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Following two-hour public hearing, city planning commission OKs 135-unit project in northeast Prineville

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Following two-hour public hearing, city planning commission OKs 135-unit project in northeast Prineville.

The City of Prineville Planning Commission approved development of a new 135-unit apartment complex following a two-hour public hearing Tuesday evening.

According to City Planning Director Josh Smith, the complex proposed by property owner Harrison Industries, LLC, is one of the largest the city has ever considered. It will be located on a currently vacant 6.16-acre piece of property just north of Secure Storage, on the north side of Black Bear Street where it intersects with Buckboard Lane.

Harrison Industries initially approached the planning department about the complex this past November, participated in a pre-application in January, where modifications to the proposal were required, and then turned in a final application on April 1.

The public hearing drew about 15 neighboring residents who came to voice their opposition to the complex. They cited a variety of concerns, including the impact to area traffic, property value and added nuisances such as noise or odors from enclosed garbage receptacles.

Smith delivered a staff report on the proposed development, explaining what it would entail and the criteria it met. He noted that the applicant was proposing 135 units, fewer than the 175 maximum allowed, and provided setbacks of 42 feet or more, more than double the minimum requirement of 20 feet. He went on to point out that even though the complex will feature multiple three-story buildings with 12 units in each one, the design still met the height limit of 35 feet.

Smith went on to say that the development falls under the definition of needed housing as defined in Oregon statute. Because multi-family housing falls under that definition, he contended that the proposal unto itself cannot be denied, but must meet established land use code requirements.

"It's not necessarily if they can do it, it's how they do it," he remarked.

In addition, because so many housing units are proposed, the city had Transight Consultants conduct an official traffic study of nearby intersections that could be affected by the new development. Intersections of Peters Road and Main Street were analyzed as were the intersections where Main Street crosses Northeast 10th and Ninth streets. The study determined that the development would not cause any significant changes to any of the intersections and only cause a slight increase in traffic delays.

Regarding prior plans for the property, Smith acknowledged that the apartment complex proposal is one of several ideas developers have considered.

"There has been some kind of scuttlebutt around some of the neighbors about it being a single-family (development)," he said. "There were a lot of different alternatives put through from the (prior) owner of this of what it could be. He did plan a subdivision at one point but never pulled the trigger on it."

This created issues for a couple of residents who attended the hearing Tuesday. Gary Deaver explained to the planning commission that he purchased a lot just west of where the apartment complex is slated for development.

He brought in a brochure that he said was posted as late as December, where a realtor was advertising the property as potential horse or pasture land.

"When I purchased the lot, I was under the impression that was what was going to happen," Deaver said. "Our plan was to sell our house and move there and start building our last home."

He went on to explain that he spent a few thousand dollars to build a storage unit to house items to build the new home, and he didn't learn about the apartment complex proposal until that storage facility was halfway complete. He said he would have never built the unit had he known an apartment complex was planned.

"I don't object to stuff like this being done. I think it is something that is needed," he said. "It's just something that directly affected us and our dream for having a place there and having a view of Barnes Butte."

Local realtor Susan Tannock said her clients faced a similar situation where they bought property bordering the east side of the proposed development site. They were also unaware when they purchased the property that an apartment complex could or would be built on the neighboring property.

Tannock raised concerns about how the addition of an apartment complex would adversely affect the property value and wondered if there was any way that her clients could be compensated for any such loss.

Another neighboring resident, Angie Gordon, targeted the potential impact of traffic. She questioned whether or not the traffic study had taken into consideration the morning traffic out of the area, from Peters Road turning left onto Main Street southbound.

Smith said that while the data he highlighted in his staff report reference afternoon and early evening peak hours, when traffic is traditionally highest, the analysis took a look at the entire day over a period of multiple days. Consequently, if the morning traffic created any significant issues, they would have been noted in the traffic study report.

Following testimony in opposition, Mark Grenz of Multi/Tech Engineering Services, who was representing the applicant, was invited to provide any rebuttal to the concerns raised. He noted that in national studies, property values were not negatively affected by the addition of a nearby apartment complex.

Regarding the expectations that people who had purchased property adjacent to the project site, he acknowledged that it is a difficult situation for people to face.

"It's unfortunate that when people are buying property around vacant property and they don't really understand what the zone means and what zoning allows them to do," he said. "It's hard when a piece of property has been vacant for a long, long time … and all of a sudden, the environment is changing and development is coming in. It's hard for everybody to deal with that."

Following the public hearing, planning commissioners briefly discussed the project, focusing in particular on whether they felt the commission had done its due diligence before making a decision. Determining that they had, the commission voted unanimously to approve the project.

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