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Planning commission rejects red tape amendments

Councilors, commissioners will meet to hash out details


In a 4-2 vote Oct. 2, the West Linn Planning Commission recommended that the city council deny the approval of the Cut the Red Tape code and process streamlining project.

The vote came after nearly two months of hearings and work sessions that totaled more than 20 hours.

by: TIDINGS GRAPHIC: VERN UYETAKE -

In the end, while noting improvements to the city’s written proposal since it was originally unveiled in August, planning commissioners said they could not support code amendments that were far reaching and — in their view — not properly advertised to the public.

“Even though I do think that there are some really good sections of code in here, I can’t support making a recommendation of this for the city council at all,” said Michael Babbitt, commission chairman. “This process from the very beginning has been so flawed and so plagued with problems, and the planning commission from day one has consistently been sending that message — and nothing seems to have changed.”

The planning commission’s recommendation was passed to city council on Monday, with Babbitt and two other comissioners present.

In response, West Linn Mayor John Kovash suggested holding a joint meeting with Babbitt, Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Christine Steel, himself and Council President Mike Jones.

“We started this so long ago that I would like to review our process, our goals and how we wanted this to proceed,” Kovash said. “And then have a discussion with the planning commission about how we got to this end result, which seems like we may be talking past each other.”

The councilors and commissioners agreed to meet at some point during the week of Oct. 14 and then report on their progress at a work session scheduled for Oct. 21.

“I think it’s critical that the planning commission endorse any changes that we’re going to make to the code over time,” Jones said. “And I also think that it’s critical that we get some part of this done by the end of the year.”

The city’s original proposal included 30 amendments to West Linn’s community development code and covered everything from building applications to land use appeal processes and the city’s comprehensive plan — the overarching goal being to “remove inefficient and unnecessary regulatory barriers to businesses and developers.”

The project, which officially kicked off in April, is a key facet of the city’s effort to foster economic development in its commercial areas. In March, the West Linn City Council listed community development code amendments among its top priorities for 2013.

Yet the plan was met with skepticism when it was introduced to the public in August, and back-and-forth discussions with the planning commission in August and September prompted the city to rethink its approach.

In a Sept. 26 memo to the planning commission, City Manager Chris Jordan agreed with the suggestion to “divide the proposed amendments into smaller, discrete projects that may be more manageable for the planning commission.”

Jordan asked that the commission finish its deliberations at the Oct. 2 meeting, while deferring judgment on four amendments the city was working to repackage. Those four amendments concerned the requirement for developers to contact neighborhoods as part of their applications, as well as approval authority on applications, conditional use standards and tree protection.

Yet even with those controversial amendments deferred, commissioners said the project had not evolved according to their standards of approval.

“If this goes through tonight, is it really going to change anything about West Linn’s economic development?” Commissioner Russell Axelrod asked at the Oct. 2 meeting. “I think the answer is no.”

Babbitt and other commissioners were also critical of the city’s communication to the public.

“The consistent theme in the outreach had everything to do with economic development and bridging gaps between business and the city,” Babbitt said. “Well, everything I read in this code, that’s not what it does. This doesn’t seem transparent to me.”

Before voting on Oct. 2, commissioners stressed that they remained supportive of the core principles behind the project.

“The problem that led to the request for this code is a real one,” Martin said. “There is an opportunity right now in front of West Linn that’s only going to come once. This is a pivotal time, with all the land around the mill becoming available. We do need to have a real economic plan.”

Patrick Malee can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 106. Follow him on Twitter, @pmalee_wl




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