DRC approves development next to Lake Oswego's Hallinan Woods
Lake Oswego's Development Review Commission reached a tentative agreement on Monday to approve a project that will subdivide a property adjacent to Hallinan Woods and build six new houses there.
But the commissioners also imposed additional conditions aimed at preserving riparian areas on a portion of the site — a decision that came as a relief to neighbors.
"We're really excited and pleased with this decision," said Sarah Ellison, who currently serves as the acting chair of the Hallinan Heights Neighborhood Association.
Ellison has been at the forefront of a community effort to preserve the property; she and other neighbors have spent several years pushing for it to be added to Hallinan Woods, a City-owned park that borders the soon-to-be-developed parcel on its southern and eastern sides.
The 2.08-acre property at the end of Yates Street is currently undeveloped aside from a single abandoned house; the rest of it is forested, matching the appearance of Hallinan Woods. The two properties are divided by a chain-link fence along the border, but the advocates have argued that they are one contiguous wooded area and should be treated as such.
The group of neighbors had previously sought to have the City offer to purchase the undeveloped property from its current owners, Raghunandan and Sangeeta Kamineni. Earlier this year, they successfully lobbied the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Advisory Board to place a potential acquisition of the property near the top of its list of priorities for funding.
But the housing development application reached the DRC before the neighbors were able to make any headway, and many of the park advocates appeared to shift their focus to trying to preserve as much of the property as possible, particularly along its southern border where a portion of Hallinan Creek passes through.
The neighbors emphasized trying to save the creek in order to preserve access to it as an exploration and natural play area for children from the neighborhood and Hallinan Elementary School, which is located directly south of Hallinan Woods.
"What the neighborhood really wants to see is the riparian area fully integrated into the natural space," Ellison said during public testimony.
Ellison said the neighbors have also been lobbying the Parks & Recreation Department to seek a public easement for the creek and riparian area in exchange for agreeing to take care of the area in the future, and she noted that a large number of neighbors already volunteer to help maintain Hallinan Woods.
"Everyone just wants to jump in and start pulling ivy on the site," she said.
During their deliberations Monday, the commissioners focused on the size of the proposed lots and the 15-foot setback between the Hallinan Woods path and some of the houses, which some of the commissioners thought was insufficient.
Some of the commissioners also appeared uncomfortable with having six lots branching off a single private access road. The City's code was recently changed to prohibit more than two such "flag" lots, but the Yates property application predates the code changes.
"This is probably the last one of these we're going to see," commission Vice-Chair Brent Ahrend noted.
But most of the discussion centered around protections for the riparian area surrounding the creek. Commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the project, but they rejected an adjustment to the border of the riparian area that had been proposed by the applicant. That means the applicants will be required to resize or adjust some of the lots to accomodate the original border of the Riparian Protected (RP) zone, which extends 30 feet from both sides of the creek.
Ahrend voted no, having previously stated that he did not think the applicant's proposed adjustment would lead to a significant negative impact on the riparian resource.
The project applicants did not attend the hearing, but one of their representatives expressed disappointment with the ruling and said he would rather work with the City to try to compromise on a new riparian border adjustment.
Monday's decision was tentative, in order to give City staff an opportunity to draft a final version of the commission's findings. The new boundary condition, for example, will result in modifications to some of the other requirements for the project. The final version will be brought back to the DRC for approval at a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 24.
Ellison told The Review that her group hasn't given up pushing for the City to purchase the entire property, either from the current owners or whoever buys the houses, but she said she was happy to see that the DRC ruling acknowledged their concerns and would protect the riparian area.