Ordinance to unify Old Town design guidelines
After years in the making, the Wilsonville City Council finally adopted the Old Town design standards at the Nov. 20 meeting — but not without language changes and intense discussion amongst the council.
"What you have in front of you is just a little bit of wordsmithing that (Councilor Akervall) and I worked on this afternoon," City Attorney Barbara Jacobsen said at the Nov. 20 meeting. "The language now provides, with much more clarity, that if for any reason that a homeowner does not wish to build a home or remodel a home within these new standards that there is still the same design review process that exists today."
This change of wording makes any designs submitted for permitting that don't fit into the Old Town design standards be put through the Design Review Board process instead, including a public hearing where residents can weigh in on whether or not they feel that the design is appropriate for the space.
"Having read through the revised text in preparation for this meeting, I felt like maybe we lost some details of spelling (the process) out," Akervall said of the revised version of the ordinance following the first reading Nov. 6.
Jacobsen said that she touched base with the project lead, Senior Planner Daniel Pauly, and that he gave the rewording the green light.
But Mayor Tim Knapp, who owns commercial property in Old Town, took issue with the changes allowing for flexibility within the ordinance, which he felt were unclear and departed from the initial intent of the ordinance.
"So this, in my understanding, is a very significant change from what we had on first reading and what (Pauly) verbally said," Knapp said.
Knapp said that he recalled Pauly saying homes that fell outside of the design standards and went through the DRB process still had to be period-appropriate according to the design standards — between 1880 and 1930 — and suit the overall look and feel of the neighborhood.
Jacobsen said that during her correspondence with Pauly leading up to the meeting, Pauly didn't indicate that homes that fell outside of the design standards had to be period-appropriate.
"You don't have to have a 'New Ranch' or 'Craftsman' house in this neighborhood," Jacobsen said. "You can deviate from that, but the burden is on you to prove that it fits with the look and feel of the neighborhood."
"I think that the goal of the standards is to protect the unique aspects of the neighborhood," City Manager Bryan Cosgrove said.
Councilor Scott Starr also took issue with the revised language of the ordinance but for a different reason than Knapp, questioning if establishing these standards were overstepping the rights of property owners and their creative freedom and vision for their homes. Cosgrove and Jacobsen said that the ordinance did the opposite by allowing homeowners to either follow the design standards for an expedited review and approval process, or to default to using the old method of going through the DRB. Starr still wasn't satisfied and questioned the creation of the design standards.
"If you give yourself a big enough loophole, why are
we even doing this?" Starr asked.
"This allows flexibility while encouraging a look," Jacobsen said.
Councilor Charlotte Lehan added that the design standards are like an incentive program: if you select one of the designs within the standards, homeowners permitting process is expedited and streamlined compared to the lengthy DRB process.
"The neighborhood has been working on this for a long time," Lehan said. "Every time a building is proposed or goes up that they're a little bit nervous about it, or they have been in the past."
To alleviate some of these concerns, in 2011 the City Council accepted the Old Town Neighborhood Plan. The Old Town Neighborhood Association worked closely with the City to develop an "architectural pattern book" with design recommendations. These recommendations apply to duplexes, additions, remodels, garages, new construction and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) of single-family homes.
The design standards were crafted to help maintain the historic characteristics of the neighborhood intact in the face of future development and remodeling and include three architectural styles: Western farmhouse, Craftsman and Ranch. Staff also noted that duplexes should look indistinguishable from other single-family homes in the neighborhood, besides having multiple entrances.
"To me, it just seems like a bit of government overreach," Starr said. "And I'm really concerned that what we're doing here is limiting some of the residents' freedoms."
"I think that this is hugely confusing," Knapp said. "The fact that we're sitting here for two meetings, saying, 'Well, does this mean this, or does this mean that?'
"It is far too complicated to be logically applied."
Knapp went on to argue that more work needed to be done on the language of the ordinance to avoid future confusion. After further interaction from the staff the only major change to the ordinance was to make it more clear that residents weren't cornered into following the new design standards. Starr was satisfied enough and said that any further issues could be a problem for a later date.
The ordinance passed three to one, Knapp in opposition.