Lake Oswego City Council denies appeal of housing project
The removal of trees for development in Lake Oswego has always been a contentious topic. And it was the main factor in an appeal of a housing project that came before the Lake Oswego City Council during a public hearing Sept. 8.
The council voted 5-2 to deny the appeal, agreeing with the Development Review Commission's ruling to allow the construction of a multifamily housing project on Meadows Road.
Shorenstein, a real estate investment company that owns many office buildings in the area, proposed a residential project that would include 160 units, 210 parking spaces — and the removal of 112 trees (as well as 15 more that are either dead or invasive).
While City Councilor John LaMotte agreed housing is needed in that area and that mixed-use corporate environments are becoming desirable, he voted no because he felt alternative plans were not explored deep enough.
"Shorenstein is one of the best corporate developers and managers in the country. I believe the company will do a high-quality residential project," said John LaMotte in an email to Pamplin Media Group. "I voted no on the application because I believed that the developer's Concept B should have been further explored as an alternative that could have possibly saved a large tree grove."
City Councilor Theresa Kohlhoff's no vote derived from her "disgust" with the current tree code.
"I personally believe and see time and again that … what drives the results of the tree code is the developers pro forma," said Kohlhoff, adding that the developer satisfies the minimum specifications needed to make their development profitable.
The developer has every right to take out the specific trees identified in the proposal because of the way the tree code is interpreted and according to Kohlhoff, that's the problem.
"I've worked my tail off to try to say this is a bad ordinance," she said.
Kohlhoff added that there needs to be, at the very least, a balancing of preserving natural resources with economic development.
"It is so important to me because look outside," Kohlhoff said. "We are burning. We are burning up. What part of needing these trees do you not see? We don't need money at this point, we need life."
Johanna Hastay, senior planner with the city of Lake Oswego, said the DRC found that the project complied with development standards. Since the applicant requested to remove 112 trees under the Type II removal process, the applicant had to do an alternative analysis and would be required to plant 138 native trees on the site.
Hastay said the city's tree code has gone through various iterations and has experienced push and pull between balancing development rights on private property and trying to protect the community's character. She said the criteria focuses on trying to figure out whether or not the removal of those trees would have a significant negative impact on the neighborhood's aesthetic. If there is, then the focus is on whether or not there's a reasonable alternative.
People in opposition felt Shorenstein didn't do a sufficient analysis in their alternative presentations to preserve more trees.
Dana Krawczuk, a land-use attorney, said Shorenstein has worked for years to evaluate alternatives.
"The only evidence that's been submitted is the alternative plans we provided, and the expert testimony shows there are not any other alternatives that lessen the impacts of trees," Krawczuk said.
While there was no public comment in favor of the project, several community members opposed it. The appellant and Lake Forest Neighborhood Association Co-Chair Virgina McDowell said the project did not meet city code and that the design alternatives to save more trees were not reasonable. Therefore, she said, the applicant did not correctly consider alternatives.
Height limitations were another point of contention. McDowell said the proposed height of the development — between 55 and 82 feet — would potentially violate the 60-foot height limitation in the Lake Forest Neighborhood Plan and the Urban Growth Management Agreement for Lake Oswego and Clackamas County — Dual Interest Area.
According to the staff report, the DRC discovered the height limitation does not apply to the site because the reference is to certain city zone designations, not to county zones or general residential zones.
Based on the code, Haystay said there is no wiggle room for interpretation and the height limitation would only apply if the site abuts three specific zones, but because the site is against unincorporated Clackamas County, the height limitation doesn't apply.
"I live in a neighborhood near the proposed apartment complex by Shorenstein. I am distressed that they enlarged their original design considerably and then tried to minimize the environmental impacts," said resident Ann Hadley in her written public comment. "I am especially concerned about the impact on Carter Creek and believe the city should insist on a 50-foot setback as described for sensitive lands. The tree canopy should be preserved far more than proposed by the developers and especially by the creek."
Other residents echoed similar or related concerns, including Kit Johnson.
"I am very concerned about the size of the the proposed development, the proximity to sensitive lands and the habitat destruction that will impact wildlife," Johnson said in written public comment. "A much smaller building would be more appropriate. I also feel that an apartment building does not fit on a street dedicated to business. Some of the tenants of Shorenstein properties who I have talked to have expressed the same concern."
For many who were concerned with the structure being built too close to the creek and sensitive lands, Haystay said the structure is in compliance with current sensitive land standards.
"Our Development Code needs to be changed to facilitate home building while sensibly preserving large trees," LaMotte said in an email to Pamplin Media Group. "This project is an example of city/county zoning being out of sync."
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