Council plots way forward on controversial development proposals
Though at times the hearings and appeals have seemed never-ending, the West Linn City Council hopes to put two controversial issues to bed early this year: the Upper Midhill development and the new Sunset Primary School.
To avoid an alternative development process that would be out of its control, the council in early January opted to recall its original denial of a 34-lot subdivision on Upper Midhill Drive. The Sunset Primary issue, meanwhile, arrived back on the council's doorstep Jan. 12 on remand from the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).
In successive motions during a special meeting Feb. 6, the council voted unanimously to send the Upper Midhill proposal back to the planning commission for further evaluation, while the Sunset Primary remand will be addressed solely by the council.
While the council voted 4-1 last August to deny the Upper Midhill development proposal, the City found itself in a difficult position when the developers threatened two possible responses: an appeal at LUBA and a new proposal for 41 townhomes that would be evaluated at the state's Expedited Land Division.
The applicants issued a letter to the council suggesting that the City avoid either of those options by simply reconsidering its original denial, which was predicated on potential safety hazards for both drivers and pedestrians around the development.
The council chose that path, and additional hearings will now take place at the planning commission,
"You had a narrow basis for the decision, which was to deny the application based on questions you had about pedestrians and automobile safety at the access point (for the development)," City Attorney Tim Ramis said. "What will happen in this process is the applicant will have the opportunity to amend the application to address that question, and then there will be a hearing at the planning commission to decide that question."
Mayor Russ Axelrod said that it was "an unusual case," but that he felt this was the best way forward to resolve the situation.
"The best interest of the entire community would be to bring back the decision, remand the decision back to the planning commission for hearings and further review and comment on and address those aspects of the application we found deficient," Axelrod said. "It's unusual, but in the council taking this action, we're trying to be as protective and supportive of the community as we can, providing the most options for staff and the applicant to come up with a successful development proposal."
The timeline for the planning commission hearing has yet to be determined.
In the council's eyes, the solution for the Sunset problem is less complex.
In response to an appeal filed by the group Save Our Sunset Park, LUBA remanded the application back to the council on the basis of "assignments of error" related to the council's approval of a new stormwater detention facility that was not a part of the district's original proposal, and thus had yet to be designed or vetted through a public process. The council decided Feb. 6 that it would reopen the public record to admit new evidence — which would detail the design of the facility the district built per council mandates.
Construction of the school is well on its way, and it remains on track to open at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. At a recent West Linn-Wilsonville School District bond oversight meeting, Operations Director Tim Woodley said that construction of the stormwater retention facility is complete.
City Councilor Teri Cummings opted to recuse herself from the remand process after disclosing that before she ran for council, she made a small donation to those who were fighting against the proposed school design.
In response to that disclosure, resident Alice Richmond called Cummings' impartiality into question.
While Cummings felt she could be impartial, and the council agreed, she recused herself at the suggestion of several councilors to extinguish any appearance of bias.
"It's a good thing in a case like this to reassure people ... go a little overboard," City Councilor Bob Martin said.
The remand process will continue at the council at a date that has yet to be determined.