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Red tape makes the cut

Planning commission sends approved document to city council


After months of debate dating back to late summer, the West Linn Planning Commission voted Nov. 20 to recommend that the city council pass a modified version of the code and process streamlining proposal, known as “Cut the Red Tape.”

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. The plan calls for a number of amendments to the West Linn Community Development Code, with the intent to “remove unnecessary, inefficient regulatory barriers associated with doing business in the city.”

The Nov. 20 vote came on the heels of some confusion regarding the planning commission’s original 4-2 vote on Oct. 2 against recommending approval of the project.

As Assistant City Attorney Megan Thornton noted, the commission never made or approved a direct motion to not recommend the project’s approval, nor did it vote on the original staff proposal from Sept. 4. Absent those votes, planning commission deliberations remained open.

In the time between the Oct. 2 vote and the final decision, the planning commission met with Mayor John Kovash and Council President Mike Jones, and later held a joint work session with city staff, West Linn Economic Development Committee Chairwoman Gail Holmes and three neighborhood association representatives.

Those meetings, along with additional public testimony Nov. 20, helped inform some of the planning commission’s final alterations to the proposal, most notably removing a staff proposal to shift the “de novo” or “as new” appeal hearing process to “on the record.”

De novo hearings allow applicants to revise their applications throughout the appeal process, while also keeping the record open for citizens to add new testimony.

During public testimony, several speakers argued that de novo hearings allowed residents to catch up and make their voices heard on applications.

“A lot of us have full-time jobs,” Savanna Oaks neighborhood president Ed Schwarz said. “And it’s difficult for us to keep up with the record and what the changes are. ... So we think it’s critical to have the ability to bring up new concerns and new issues we find between the hearing and the appeal.”

Though a number of planning comissioners originally favored moving to on the record appeals, their opinions had shifted by Nov. 20.

“At some point, I would like the city to go ‘on the record,’” Planning Commission Chairman Michael Babbitt said. “But we’re not there yet.”

The commission agreed that the city’s communication with citizens — specifically during the rollout of the code streamlining project — was insufficient and would have to improve before eliminating de novo appeals.

“The bottom line is I think that if we really want public involvement, we need to give them every opportunity at every step that we can,” Commissioner Holly Miller said.

In its final recommendation, the planning commission also removed staff proposals to charge neighborhood associations for appeals, alter conditional use criteria and change provisions involving tree protection.

Still intact, however, are amendments that remove “unnecessary” application requirements, encourage shared parking in commercial areas and remove what staff referred to as “ambiguous” language in city code.

The planning commission’s recommendations will be presented to city council in early 2014, though an exact date has not been set.

The council will also consider city staff’s original project proposal, which was unanimously denied by the planning commission.

In closing the Nov. 20 hearing, commissioners voted to recommend a joint meeting with city council, the planning commission and other stakeholders regarding the differences between staff and planning commission proposals.

“It should be very clear what the planning commission is recommending, and what staff is recommending,” Babbitt said. “And if council does engage the neighborhood associations, it should be clear — (they should) know the difference between the two documents.”

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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