Opinion: Developer high-fives offensive at Oregon City meeting
Aug. 22 is date that will fester in the hearts of many Oregon City residents who have attended meeting after meeting, over several months.
Night after night we filled the chambers at the Robert Libke Public Safety Building where Planning Commission meetings are conducted. These proceedings have witnessed unprecedented dozens of citizens testifying with good reasons against this development.
On that fateful evening, out of sight of the cameras that record the testimony and responses by Icon Construction developers, three rows of Icon representatives high-fived and overtly congratulated one another after a 5-2 decision by the Planning Commission to tentatively approve Icon's bid to move forward with the Park Place Crossing Development, the largest such development in the history of Oregon City. Covering 92 acres, this plan has been on the books and rejected by voters three times over six years. As the main subject before the Planning Commission since March, the plan has been "continued" multiple times by both the city and Icon as they attempted to respond to comments by the public.
Only two people, neither of whom live in Oregon City, ever testified in favor of the development. Their testimony was that this large land mass has been the subject for development for over a decade, and it was time to move forward.
On the other side were numerous (likely 30-40) residents of the area who are concerned that Icon developers will encroach into a wilderness area, alter the land forever and waltz away with large profits, leaving residents with an over-developed area. The Park Place Concept Plan was meant to guide the extraordinary growth that was being considered. One of the main components was a north-south connector road to relieve traffic off an already congested Holcomb Boulevard. Many testified that, during the fire evacuations two years ago, it took them over an hour to drive through traffic from side streets onto Holcomb, and once on Holcomb it took another hour to get down to Highway 213. It was a known fact that 213, itself, was congested as residents from Molalla, Estacada, Colton and other communities also tried to evacuate.
There has been no resolution to the evacuation situation, and in fact, there is no current plan to connect the north-south connector road until many phases of the 450-some homes are constructed. Even the city's own Traffic Engineer John Riplinger appeared biased in claiming that traffic counts were not that severe and could probably handle the large increase in traffic coming from not just the Park Place Crossing Plan, but also from the Serres property development and other smaller developments along Holcomb Boulevard. And with the possibility of a major development on the Rossman Landfill, traffic in the area could result in congestion to rival Canyon Road in Beaverton or Pacific Highway in Tigard.
I have reserved comment about Monday's meeting while I've attempted to analyze where the public testimony fell short. As a citizen present in the room, I watched the culmination of Icon's high fiving and overt jubilation over the 5-2 vote with conditions, an "in your face" reaction to an audience of concerned citizens who have gathered for weeks to provide testimony regarding the Park Place Crossing development. A more professional response would have reserved their jubilance until outside, and not in the face of those who have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to draw attention to the drawbacks of Icon's plans that skirt much of the original Park Place Concept Plan, adopted over a decade earlier. This was not a sporting contest.
The two planning commissioners who voted no were Bob La Salle and Mike Mitchell. During deliberations, La Salle brought up a full list of how the development was not meeting the original Park Place Concept Plan. At that point, after numerous meetings over several months, the lead attorney for Icon demanded that La Salle recuse himself from the proceedings claiming that he was obviously biased. However, the city attorney countered that La Salle had previously declared his role as land-use chair of the Park Place Neighborhood Association and had represented the wishes of the residents of that area.
La Salle was attempting to introduce a motion to require public hearing for each phase of Icon's large project, rather than leaving it to the development department, which is currently inexperienced due to several recent staff departures. His motion was declined.
In voting no, Mitchell cited unresolved issues of the north-south collector road, unknown landslide issues and traffic congestion.
This entire development will come before the Planning Commission one more time at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12 for final findings and vote. At that time, the plan could be appealed to the city commission by either the Park Place Neighborhood Association, citizens or both.
Oregon City resident Tom Geil is a former Planning Commission member and candidate for city commission.
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