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West Linn Planning Commission to continue hearing on new Athey Creek Middle School next week.

PMG SCREENSHOT: WL-WV SCHOOL DISTRICT PRESENTATION - The new Athey Creek Middle School site is between Willamette Falls Drive and Dollar Street. Residents of the Willamette neighborhood aren't thrilled about their potential new neighbor: a new Athey Creek Middle School on Dollar Street.

At a West Linn Planning Commission meeting in early July, nearly a dozen residents testified against the proposed location for the school as part of a public hearing for the West Linn-Wilsonville School District's lan-use application. The planning commission will continue the hearing and decide on the district's application at its meeting Aug. 4.

The neighbors' concerns about the school mainly involve traffic they fear the school would bring, as well as noise and light disturbance to nearby homes. They also argue that because Wilsonville accounts for most of the district's growth, West Linn doesn't need a new middle school.

Laura Wirth, who lives in the subdivision adjacent to the Dollar Street property and has two kids in the school district, said the proposed school brings more burdens than benefits to the community. She mentioned a petition opposing the school she created in 2019 that garnered over 500 signatures.

The new middle school was part of the district's capital improvement plan associated with a 2019 bond that voters approved to address current and future needs of the district.

The drive for the new Athey Creek, which is currently located in the Stafford area on Borland Road, was borne largely out of the district's predicament with Arts and Technology High School losing the lease at its home in Wilsonville in 2022. To accommodate, the district plans to retrofit the current Athey Creek facility into a larger, improved Art Tech, or what the district is calling a "third option high school."

With Athey Creek turning into an alternative high school, the district needed a new location for the middle school. The solution they settled on was a 22-acre parcel three-and-a-half miles away that locals know as "Dollar Woods." The district has long owned the property and even considered the site for a middle school in the 1990s.

In 1994, the West Linn City Council reversed a planning commission ruling to grant conditional approval for a middle school at the site, forcing the district to build Rosemont Ridge Middle School at its current location instead.

The district's application details plans for a 25-classroom school that could serve as many as 850 students. The site will also house a turf athletic field, a track and outdoor learning areas. The school would have two parking lots and two entrances: one off Dollar Street and one near Willamette Falls Drive.

The Willamette Falls Drive entrance aligns with the city's plans to put a roundabout near the bridge along Willamette Falls Drive and connect the road with Dollar by extending Brandon Place.

Land uses rules for quasi-judicial hearings dictate that the planning commission decide on the application based solely on whether or not the application meets city code criteria, not commissioners' personal opinions of the application.

West Linn Planning Manager Chris Meyers said at the July hearing that the district's application meets all relevant code criteria except for two provisions where the district requested variance from the code.

One variance requested by the district concerned the maximum distance parking stalls may be from the entrance of the building. City code dictates that all parking spaces must be within 200 feet of the building entrance, but the school's plans show some parking spaces in the east parking lot further than 200 feet from the entrance. Meyers explained that this is common in schools because parking isn't spread out evenly around the building for security purposes.

The other requested code variance concerned the size of signage on the building's outer wall. City code places a limit on how large these signs can be, but the district asked to increase that limit because the building is so far from the street that the sign would not be legible if it was the code-acceptable size.

Meyers told the planning commission that city staff recommended accepting these variances and approving the application.

Remo Douglas, the district's capital construction manager, said he and the district team prepared the application by talking with community members, students, parents and staff. He said the district held six formal meetings to discuss the project, as well as dozens of informal discussions with concerned community members.

Mercedes Serra, a planning consultant hired by the district, said that to address community concerns, the district planned to set the field back further from the street to allow for additional landscaping as a buffer between the school and nearby homes. Douglas added that the track and field will also be set lower than the street, so that the slope and distance down to the field will create a natural barrier, limiting noise and light that travels to neighboring homes.

Serra also noted that studies indicate the field lighting, which neighbors fear will be intrusive, will have no greater impact on nearby homes than the new street lights along Dollar Street.

PMG SCREENSHOT: WL-WV SCHOOL DISTRICT PRESENTATION - Safety plans for the proposed school site include new speed zones along Dollar Street, Borland Road, Brandon Place, and Willamette Falls Drive.Traffic engineer Scott Manzer said the district's "safe routes to school' plan for the new Athey Creek included 20 mph speed zones on Dollar Street and Brandon Place and a 20 mph "when flashing" zone on Willamette Falls Drive between Borland Road and the subdivision next to the school. He pointed out that the city's plans for Willamette Falls Drive already include separate bike and pedestrian facilities for the corridor.

Manzer said the roundabout at Willamette Falls Drive and Brandon Place was by far the most preferable intersection type because roundabouts result in 80% fewer fatal accidents compared to other options.

During the public comment period, Bogdana Clarke, a neighbor who helped Wirth circulate the 2019 petition opposing the school, said the school will only increase traffic on Dollar Street. She also asked, with the recent shift to online learning, whether a new school was truly necessary.

Kathie Halicki, president of the Willamette Neighborhood Association, asserted that the district did not reasonably respond to neighbors' questions, though district officials said they held a meeting with the NA that was attended by more than 100 residents in January 2020.

Douglas said that though the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board was once interested in selling the property, as some commenters pointed out, the panel had not predicted the area's growth.

"There is a very different board today and a staff and a community that has come around this process before, into, during and after the election," Douglas said. "We believe this is the right location and the site is suitable."


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