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Councilors vote 4-2 to allow nine trees to be cut down for the development of two single-family homes in First Addition

COURTESY PHOTO - Rennaissance plans to remove nine trees as part of a project to build two homes on two lots in the First Addition neighborhood.

Barring a successful appeal at a higher court, First Addition trees will be removed as part of a development project.

Lake Oswego City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday, Sept. 20 to uphold the approval of Renaissance Homes' permits to remove nine trees as part of the development of two single-family homes on two lots.

The developer filed for permits earlier this year to build two 3,500-square-foot homes at 529 and 541 8th Street on two lots that currently include a single 418-foot structure. These applications included the removal of nine trees — five of which were deemed to be in poor condition. Residents in the First Addition and Forest Hills neighborhood vociferously opposed the tree permit application, saying that the removal of the trees would create a gap in the local skyline, cause surface water to trickle toward their properties and lead to erosion, among other concerns. On a broader level, they felt that development across the city has led to trees going down at an alarming rate over the last few years.

Those neighbors requested a hearing in front of the Development Review Commission, leading the commission to uphold city staff's decision to approve the permits. The neighborhood appealed the decision to the City Council — neccessitating the Sept. 6 meeting where the City Council first considered the matter.

A tied vote at the Sept. 6 meeting seemed to pave the way for Council President John Wendland to break the tie. On Tuesday, Mayor Joe Buck and councilors Aaron Rapf and Jackie Manz once again voted to allow the tree permits while Wendland sided with them. However, while Councilors Daniel Nguyen and Rachel Verdick once again voted against one of the two tree permit applications (both needed to be approved for the development to move forward), Councilor Masenne Mboup — who was most strident during the previous meeting in arguing that the trees should not be removed — decided to declare a bias before the vote and therefore did not have a say. The bias related to the predicament that his own conviction did not align with the city's tree code.

"I see that there's no legal argument we have against Renaissance Homes," he said. "My conscience and my stand on this thing, I don't want to vote for this. I have no argument to say no, so I prefer not to participate in what I call something (that is) not just."

Similar to what Buck and Manz stated at the previous meeting, Wendland said that there is a place and time for the council to act as legislators who can decide policy based on their values and what their constituents want. This matter, however, was a quasi-judicial hearing and the councilors were tasked with voting based on whether or not the permit applications followed code standards. He felt that they did.

"That precludes us from trying to figure out a better way to do it. What it puts us into is a decision of whether the processes of staff and the DRC followed protocol and did their job," he said.

Councilors Daniel Nguyen and Rachel Verdick reiterated their belief that Renaissance Homes did not take significant enough steps to alter development plans for the sake of saving trees and therefore voted against the decision to uphold the development commission's determination.

The applicant shifted a floor plan to save a couple of trees but did not significantly alter the applications.

"While I know we can't change the ordinance on the dais here, I think there's missed opportunities," Nguyen said.

The First Addition and Forest Hills Neighborhood Association has decided not to appeal the decision, but representative Jill Cabral Schinn said that neighbors who live closest to the lots are exploring options.

Despite not getting the decision they wanted, Cabral Schinn said the neighborhood association leaders were happy the city decided to add provisions requiring more tree planting. They also were pleased about some of the discussions by the City Council and the development commission regarding potentially reexamining the tree code.

"We were encouraged at the dialogue that came up at the need to change the tree code, and that's something we will pursue going forward as a neighborhood association," she said.

Grants awarded to local groups

The City Council also approved grants totaling $550,000 to local organizations deriving from $8.8 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act received last September.

The City Council approved the recommendations made by the local government's ARPA Funding Advisory Committee.

The city awarded money to the Chinese Friendship Association of Portland, Hunger Fighters of Oregon, Lake Oswego Meals on Wheels, Rotary Club of Lake Oswego, Friends of Tryon Creek, Oswego Heritage Council, Respond to Racism, I Love Lake Oswego, Lakewood Theater Company, the Lake Oswego Preservation Society, With Love Oregon and the Lake Oswego Rotary Foundation.

Only one application was denied — to Big Stuff Library — because the organization was not in existence at the height of the pandemic.

City management analyst C. Olushola Taylor explained at the meeting that the city has about $58,000 left over and is planning to discuss further allocations with organizations. The city did not reimburse potential lost revenue for things like fundraisers as those were difficult numbers to quantify, Olushola Taylor said.

However, it awarded grants to support future fundraising efforts and events, personal protective equipment reimbursement, virtual communication technology, educational programming and payroll reimbursement. The city also is providing a $50,000 grant to the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce.

According to the city's website, here's how the local government is using the rest of it ARPA funding: $350,000 toward a McVey/Stafford corridor analysis, $1.25 million to repair the North Shore Bridge retaining wall, $2 million to provide redundant power for the Water Treatment Plant and River Intake Pump Station to prevent service disruption, $3.8 million for Lakeview Boulevard street and drainage improvements and $800,000 in grant assistance to Habitat for Humanity for the development of affordable housing in town.

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