City Council OKs west Woodburn apartment complex
The Woodburn City Council unanimously approved the development and annexation application for a 39-acre, 300-unit apartment complex located just west of the Woodburn Premium Outlets at its Nov. 13 meeting. The complex, which will be developed by Steve Master of Master Capital Management, has sparked outcry from west Woodburn residents who fear the design of the development will increase traffic in their neighborhood.
Two councilors, Robert Carney and Eric Morris, were absent at the Nov. 13 meeting. The remaining four councilors voted unanimously in favor of the project.
According to the application for the development, the apartment complex would include 13 residential buildings, a leasing office, a recreational center, a swimming pool and a maintenance building. The site also includes a separate recreational vehicle storage facility, located on the other side of Senecal Creek, which runs through the site. The storage facility will fit up to 127 vehicles.
The main source of controversy is the developer's plan to extend Arney Lane, which is currently a dead end, to Woodland Avenue, with Steven Street serving as a connector between the two. Residents have said they fear the connection will encourage Woodburn Premium Outlets shoppers to use the relatively insular Woodland Avenue as a thoroughfare.
In August, the planning commission recommended the council approve the application, but included as a condition of approval that "the property shall be developed with an alternate route to the property other than Steven Street," saying traffic from both the development and the Premium Outlets would have a detrimental effect on the neighborhood.
At both the city council and planning commission meetings, members of the public said they feared the design of the apartment complex would create a new route to enter and exit the Woodburn Premium Outlets, which residents said would decrease the safety and livability of their neighborhood.
"The bottom line is if you want to put in another apartment complex, go for it, but you find a different entrance and exit to it. Not through the neighborhood we live in," said resident Marie Friend at the July 27 planning commission meeting.
Ultimately, though, the City Council decided that there was no way to build the apartment complex with different access points. Access from the south is limited by the fact that protected wetlands span that side of the property, and northern access is hindered by the fact that neither the city nor the developer owns that property. In addition, any land farther north is outside the city's Urban Growth Boundary.
Garrett Stephenson, an attorney representing the developer who spoke at the Nov. 13 and Oct. 9 city council meetings, said the condition of approval outlined by the planning commission would make the project unbuildable — other access points would violate the Woodburn Development Ordinance, according to Stephenson.
"This project cannot get built with the condition that requires access different than what we have proposed," Stephenson said at the Oct. 9 meeting. "This condition is not recommended by staff, as they mentioned, (because) it would violate a number of code provisions in the WDO."
Neighbors also expressed concern about the number of parking spaces included in the development, saying it was an inadequate number and would lead to an increase of street parking.
In response to those complaints, the developer added an additional 90 parking spots to the design of the apartment complex, bringing the total parking spaces to 690. The Woodburn Development Ordinance requires two off-street parking spaces per dwelling unit, meaning that only 600 were required.
Concerns about flooding were also raised by both residents and members of the council. At the Nov. 13 meeting, Figley addressed interim public works director Eric Liljequist, who had done an analysis on the flood study provided by the developer's engineer.
"Councilor Carney and I had some concerns after some testimony by a neighbor who was having some concerns with flooding issues. And due to the problem that developed in Hubbard a few weeks ago I wanted to be sure that we just got in the record that in your professional judgement and (the developer's) engineer's professional judgment that we're OK," Figley said, referring to a Hubbard resident who has received media attention because he says a neighboring development caused more than 1 million gallons of water to flood his property last winter.
Liljequist said the city still needs to do a full hydraulic analysis, but said based on preliminary reports that there is adequate drainage for the proposed development.
In response to concerns about traffic, the developer has suggested some methods to discourage outlet mall traffic from encroaching into the residential area, including adding a landscaped median to Arney Lane at the western exit from the mall that would prevent vehicles from turning left and entering the residential neighborhood. The developer has also agreed to write the city a $50,000 check that would be used for capital improvements in the area that would mitigate traffic impacts.
In the end, the councilors said they sympathized with the neighbors' concerns about traffic, but said the city needs housing, a need that the project would help fulfill.
"We have seen in Woodburn a severe housing shortage. We really have a problem with housing," said councilor Lisa Ellsworth at the Nov. 13 meeting. "I know members of my family have tried for six months at a time to find housing within Woodburn, so adding a complex like this will help alleviate that."
In addition, the councilors brought up a point that the planning commission had grappled with at its Aug. 10 meeting: The site of the project has been designated as medium density residential for decades in the city's comprehensive plan. That meant that the city had already planned for the property to have multi-family housing once it was annexed into the city.
Figley, who was unable to use her tie-breaking vote because the council came to a consensus, said at the meeting she would have voted in favor if given the chance.
"We're talking about land that has been designated for multi-family development for 35 years and the time has finally come where that development is happening, and I do not see anything in this proposal to make me support the denial of it," Figley said.
Councilor Sharon Schaub said the testimony regarding traffic concerns reminded her of the outcry by the residents of her ward when the city's new Interstate 5 interchange was proposed.
"Through our neighborhood there was an expectation that 10,000 cars would be going through our neighborhood. This caused a lot of angst, and in the final days, none of that happened," Schaub said. "As far as this particular project, I agree that the developer has certainly met all the requirements."
The councilors said that with the uptick in development expected to come to Woodburn over the next several years, the city will need to look at traffic problems, not just in west Woodburn, but in the entire city.
"Connectivity is a huge issue here in Woodburn, and as we grow it's going to continue," Ellsworth said, adding that arterial flow throughout the entire city is a common source of frustration. "As we grow, these issues are going to continue to come before us and we're going to have to address infrastructure, connectivity and all these other issues. And unfortunately our applicant is getting a taste of what we know is going to come."
Councilor Juan Serratos said he didn't see a reason not to approve the project based on the city's requirements, but said he wants the city to revisit the traffic impacts once the project is built.
"We won't really know until the apartment complex is actually built, it's really early to know what the actual impact is going to be," he said. "If we also think about the other development that's going to happen in that area, and we combine both developments, we're going to need to think really strategically about that specific intersection of Highway 219 and Robin and Woodland (Avenue). That's just going to be a complicated area."
The city council will vote on the project one last time at its Dec. 11 meeting — city staff must draft an ordinance annexing the property into the city, which the council will vote on in December.