Proposal for bike and pedestrian trails creates unfair burden, property owners tell council

Lake Oswego’s Transportation System Plan is moving closer to completion, but last week’s fiery City Council meeting had some citizens crying foul and rejecting what they saw as an undue burden on private property owners.

The TSP update is a sweeping review of the city’s current traffic system and serves as a long-term “needs analysis” that largely addresses connectivity gaps. But one project to promote pedestrian and bike trail connectivity so concerned a member of the City Council that she hired her own lawyer.

Identified in the TSP draft as “Project 222, East Side Road Pathway: Westview Drive to Hill Top Road,” the proposal focuses on a 2,300-foot-long, six-foot-wide shoulder pathway. Of that, 800 feet require right-of-way or easement acquisitions from private, largely residential properties.

One of those properties is owned by Councilor Lauren Hughes, who declared a conflict of interest and recused herself from the July 1 discussion — but not before making her strong feelings known.

“This is not the first time there’s been a devaluing and aggressive action against our home,” Hughes said. “There’s no room for a trail (on our property) without greatly infringing on our eastside yard, impacting the privacy of our property as well as the security, and giving direct access and views into our living areas and kitchen.”

Hughes took issue with the lack of notice given to property owners whose lots would require easements, and said she had only become aware her own property was on the list a few days before the session.

Hughes said she and her husband had secured legal representation in response, and she recused herself from the discussion because the pathways project posed a potential direct financial impact to her.

During a public hearing on the project, resident Chris Robinson argued that putting such a plan into the record would immediately devalue all affected property.

“The current resident of the property is going to pay,” he said.

Robinson drew comparisons to Sensitive Lands and what he viewed as the council’s success in restructuring limits on private property.

“You’ve done a wonderful job of looking at that whole issue, the burden on the private property owner, the denigrating or devaluing of their land with no compensation,” Robinson said. “You’ve done a good job of moving in a different direction, of taking those (Sensitive Lands) restrictions away.”

He urged the council to take a similar approach by removing the pathway project.

“The city has existing right-of-ways,” he said. “The city should figure out how to put these pathways within existing right-of-ways, to accommodate the connectivity.”

Resident Rick Petry brought up his own concerns about property-owner liability and safety, urging the council to consider the unintended consequences of placing public paths so close to residences.

“(Paths) provide easy access to the sides of the homes,” Petry said, describing how a neighbor near one such path had experienced an attempted home invasion.

Councilor Hughes’ husband Mike appeared before the council with land-use attorney Seth King, who spoke on the family’s behalf. King asked the council to delete Project 222 from the TSP, arguing that a pathway crossing the Hughes’ residential property would adversely affect resale value.

“It creates a cloud to potentially discourage redevelopment of the property,” King said. “The pathway is an invasion of the Hughes’ privacy.”

He explained that the path would run close to the Hughes’ kitchen.

“I’ve heard the comment that the TSP is conceptual,” King said, “and that it doesn’t mean the pathway is going to occur. The problem with that argument is, once you adopt this TSP, it becomes official. And documents, once adopted, take on a life of their own.”

Mary Shelby, one of the Hughes family’s neighbors in unincorporated Lake Oswego, pointed out that improved connectivity and greater access is not a shared goal in their neighborhood.

“There’s a reason why we live in our secluded areas,” Shelby said. “If we wanted a walkable neighborhood, we would’ve bought our houses in those neighborhoods. We choose to live out, and the city should respect the rights of citizens and allow for diverse living experiences.”

Much of the public comment reflected a sense of outrage that residents had not been properly informed about the fact such pathways would cross their properties. Jim Boland called the lack of notification “an issue of good faith” and then referred to the largely empty City Council chamber.

“What do you think this room would look like tonight if all of those property owners had been notified?” Boland asked.

The council did not redline Project 222, but did agree unanimously to only allow trail projects on existing city right-of-ways. Discussion of the updated TSP will continue during the City Council meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

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