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Oregon City officials vote 4-1 to allow zone change for subdivision developer

Oregon City commissioners last week approved 77 homes to replace a tree farm on the south end of town, near Central Point Road.

Oregon City's Nov. 1 decision bore several rDan Holladayesemblances to the Oct. 18 decision to allow a housing development at Wesley Lynn Park, including:

1. Elected commissioners voted to reverse a previous 4-2 Oregon City Planning Commission decision at Wheeler Farm; OC citizens had twice voted against developing at Wesley Lynn Park.

2. Frank O'Donnell was the lone no vote on the City Commission vote to allow both developments, to overturn the Planning Commission's decision and the votes of OC citizens.

3. In both cases the developer was represented by attorney Michael C. Robinson, who has for more than 25 years focused on obtaining land-use approvals for development.

Wheeler Farm, owned by the Wheeler family since 1963, is selling the U-cut Christmas tree farm to Rian Park Development. Four houses adjoined the property in the early '60s, and now there are 260 homes surrounding the farm.

"The highest and best use of this land is for housing, not farming," Don Wheeler said. "The decision by the Wheeler family to partition off the open space, which has five old-growth Doug fir trees on it, in this plan demonstrates that we want to continue to provide a benefit to our community."

Oregon City rarely receives donations for public park land. The 1.35-acre park with five large Doug fir trees is intended to provide a reminder of the farming heritage of the site. The park would be open to the public, but owned and maintained by the new homeowners' association.

O'Donnell said he would have like to have had input on the development from the Oregon City School District, since the OC School Board is considering asking voters to approve a bond to increase school capacity and relieve overcrowding.

To answer O'Donnell's point, Mayor Dan Holladay said, "when I was on the school board, we had discussions about this, and basically the district's policy was that they support any new building, because that brings in new kids, and new kids bring in more dollars."

Terry Boyd, a KGON talk-radio host who lives in the southern Oregon City neighborhood, was incensed by the decision.

"Everyone ought to be aware of all of the idiots we have controlling the destiny of Oregon City," Boyd said. "This is a critical piece of the puzzle."

Critics of the decision pointed out that the largest lot is 26,814 square feet and the smallest lots are 6,407 square feet, making many of the lots in the proposed 77-lot subdivision incompatible with nearby subdivisions generally having 10,000-square-foot lots. But as long as the overall application for a subdivision averages below the minimum requirement, it qualifies for R-8 low-density residential area.

"It just strikes me as an unforeseen consequence," O'Donnell said.

Oregon City Commissioner Renate Mengelberg said that the intent of a recent Comprehensive Plan update was to allow flexibility for developers.

"I believe I was on the Planning Commission when we were updating the Comprehensive Plan, and there was a lot of discussion about having a variety of lot sizes and being able to accommodate different types of housing options for people and affordable housing," Mengelberg said.

On Oct. 9 the Oregon City Planning Commission voted 4-2 to deny the applications based also on concerns about the adequacy of transportation infrastructure. Oregon City's traffic engineer at the original meeting noted the traffic situation on Central Point Road, where officials have long recognized a "failing intersection." Oregon City is planning to eventually fund the construction of a traffic circle at an overburdened five-sided intersection involving Linn Avenue, Central Point, Leland, Warner Milne and Warner Parrott roads.

However, the 77-lot development will only have four more lots than a development that didn't require a zoning change. Oregon City's traffic engineer said these additional four homes wouldn't have a significant impact on traffic.

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