcels that fall short of the normal platted lot size, which is generally 50 feet by 100 feet.

“That's where we really argued that it is not ministerial,” says Suzanne Elstad, a Hallinan Heights resident. “It is so complicated that you can't simply put that on a planner's desk and say, ‘You make the decision whether or not this goes.’”

Mattersdorff describes the city as “tilted very heavily toward builders and developers, where objections from neighbors seem not to matter.”

After the group testified at three City Council meetings, the council directed the Planning Commission to look at the issue of pre-zoning and 5,000-square-foot platted lots, which do exist elsewhere in the city. The commission is expected to make recommendations in 2015, but that would not impact the current controversy in Hallinan Heights.

Numanoglu says the city acknowledges the conflict between platting and zoning regulations, but she insists that a code cannot be changed "midstream."

"When someone submits an application, they're subject to whatever the code was at the time of the application," Numanoglu says.

Opponents say they aren’t surprised by the Craigs’ desire to demolish and redevelop at 1028 Cedar St., but they are shocked that the Craigs are doing it so quickly and without more transparancy.

“We always understand that you can do what you want with your property, but it's such an impact on the neighborhood without changing (infrastructure),” says Liz Martin, a Hallinan Heights resident.

Geri Stoneking, Martin's neighbor, agrees.

“It doesn’t seem right,” Stoneking says. “They’ll put four houses on (the property at 1028 Cedar St.), and there’s no development requirements at all.”

That concern is shared down the road, away from the cul-de-sac end of Cedar Street.

“The traffic issue is a big one for us,” says resident Ogaenia Calkins. “And the other side is, they’re not accommodating for any extra parking.”

For her part, Debbie Craig agrees that the change coming to Hallinan Heights is substantial. But everything about the planned development is legal, she argues.

“We feel the development that's occurring is consistent with the properties there,” she says.

Contact Saundra Sorenson at 503-636-1281 ext. 107 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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