Oregon City Commission approves subdivision at Wesley Lynn Park
Oregon City voters have twice rejected the proposal for a subdivision development at Wesley Lynn Park, but the developer was able to get the nine-house project approved without a ballot measure.
In West Linn-based Icon Construction's third try to build at the 17.5-acre park on Leland Road, a 4-1 vote by City Commission on Oct. 18 decided that a vote of citizens wasn't necessary for a slightly revised proposal. The developer significantly shank the proposal to include only 12 feet of roadway inside parkland, instead of the 50 feet of parkland easement that voters rejected twice in the previous proposals.
Icon Development's proposal lost by a mere six votes initially in May 2016, and Oregon City voters then rejected the developer's same proposal for a subdivision at Wesley Lynn Park by an even larger margin, 51.18 to 48.82 percent, in November 2016. The Parker Knoll Subdivision developer then hired an attorney who has for more than 25 years focused on obtaining land-use approvals.
The easement area will include a private road, a swale and a public sidewalk. City and neighborhood leaders saw the sidewalk as a park improvement, preventing a muddy walk through the grass on the way to the off-leash dog park.
Oregon City's charter prevents changes to the legal status of a park, or uses of parkland for non-park purposes, without a vote of the people. Oregon City Public Works Director John Lewis testified that the developer's construction of a paved path would provide a recreational benefit to park users.
Oregon City's attorney said that the fact that the asphalt isn't there doesn't change how the property was purchased with an easement in the 1960s, prior to the 1970 charter amendment.
Opponents of the decision worried that it will create a dangerous precedent in parks in Oregon City: City commissioners could now authorize the construction of roadways through charter parks in the future.
Mayor Dan Holladay said that he fought the previous City Commission when it actually set the precedent 20 years ago. He said that the issue came down to "basic fairness and property rights" to honor the easement.
"They twisted themselves into all sorts of different pretzels to establish the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center over and above the language in this code, without a vote of the people," Holladay said. "What we're being asked to do here is essentially teensy weensey eensey beensy minor compared to what happened to Kelly Field. Literally we wiped out four ball fields, all the stands, you know, places where kids were playing, to put in what eventually ended up being empty for several years and a big parking lot with a coffee stand on it. So this is a completely different situation."
The lone no vote on the commission, Oregon City Commissioner Frank O'Donnell wondered why there was no alternative approach that could remove this issue from the "current adversarial position." City officials said that roads aren't generally built offset from the intersection, but O'Donnell wondered if an offset road could still be built and be in compliance with the law.
"The existence of a road is not necessary to serve the park function," O'Donnell said. "This really is a direct conflict between easements, road building, property use, structures and our city charter."
While as a private citizen he would have voted for a new paved path in the park, O'Donnell said that the City Commission had the power to interpret the city charter to favor of voters. Oregon City's charter says a vote of citizens is required if the city wanted to "construct permanent buildings or structures thereon [parks] other than for recreational purposes and park maintenance," but it's unclear whether a road is a structure.
Commissioner Renate Mengelberg and the majority of fellow commissioners rejected the project opponents' assertions that a road is a "structure," because of the numerous layers of material involved in its construction. O'Donnell said that the city has previously defined anything built on the ground as a structure.
Hillendale Neighborhood Association representative William Gifford said that the group has had several meetings on the topic and had attempted to get more neighbors involved in what was anticipated to be a controversial topic. Only about a dozen people showed up to the latest Hillendale meeting, but the city received dozens of letters in opposition to the latest proposal.
"There is a significant difference between this design and the two previous ballot measures," Gifford said. "We wouldn't want this to ever be considered as doing a voter go-around. This isn't avoiding the will of the people, because it's not the same thing — it's apples and oranges."
Gifford said he personally preferred the previous design in which "the city got a lot more than it gave." He added that the proposal wouldn't be taking away parkland when the developer exercises his legal rights to build a road on the 1962 easement to do so.
"There's been a lot rhetoric that we're destroying Wesley Lynn Park, and I think we are not, and that was the consensus from our neighborhood discussions," Gifford said. "This is seen as an improvement to the neighborhood, an improvement to the access of the park."
The city purchased the land from the school district in 1998, when Oregon City Commissioner Brian Shaw remembers being on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Shaw said that it had always been the city's intent to allow for greater access on the north end of the park site.
Commissioner Nancy Ide said the purpose of the city charter was to prevent major changes to city parks without a vote of the people.
"The only section of the development that applies to the charter is that 12-foot section of road and the swale, and I don't see that that impacts the charter's purpose; in fact it would potentially do the opposite, as Commissioner Shaw mentioned, bring some more convenience and access to the park," Ide said.