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New housing development shouldn't raise the roof on heating needs

The United States has finally taken a leadership position with regard to atmospheric carbon. Five years after a majority of scientists concluded that human actions have caused a rapid build-up of greenhouse gases — and that a warmed atmosphere endangers human health and welfare — the Environmental Protection Agency has come out with a strong but reasonable plan for the country’s future.

I applaud the EPA for its action. I want our wealthy and forward-looking nation to lead the world, which means we must act first. We must show others that we are indeed the democracy we profess to be, and that we protect our people and our environment before wealthy individuals and powerful corporations.

In this regard, the city of Lake Oswego finds itself in a similar situation, although on a much smaller scale. Like the U.S., Lake Oswego is wealthy and forward-looking, and like the U.S., its example guides others. Do we care only about the rich and privileged? Or do we care more for the general welfare? The answer lies in the decisions our planners and City Council make.At this time, the Council is considering some requests by J.T. Smith Companies, the Lake Oswego-based developer of the 7.3 acres bordered by Knaus and Goodall roads that will be known as “The Highlands.” In general, the company has been receptive to input from the neighborhood and has made reasonable adjustments to its plans. The lower density of the “The Highland” (which will include 16 homesites ranging from a quarter-acre to a half-acre) is commendable, for example, and we are thankful.

But on May 23, the company sent out a letter that clearly shows its interests lie with neither the neighborhood nor with the general welfare. “We are pushing the City a little further than just avoiding minimum density,” the letter said. “We are also asking for a bonus in square footage compared to what is allowed for homes in the R-7.5 zone, and a building height that is allowed in the R-10 or R-15 zones. Lower density (and) larger homes with higher ceilings all build value for each home.”

At the end of that last sentence, the company included the designed-to-appease words “and the neighborhood,” but it is clear from most of the letter that its primary interest is profits and not the general welfare of the community. This is to be expected. After all, J.T. Smith Companies is a business. But what we expect from the City Council is an ear that hears us and an arm that protects our future.”

The Highlands” will be home to the 2015 NW Natural Street of Dreams. Houses planned for the development are large — monstrously large. A 5,000-square-foot house is already three times the size of a typical family home from 25 years ago, even though the average number of people living in a house has gone down. Furnaces must heat three times as much volume per person. The efficiency of new furnaces mitigates this effect somewhat, but a 20-percent reduction in fossil fuel consumption cannot make up for a 300-percent increase in heating needs.

At a time when the federal government and the majority of scientists insist on a 30-percent reduction in carbon emissions, it would be irresponsible and unethical for our planners and City Council to approve increased ceiling heights by even a foot, since each additional foot increases the heated volume by 12.5 percent.

Lake Oswego planners, please demonstrate courageous leadership by refusing to permit larger houses and higher ceilings.

Peter Wright is a 22-year resident of Lake Oswego. Formerly a printer, stock broker and adjunct professor of environmental economics, he now works full-time toward a sustainable society.



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