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Plan would shift designations away from private property and to city-owned parks, natural areas

The City of Lake Oswego continues to move toward more flexible environmental protection regulations, particularly for private property owners.

A revised draft of the city’s approach to conservation and water quality, called the Natural Resource Protection Program, was presented to the city council during a more-than-three-hour study session Tuesday night.

For the past year, the city has pursued substantive changes to the so-called "sensitive lands" program, which sets stricter rules for development and land use on properties mapped with essential natural resources, such as streams, wetlands and tree groves. Enacted in the 1990s, the program meets and in many cases exceeds Metro protection standards.

But the sensitive lands program has also proven burdensome for many property owners, and in March 2013, the city sent Mayor Kent Studebaker to the Metro council to present plans to shift sensitive lands designations away from private properties and to city-owned parks and natural areas.

At the beginning of the year, the council used strong words to identify a sensitive lands overhaul as one of its 2014 goals. The goal, the council said, is to balance "community aesthetics and environmental quality" with "the preservation of property rights and individual freedom."

In January, the council directed the city to develop an alternative approach to sensitive lands. To that end, city staff worked with Councilor Lauren Hughes to draft the Natural Resource Protection Program.

“Last year, I'd say we were on deck and practicing our swing, and we delivered an initial concept to Metro,” Planning and Building Department coordinator Scot Siegel told the council Tuesday. “Now we’ve rounded the corner, and we have the building blocks of this program.”

Siegel said the city might be able to adopt changes to the sensitive lands program as early as fall.

The city’s natural resources planner, Andrea Christenson, gave an hour-long presentation to the council about the revamped protection program, outlining how the city aims in part to nurture "resource stewardship" in the community.

That approach has included notifying property owners whose land was no longer being considered for sensitive lands designation, and researching other models in the region to see how other municipalities comply with Metro's land-use requirements.

One issue the city has long grappled with is that Metro identifies habitat conservation areas remotely, using geographic information systems models, Christenson explained.

“The exact maps of where Metro thinks those resources are probably aren't completely accurate. They're basically saying that they want to protect corridors with certain types of vegetation characteristics,” she said.

In fact, the Natural Resource Protection Program would change those maps by repealing the current designations.

In order to achieve comparable resource protection, the program would offer incentives for voluntary resource protection on private property. In addition, the program includes acquisition and conservation easements, a tax incentive program, education and outreach initiatives, restoration and enhancement measures, and a fee-reduction program.

With this new approach, stream and wetland regulations would still be in place, Christenson said, and they would be targeted to meet Metro requirements.

Councilor Skip O’Neill said he was concerned that environmental protections, as they exist in Lake Oswego, have proven a significant barrier to developers wishing to quickly assess the kind of projects they would be able to pursue on specific parcels of land.

“What a developer wants to know is what they can build on that property in that short window,” he said, adding that the vagaries in Lake Oswego code may inspire developers to go elsewhere.

“That’s why you see the perimeter (around the city) being built up,” O’Neill said.

Christenson said developers would likely find the draft regulations similar to those in other, less-restrictive jurisdictions in the area.

The session was open to public comment, and Planning Commission work sessions begin June 30. Another City Council study session is scheduled for Oct. 7, and the city expects to have changes ready for a vote in early November.

Go here to see the proposed changes to the sensitive lands program,

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