The Lake Oswego City Council tentatively approved a new Neighborhood Plan and Overlay Code for the Uplands neighborhood on Tuesday, bringing a nearly two-year process within sight of the finish line.
"Everyone worked very hard on this, and it's been a year-and-a-half effort of putting it together, and I think we're all quite ready for the process to be done," said Bruce Brown, who chairs the Neighborhood Planning Committee that drafted the plan.
The tentative approval followed a public hearing in which several neighbors testified in support of the plan; no opposition was offered to either the plan or the overlay code, which are intended to preserve the neighborhood's character by providing a comprehensive roadmap for the coming decades.
Planners attributed the strong support to the broad and comprehensive effort that neighborhood planners undertook to make sure as many Uplands residents as possible were involved in the project.
"I think really stressing broad neighborhood involvement is critical to getting consensus across the board," Brown said, "and is very important to getting these plans though the process and being validated by the Planning Commission and ultimately by the council."
The public hearing was originally scheduled to take place more than a month ago, but Uplands resident Bryan Spahr raised an objection to the plan, arguing that proposed setback rules would be unfair to smaller lot owners.
In response, the neighborhood's planning committee paused the process and worked with him to develop and add a small-lot exception to the plan, and then circulated the proposal through the neighborhood to be re-approved. Spahr joined other neighbors at the public hearing to testify in support of the revised plan.
"I'm pleased to see the neighborhood taking actions to preserve the character of Uplands," he said, "and even more pleased at the way the association included me in a constructive solution."
The Uplands Plan is the ninth neighborhood plan in Lake Oswego to be developed and the sixth to include some form of enforcement mechanism for future development. Two prior plans used zoning districts, while others relied on limited overlay zones. But this time around, the neighborhood and City officials sought to develop a more comprehensive plan with a broader overlay.
"Those (previous) neighborhoods were feeling like their plans weren't effective, because these policy documents don't serve as criteria for development applications," said Senior Planner Sarah Selden. "So when we came to this current round and Uplands was selected, we were a little more direct in saying, 'You should really do an overlay code if you've identified development issues that you want to address in your neighborhood.'"
In 2007, the Planning Commission and City Council discussed the issue and decided that future neighborhood plans should include code changes to ensure implementation, and that they should involve the Planning Commission in the development process to provide guidance. A neighborhood plan template was developed in subsequent years and was included in the City's comprehensive plan that was enacted in 2014.
"This is really the first one to go through the new process," said Brown, who also helped draft the City's template.
In late 2014, the City asked for applications from neighborhoods interested in developing or modifying plans, and Uplands was selected out of nine applicants. Uplands' request was the biggest; most of the others were modifications of existing plans or smaller-scale new plans.
Uplands had initially requested assistance in 2005 and had done some preliminary work in the years since then, including a neighborhood survey. The formal process began in February 2015 with the creation of a seven-member Neighborhood Planning Committee, with each of the members taking charge of a specific topic area such as land use or transportation.
"I would certainly advise anybody getting into this that it's kind of a long haul," Brown said, "so go into it with your eyes open that it won't just be an hour here or an hour there. If you really get into it, you have to just figure it's going to take quite a bit of your time."
The committee conducted a second survey to use as the basis for drafting a plan and an overlay code, which were then refined after receiving multiple rounds of input from the Planning Commission over the course of 2015 and early 2016. The draft was presented to the entire Uplands Neighborhood Association at its annual meeting in late 2016, along with a third survey. The final version was submitted to the Planning Commission in January 2017.
"I think the best thing for the neighborhood is how it brought everybody together," said Bob Ervin, who chairs the Uplands Neighborhood Association. "We had a lot of good, productive dialog — it wasn't like, 'Oh here's the plan, everybody take it' — but 'how do we form this thing in a way that best suits the character of our neighborhood?'"
The plan covers seven topics: neighborhood history and character, land use, transportation, natural systems, open spaces, neighborhood involvement and economic development. The overlay focuses on five main areas: front-yard setbacks, flag lots, impervious surface limits, structure design and onsite circulation.
The plan, which was tentatively approved in a unanimous vote by the council, was followed by a brief round of applause. Neighbors and councilors both expressed strong approval for the plan, and offered praise for the neighborhood leaders, the Planning Commission and the City's planning staff, particularly Selden.
Once the Uplands Plan is implemented, Selden said City staff and the Planning Commission will turn their attention to the Forest Highlands neighborhood, which began the process shortly after Uplands.
"We are moving forward with them," Selden said. "They've done a survey, and we had a first work session with the Planning Commission in March. So that's already been in the queue."
There are several more neighborhoods in line, but it might take a while for the City to get to them; Selden said the Planning Commission's agenda is already full for the rest of the year. Future plans will have the benefit of being able to follow the comprehensive process that has evolved thus far, although Selden stressed that the system is still flexible enough to adapt to the unique needs of each neighborhood.
"Uplands really wanted to do a holistic plan that addressed all of the issues in their neighborhood, but that's not necessarily the required approach," she said. "There may be a need to address something specific in terms of the development code, or it could be something in terms of zoning, which is what Forest Highlands is looking at."