Opinion: Oregon City must build roads before building more houses
It's been coming for years: The nightmare of increased traffic and less safety for residents all along Holcomb Boulevard is upon us, but even more so for the residents of the Trail View neighborhood.
After three unsuccessful annexation attempts — in 2008, 2010 and 2012 — it was only after Gov. Kate Brown usurped local control by signing Senate Bill 1573 that the Park Place annexation became a reality, the largest in Oregon City history at 92 acres.
A willing mayor and commissioners, anxious for the Park Place Concept Plan to move forward, hurriedly approved the annexation, despite the overwhelming citizen opposition.
On Monday, April 25, the Park Place Master Plan finally comes before the Planning Commission. It is sure to draw one of the most packed commission chambers in recent memory. Citizens and residents who have opposed the increase of traffic along Holcomb in the Park Place neighborhood expect a contentious hearing as they confront Icon Construction & Development and their highly experienced land-use attorney.
Holcomb Boulevard limitations
Holcomb is a narrow two-lane country road with homes within feet of the road, and a steep canyon on one side. Holcomb lately experienced a large residential development on an old airport, with additional development on the opposite side.
Recently approved was a 127-home development on the Serres Farm portion of Holcomb. All this residential development has placed increased stress on the narrow road.
Residents of the area will be the first to cry foul. In an emergency evacuation, Holcomb is an unimaginable bottleneck. During the fire evacuations of 2020, Trail View residents waited over an hour on short Winston Drive just to exit onto Holcomb, where they waited another hour to get down Holcomb to Redland Road (also bottlenecked), as residents from farther out Redland attempted to get to Highway 213.
As if the existing traffic problems weren't enough, Icon wants to significantly add to that bottleneck by constructing 426 homes (1,400 eventually planned in the entire Park Place Concept Plan) with the only exit onto Holcomb.
Icon is saying this will take place in six phases. As the maps reveal, the homes will surround the Trail View neighborhood with streets that wind around and over to what is called the Holly Lane extension.
New traffic could go around the newly planned neighborhood to Holcomb, or take shortcuts through the existing Trail View neighborhood where families with children are at play.
The plan is to open stub roads leading into Trail View on Journey Drive and Shartner drives, which would allow traffic to take the path of least resistance and flow through this existing neighborhood. This would add outrageously high congestion on the half-street of Winston Drive that leads out of the Trail View development.
The city's original concept was to have a road called Holly Lane Extension that would alleviate traffic on Holcomb by having a collector road that would pull traffic from Holcomb directly down to Redland Road.
No longer. This entire development dead-ends at a gate above Livesay Road. There will be a gate, used only for emergencies, at the base of this development. Livesay Road is not improved and very narrow. Clackamas County appears to say that it is not yet ready for prime time. Add to that, Icon does not own the property.
So let's be clear here, You take a winding Holly Lane collector "road," only to end up on narrow, smaller planned "Street A" in order to get onto Holcomb.
Imagine that bottleneck! It's either that or take the path of least resistance and take shortcuts through the existing neighborhoods, placing incredible stress on families with small children. All this new traffic would have to wait on Winston Drive, which is a half-block entrance into the current residential area.
The pinch-point dilemma
But there's even more constraint. There is a pinch point behind the existing Trail View development of 43 homes with very narrow spacing. Collector roads in Oregon City are supposed to be 85 feet by code. However, Icon is proposing to lower it down to 45-55 feet in order to get it through the pinch point.
In fact, Icon purchased a home in Trail View overlooking the pinch point and is proposing to subdivide the lot to cut off the back side in order to get the Holly Lane extension through.
Trail View is a plotted, planned development filed with the county and state. No homes in Trail View are allowed to subdivide. It is still in question how Icon thinks they can proceed with this course of action.
Residents are demanding that the Park Place Master Plan mandate construction of another route down to Redland Road before Icon can complete its proposed development, rather than force all the new residents in this ludicrous plan up into existing neighborhoods and onto an already packed Holcomb Boulevard.
Traffic engineer reports
Another consideration is the traffic engineer report. At a recent hearing over what's called the Serres property, Oregon City's traffic engineer approved Icon's traffic report.
When I questioned why during my eight years on the Planning Commission, I never once heard Oregon City's traffic engineer ever disagree with a developer's traffic study, despite residents all over the city complaining about traffic increases, I got a surprising answer on the record.
It turns out that traffic studies don't measure traffic on any particular road. They measure traffic at lights and how long it takes cars to move through an intersection. The saddest and most disturbing part of this is that there are no light intersections on Holcomb, until you reach the bottom at Redland, Holcomb and Abernethy.
The bottom line
Residents realize that development in this area is inevitable. However, development should be responsible, safe and reasonable. The current plan is none of these.
Residents strongly urge the Planning Commission and City Commission to consider delaying this large development until land to the south can be improved and maintained as the lower Holly Lane extension. We believe that the city would be doing a disservice to all existing residents along Holcomb and in Trail View to allow this travesty to continue as planned.
Oregon City resident Tom Geil has served the city as a former planning commissioner.
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