Opinion: Oregon City staff try to prevent input from neighbors
On Sept. 1 and 15, Oregon City commissioners heard from a large developer and city staff who attempted to block residents from being heard.
Sixty units are being proposed on 4.3 acres near Singer Creek and historic Holmes House/Rose Farm. There'd be three-story units with three bathrooms and a garage, not affordable housing. Neighbors' concerns are environmental, traffic, parking, visibility, stormwater runoff, sewage capacity, pedestrian safety, value of their properties and congestion.
What impact will this have on the Rose Farm, which is significant to Oregon City as historic McLoughlin House? Please keep in mind, two-thirds of Singer Creek is underground through pipes in McLoughlin neighborhood and ends directly into the Willamette River. Oregon City is endorsing street parking and utilizing a traffic safety report done by the developer in 2017. Since last year, population growth has increased 14.25% and Molalla Streetscape Improvements are currently still ongoing to implement safety features and road/intersection improvements to deal with population growth and improve infrastructure. The content presented was the focus of the condominiums with little focus on the additional road opening little one-lane Mountainview side street. Neighbors are concerned about road infrastructure, especially when a new road is being proposed to connect Mountainview with Holmes Lane. There was no analysis in the 2017 traffic report being used for the current scenario.
There is a process a developer has to go through with the city to present to the neighborhood association, required in city charter. Issues have arisen since the developer initially presented virtually in November 2020. Plans keep changing, so there's no consistent proposal. Oregon City posted a public notice hidden behind bushes, and neighbors had eventually up to June 7 to respond with a comment. However, what residents were told was wrong, and it was relayed incorrectly until June 4. Dilemma after dilemma has occurred since. Wrong deadlines, wrong info on the process. Technically, Oregon City Planning is supposed to act as a moderator between the developer and Barclay Hills Neighborhood Association residents. Many signs show that Oregon City staff help developers and did not moderate with residents!
Postcard mailers and written notification never got to residents on Holmes, Mountainview, Maggie Place and Cedar Lane. Residents keep getting misinformation or wrong information from city management. Documents submitted tied to the land-use properties are unavailable online.
Our city manager never responded to residents' inquiries. By the deadline of the appeal on Aug. 5, city planning staff refused Barclay Hills NA paperwork from our Land Use Chair Jim Donnelly. They told him they cannot accept the paperwork because it is unscanned or not typed and that they could not time-stamp it. I had to join Jim Donnelly and say "by authority of the city charter, you must take this paperwork" and time-stamp it. Neighborhood associations are not be charged an appeal fee, yet the planning director still tried to charge a $300 fee.
Toward the appeal day, city staff, sent emails creating doubt in residents that they probably won't qualify for an appeal. Right before the hearing, last-minute documents were loaded that the residents had not seen. These statements from the developer attempted to address issues to city staff. It is concerning that residents do not see these documents until within 48 hours of the hearing that were dated up to several months prior — it's like planning staff are "coaching" the developer. Even the land-use posting had the wrong city recorder phone number, so residents could not call in to make a comment. A recommendation from the Confederate Tribes of the Warm Springs' archeologist had not been logged or recorded.
On the day of the appeal hearing, residents have to combat not only the developers but the developer's attorney and city staff with their attorney paid by residential tax dollars. Before the hearing started, Citizen Involvement Committee Chair Bob La Salle addressed City Commission advocating an investigation of city operations. CIC members voted to recommend an investigation of city staff, especially concerning land use and struggles.
Both attorneys tried to convince the city elected officials that our neighborhood association did not follow city municipal code and their own bylaws. Neighborhood associations run as independent entities in city charter to represent residents, all volunteer.
If my minutes are said to be inaccurate, then how do we know the developer is who they say they are when they presented to us virtually? If you don't acknowledge my voted minutes to support a land-use appeal, meaning a fee waiver, why would any of my prior minutes be acknowledged?
In any case, the residents were being silenced, being threatened out their due process! The transition of the planning director and city manager were during ex-Mayor Dan Holladay's first term. Holladay was recalled in 2020. Luckily, the city commissioners voted to listen to the residents and support their appeal.
Interesting enough, during the appeal hearing, the city manager interrupted Jim Donnelly during his 15-minute presentation saying (angrily), "Please look at the commission when you speak." He is not recorded physically on the YouTube replay but in person has his mask down on the side of his face with piercing eyes, like he is going to jump out of his seat. He is very hostile and never friendly. He is known to minimally respond to resident concerns and never acknowledges committee volunteers.
Please if you can, come with other residents if this concerns you. Tell city staff that residents have a voice. Let our City Commission know that we care about our homes and city. We won't be bullied into impractical and deceitful development! If you are concerned, especially for the historic homes, Stafford Park and Singer Creek, a continuation of this hearing is at 7 p.m. on Sept. 29 at the Libke Public Safety Building, 1234 Linn Ave. Let our city know lack of notifying residents, misinformation, bullying, manipulating and withholding information to the public won't be tolerated. Residents should have influence in their neighborhoods.
Barclay Hills Neighborhood Chair Karla Laws is a resident of Oregon City. City commissioners held a second hearing on Sept. 15 and extended their hearing to a third date, Sept. 29.
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