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Palisades is working with the city of Lake Oswego to create a district with standards that go beyond what local code requires

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Palisades neighbors are concerned about larger new developments towering over their smaller, mid-century styles abodes.

As he hears birds chirp while standing in the backyard of a Palisades home — with its large grassy surface enveloping a small patio area and considerable foliage — Chris Durkee remarks that peace is the reason they moved to the neighborhood.

At least for some of his neighbors, the development of two-story homes — which the neighbors describe as "boxes"that tower over their ranch-style abodes — has disrupted that peace. Durkee counts 10 that have been built near his house on Glen Haven Road in the last couple of years.

In response to the proliferation of these large houses — which can block sunlight into much shorter homes that were built in the mid-half of the 20th century — the Palisades Neighborhood Association is working with the city of Lake Oswego to establish an overlay district in the neighborhood. Like others found around Lake Oswego, the district would have different, and in many cases more restrictive, standards than city code.

"What really triggered it is the explosive growth of these big, enormous homes," Durkee said.

Along with ensuring privacy, neighbors say the goal is to maintain neighborhood characteristics, such as large back and front yards, that they feel make the area special — not to limit development.

"What triggered my involvement in this was that I didn't want to look back 15 years from now and think 'Gee, all these beautiful mid-century homes and landscaped yards have been destroyed. The quality and characteristics of this neighborhood has been destroyed and we did not steer that in the right direction,'" Durkee said.

Some in the development community, however, see things differently, including the founder of the company that is building many of the new homes in Palisades — Randy Sebastian of Renaissance Homes.

"They are anti-development. They don't want change and are trying to squash new housing," he said.

What is an overlay district and where can you find them?

While communities with homeowners associations can impose uniformity through a vast array of standards, neighborhoods that don't have one are subject largely to city code. When they feel their community has specific characteristics that are worth preserving, they can apply to have it covered within an overlay district. Currently, parts of the Glenmorrie, Evergreen, Lake Grove and Uplands neighborhoods, among others, have overlay districts.

The process for establishing an overlay district involves placing it within a neighborhood plan and then submitting a request to the city. Then, the issue gets brought before the city's Planning Commission. The Palisades neighborhood recently gave the commission a tour of the neighborhood, and the commission asked city staff to pursue the district. Once the proposed district is finalized, it would need to be approved by the City Council.

Some of the most common rules you'll see in overlay districts, city of Lake Oswego planner Erik Olson said, include limiting impervious surfaces (like pavement), restricting building heights and tweaking side and front yard setback regulations.

Bob Ervin, the chair of the Uplands neighborhood association, described an impetus similar to Palisades that led to an overlay district there.

"We had a couple homes that were built on hillsides with very high side walls against houses built in the '50s that were ranch-type houses. You had this vulture lurking effect of neighbors that people on the downside were rather put off by," he said.

This led them to create an overlay district that limited the height of new homes in the neighborhood.

First Addition, meanwhile, doesn't have an overlay district but created standards similar to what an overlay district would through zoning changes, including requiring that every home have a porch and that garages be placed behind houses.

"We knew that when redevelopment came and the new houses were coming in, we wanted to maintain a semblance of community connectivity — and we figured those front porches were a great way to hold onto an element of the older homes and incorporate those into the newer homes so that we were getting something that was really of value to the community," said Carole Ockert, a First Addition resident who chairs the Neighborhood Chairs Committee of Lake Oswego.

What is Palisades proposing?

To address the issue of taller homes looming over smaller ones, Palisades may ask for new side yard setback regulations so that homes have to be built further away from their neighboring counterparts. Another idea Durkee suggested was to require large trees be placed in the side yard to create privacy between the taller homes and the shorter ones. Limiting impervious surfaces could also be an option as the neighborhood wants to preserve the extensive landscaping showcased at many of the original homes.

"We just think (development) can be done in a way that's more respectful to the neighborhood and in a way that maintains the characteristics of this neighborhood," Durkee said.

Palisades neighbor Alan Trunnell added that architectural specifications could be considered — such as requiring that a new home's shape veers inward as it reaches its apex to make it less imposing. Next door, Trunnell said Renaissance is building around a 30-foot-tall home with walls that go straight up, thus blocking sunlight. He's decided to plant bamboo on his property to create some privacy between himself and his new neighbor.

"It (the overlay district) won't solve the problems for us. It's too late," he said. "But what the overlay district is trying to do is bring some design considerations to the neighborhood."

Also, like Uplands, Palisades is considering adding standards so that front yard setbacks for new homes largely mirror those of their neighbors.

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Neighbors say new, larger homes have been built at a rapid pace recently.

Durkee added that they still need to define the district's boundary, but that it could veer from Lakeridge High School to homes near Oswego Lake and toward Westview Drive. He added that approval could come next spring, at the earliest.

"We're trying to preserve the areas with these characteristics — smaller homes with lots of landscaping and mature trees," he said.

Developers unhappy with overlay idea

Sebastian and Harnish Properties Principal Broker and partner Justin Harnish said that real estate agents in the community recently circulated a letter expressing dismay about the overlay district.

Harnish, for his part, said that while he didn't notice current overlay districts having much of an impact on property values or sales, he was against the idea of creating one in Palisades.

"My feeling is the more restrictions you implement on private property, the worse things get for a neighborhood," he said.

Similarly, Sebastian posited that property values could be reduced significantly if the overlay district is created there. He further asserted that he would challenge the city in court if the Palisades iteration is approved, citing recent legislation to address the state's housing crisis. City Council recently ruled in favor of Sebastian after neighbors had challenged two permits approved by city staff to remove nine trees in First Addition for the sake of building two new homes. He further asserted that the properties in the neighborhood are very valuable, but that the older homes are "obsolete."

"The city will spend tens of thousands of dollars in staff time coming up with fairytale rules that will be shot down," he said.

As a city planner, Olson said overlay districts may limit housing redevelopment to some degree — particularly more dense housing types that the aforementioned housing legislation was meant to liberalize. However, he noted that the city could not apply more onerous standards for middle housing — such as duplexes and triplexes — than it does for single-family homes. He further said that, once the specific overlay standards are proposed, discussions would need to be had regarding whether or not the restrictions would go too far to limit development.

In terms of housing affordability, Durkee noted that the homes that have been there for decades are worth much less than the homes Sebastian and others are erecting through redevelopment. He reiterated his position that the neighborhood is not opposed to development and that it is only natural for some homes to be replaced with bigger, more modern iterations. But the feel of the neighborhood, he felt, should be maintained.

If more onerous restrictions lead to a development slowdown, Ockert hasn't noticed it in her neighborhood.

"We have tight code in First Addition and it certainly hasn't been a detriment to First Addition property prices and redevelopment," she said.

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