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Sensitive Lands deal reveals a double standard

In case anyone still believes the city’s disingenuous PR that Sensitive Lands is a valid environmental program, take a look at the Nov. 18 City Council meeting, item 7.1, and the Dec. 9 Council study session for confirmation that Sensitive Lands is a political, not environmental, program.

In 2005, the City Council approved a special deal with the owners of the property along Meadows Road that was developed as the Kruse Oaks buildings. Although the property was identified as having stream, wetland and tree grove resources in the adopted 1998 Sensitive Lands inventory, the agreement allowed the property to annex into the city without being subject to Sensitive Lands regulations.  Instead, the agreement allowed the property owners to develop using Clackamas County’s less-restrictive environmental regulations. 

Kruse Oaks I was built while the property was in the county, utilizing county development standards. Recognizing the opportunity for significant tax revenue from this Class A office space, the city pursued annexation of the property. However, more buildings were planned and developing under Sensitive Lands would reduce the size of the buildings and the size of the parking lots, while developing under county standards allowed more use (and value) of the property.

LO Stewards supports the development of this property and understands these owners do not want to build under the overly restrictive Sensitive Lands program, which would result in the loss of use and value of their property. But to see the city elected officials and staff making selective deals to benefit commercial developers while citizens have lost the use and value of their homes and yards because of Sensitive Lands is troubling.

The 2005 agreement expires in December 2014. At the Nov. 18 Council meeting, the current owners requested an extension of the agreement to 2018 to allow them time to construct the final building without being subject to Sensitive Lands requirements.  The Council voted 4 to 2 (with councilors Karen Dill Bowerman and Lauren Hughes dissenting) to extend the deal and preserve the use and value for the commercial property owners. At the Dec. 9 study session, Councilor Jon Gustafson voted with Hughes and Bowerman, agreeing that the decision was inequitable.

The inequities illustrate that private residential properties are subject to Sensitive Lands and not given the special development deals that commercial property owners receive. Individual homes and yards are designated Sensitive Lands in an arbitrary fashion with no concern on the part of the city for their loss of use and value. The city won’t even provide a tax break for the regulated, unusable property.

For years, Lake Oswego Stewards has been pointing out that Sensitive Lands is not an environmental program. It’s a political compliance program that favors some property owners over others. There are many examples of this, including the 2013 behind-the-scenes removal of Sensitive Lands designations from the West End Building property to make it more sellable.  But this 2005 agreement, now extended, is one of the most hypocritical, blatant examples of overlooking environmental conditions in favor of politics that we’ve encountered (besides the obvious exclusion of the biggest water areas in the community: Oswego Lake and the Willamette River).

The Council is full of excuses for their failure to relieve the 10 percent of citizens burdened with the broken Sensitive Lands program.  This political vote to extend a double-standard deal demonstrates their lack of respect and concern for these homeowners.

This article was submitted by Janine Dunphy on behalf of Lake Oswego Stewards.

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