Planning Commission approves multi-family development on Sandy Heights Street

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - These apartments built by Marc Kottler in Mollala are similar to those proposed for Sandy Heights Street. Nerves are high in the Sandy Heights Street neighborhood of late.

A proposal for a 138-unit apartment complex on Sandy Heights has moved through the Planning Commission.

Pending adjustments by city staff, the residents of Sandy Heights Street, Hamilton Ridge Drive and Bluff Road will soon be neighbors with a new community of renters.

The development is on a 5.68-acres at 38100 and 38060 Sandy Heights Street. The proposed plan includes 12 studios, 48 one-bedroom units, 66 two-bedroom units and 12 three-bedroom units in 12 three-story buildings.

The size and a laundry list of other issues are what concern neighbors of the would-be complex.

More than 20 people attended the Monday, Nov. 13, Planning Commission meeting to voice their concerns about the development. Among the worries are increased noise, tree retention, increased draw on utilities and services, water drainage, quality of life, vehicular traffic and pedestrian accessibility.

Some residents fear the complex will tower over single-family dwellings, leading to an invasion of privacy.

City staff has discussed these concerns with landowner/developer Marc Kottler, suggesting solutions that would bring the project into compliance with city code.

"Most communities are suffering from the same thing right now," Kottler said in his statement. "There is a lack of multi-family housing."

Brian Barker, who lives on Carlson Avenue and was among those who attended Monday's commission meeting, said three families have already left their homes in the area because of the proposed development.

Barker expressed his concern that apartment dwellers will park on the street surrounding the complex, creating complications for neighbors as they exit their driveways. And he asked if there would be pet accommodations made with the addition of residential structures.

Zoning limits

The 5.68-acre footprint of the apartments is part of an 8-acre site owned by Kottler. The other 2.4 acres was proposed to be given to the city as park land or as open space because its wetland qualities make building on it impossible.

Barker suggested the parcel be turned into a dog park, since the only other existing dog park is on the north end of town at Sandy Bluff Park.

Another Carlson Avenue resident, Josh Hawkes, raised a concern regarding overcrowding of Sandy Grade School with the addition of a high-density development.

"Education of the kids is what's important," he said. Sandy Grade School already has one of the larger student populations in the district.

Senior Planner Emily Meaharg suggested turning the applicants' requested variances into adjustments the staff can apply to the proposed plans without taking the application back to the Planning Commission.

For issues such as traffic and overcrowding of schools, the city's hands are tied, said Planning Director Kelly O'Neill, Jr.

"The zoning code does not allow us to deny or approve based on existing (traffic issues) like speeding," he explained. Many people worried that added cars on the road would just mean more people speeding dangerously down Bluff Road.

Privacy concerns

Staff made a long list of recommendations for revision on Kottler's proposed plan, some of which are common given the type of new development and others specific to the site. These ranged from simply moving utility lines underground to removing parking spots to widen the entrance and retain trees, to stamping the retaining wall to make it more visually appealing. They also pointed out some areas where the applicant needed to add Sandy style elements to comply with city code.

Kottler requested three variances in his initial proposal. One to change the height the required retaining wall from 6.5 feet to 8 feet, one to allow for less allotted individual storage space and one to decrease the offset of the buildings neighboring Sandy Heights Street.

To this the city suggested the application request a 10-foot retaining wall in case extra height is needed during construction and change the configuration of the individual apartments' outdoor spaces to accommodate more storage.

"We believe we can adjust our site and comply with the things that (staff) have made note of," Kottler explained. "We do have quite a fair amount of topography to deal with. We'll work with staff to make sure we accomplish these goals."

Few residents were placated by the attempts of the city staff and Kottler to address their concerns, and some went home with only a slightly lessened sense of urgency.

"I feel for people's concerns about their privacy being lost," O'Neill said. "However, I don't know if the zoning code can do that much about that without this additional screen. There's nothing currently in the code that would say. Some cities have what you call a passive solar height ... our code currently has nothing like that. For better or worse, we don't really have much ability right now to say if there's a one-story building here, you can't put a three-story building next to it."

The Planning Commission denied the variances the applicant requested but made adjustments and approved the application.

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