There were many unhappy faces on both sides during the presentation of the latest proposal for redevelopment of the evangelical retreat center at the March 25 Jennings Lodge Community Planning Organization meeting at the Nazarene Church, which sits right across the street from the proposed project.

Developers have dropped any ideas about a community park, leaving only about an acre of lightly-wooded slope that is too hazardous to build on. This shift from their original proposal of rezoning at R-7.0 (from R-10), now rezones at R-8.5, yielding 72 lots for houses of between 2,100 and 3,100 square feet, which will be marketed at $400,000 to $500,000 each. They claim that this is their idea of meeting the community halfway even though they are still proposing to remove 331 trees and claim to preserve only 130.

The Board of County Commissioners declined to take any action last year to preserve the historic campus despite many vocal pleas from the community. Hopes for the struggling North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District to acquire a piece of the property for the community park that has been long promised to Jennings Lodge failed along with the bond measure last fall.

After a brief announcement and follow-up discussion with Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office deputies on regular community policing issues, the 90 citizens present greeted representatives from Florida-based Lennar Homes and engineers from Tualatin-based AKS Engineering & Forestry with measured but forceful rejection of their latest proposal.

The presentation, which was not required by law, is the latest in a year-long attempt by Lennar and AKS to blunt criticism for insisting that the only way they can make enough money to develop the property is by rezoning and removing hundreds of trees. Residents all testified that the trees give the community the unique character which has made the Jennings Lodge/Oak Grove area one of the top retirement destinations in the country, according to a recent Forbes poll.

Because the developers had forwarded the plan and tree data prior to the meeting, I discovered that the plan included 39 trees not inside the project area, that is they are off-site on neighboring properties. Seven more trees are invasive species, and 10 are listed as in serious decline in the tree-preservation count of 130, in reality making it closer to 74. When asked why they had included other peoples’ trees in their preservation count, the AKS forest engineer fumbled for an answer and eventually conceded that the charge probably was true, but claimed that they were not trying to hide any data. The specific data was buried in a list of trees that covered three full-sized blueprint sheets that upon laborious review did not reconcile with the cover plan, making the entire presentation seem disingenuous.

In response to a question from the floor if the group “had done any analysis on the ecosystem service potential of the existing trees, or any other sustainable development principles so popular in the Portland metro area,” the presenting engineer stated that, “Well, this is not Portland, so no, we did not consider any of those things,” and also stated that they had not even valued the trees. When another question regarding the number of old-growth trees on the site was met with shrugs by the developers, I offered findings from my timber-value study, which found that the developers plan to harvest 189 standing Douglas firs that could conservatively yield over 860,000 board feet of lumber or enough to frame 54 2,400-square-foot houses, with the logs delivered to mill having a current market value of around $500,000. I had not previously shared the study, nor had any outside professional review been made, and I welcome a closer look at the study.

Because I sit on the Oak Lodge Sanitary District Board of Directors, the area stormwater authority, I also had questions regarding the mechanical sediment filter that the developers are proposing in place of the many green-infrastructure options preferred under the stormwater code. Given how close the project is to the Willamette River, the developers are reportedly in negotiations with district staff to run the entire project’s drainage through an in-ground filter and then dump directly into the Willamette River.

I asked, “How much is it going to cost the homeowners to clean that filter every time? I have heard reports of between $5,000 and $10,000 per visit for a similar device for just one single family residence.” The engineer acknowledged that they were still looking at green infrastructure with the district but did not confirm or deny the costs to clean the mechanical filter, or their intent to pursue a variance for a mechanical filter.

Several Oak Grove residents attended the meeting to show their support of the beleaguered Jennings Lodge community, which was assured by the AKS engineering team that the public process is there only to allow the community to ease into the idea of development, not to really give them any measurable control over the final outcome or perhaps stop the project altogether. This concept was soundly rejected multiple times by angry longtime residents, some of whom still live on the property or grew up there.

At both meetings it was pointed out that while the County Comprehensive Master plan has many laudable aspirations, they are not backed by clear language and strong code, and which actually often contain an economic escape clause for developers. This has led to county-appointed hearings officers to historically favor developers over community concerns. Although there is some discussion underway at the county-commissioner level to freeze existing density at current levels, because there is an undetermined development potential in existing low-density zones that have not been fully partitioned, (i.e. a single home on an acre in the R-10 zone could be portioned to provide three more house lots), any progress with that initiative would not apply to the proposed Lennar development even though they have not yet made a formal application.

During a review of the issue at the Oak Grove Community Council the following evening, it was heatedly pointed out that Metro policy clearly states that existing neighborhoods are not to be sacrificed to comply with projected Metro density standards. Instead, the redevelopment should take place along the main transportation corridor, 99E or McLoughlin Boulevard, in the form of mixed-used, higher-rise developments around identified nodes, per the McLoughlin Area Plan (MAP). That community-visioning document that was the result of over two years of effort was accepted but not approved by the same Board of County Commissioners, although they approved the formation of the implementation team (MAP-IT) from which they regularly accept advisory comments.

Lennar is expected to file their formal development application soon.

Terry John Gibson, a 25-year resident of Jennings Lodge, spoke up at the meeting.

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