Woodburn's second set of eyes
Deploying an uncommon tactic, Woodburn City Council agreed to "call-up" a recent city-planning decision regarding a 204-unit apartment complex planned just off Pacific Highway 99E, just south of Al's Garden & Home.
Woodburn Planning Commission approved the complex with conditions and variances during its Oct. 10 meeting. One of the variances gave the developer the okay to plant arbor vitae shrubs on the east border in lieu of building an ordinance-required wall.
But there were some concerns expressed by neighbors whose homes abut that east border, single-family homeowners on Greenview Drive, some of whom felt the wall was important and they had other, peripheral privacy issues.
A number of those homeowners were on hand for the Monday, Oct. 28, city council meeting to air out those concerns and entreat for options.
City staff had informed the residents in advance of options at their disposal: they can appeal the commission's decision, a tack which carries a substantial application fee; the council call up, which could only come at the behest of a council majority.
The short-staffed council – missing councilors Debbie Cabrales and Eric Morris – voted on the call up; deadlocked by a 2-2 vote, Mayor Eric Swenson broke that deadlock in favor of the call up.
That vote essentially reopens the planning commission's decision and places it before the council. However, the latter panel has limited latitude in which it can act, a scenario that did not escape Councilor Lisa Elsworth, a former planning commission member.
"I sat on the planning commission for several years, and I understand what it means when (a proposed project) meets code: you have to approve it," Elsworth said. "If I understand it correctly, about the only thing that we can actually say no to is the variances…We have to apply the same standards."
Elsworth was circumspect about the council's scope but did suggest another approach. While she voted against the call up, she also encouraged Community Development Director Chris Kerr to contact the complex developers with the residents' concerns.
Most of the Greenview Drive residents who approached the council acknowledged that they were not opposed to the apartment complex, but they hoped its design could be tweaked in a way that would preserve their privacy.
Ulf Bjorklund, a freelance audiobook narrator who works from home, noted that the complex as designed could interfere with his work as well as home privacy.
But Bjorklund perused the project plans and devised an idea of shifting the buildings around; swap the plan's one-story clubhouse and office, located near the front of the complex, with the plan's three-story multifamily building abutting the single-family housing yards.
"I actually have a suggestion, and if you want to look at it later you can," Bjorklund told the council, as he waved paper illustrations in hand. "Move the clubhouse and business office, that is now at the front of the complex, to the back, where it will be a one-story building (that is) abutting our house and it will avoid (compromising privacy) and it will lower the noise level."
"I don't know how possible it is, but it looks very feasible to me."
Slating a new hearing
Kerr urged the council to be prompt following its call up decision. Quick attention would avoid running amiss of the state's development laws, which mandate a tight timetable. The community development director also stressed that the concerns expressed during the council meeting did not constitute a hearing but were merely informational and provided so the council could make its decision about the call up.
The next step does include a hearing.
"Barring something very odd and assuming we have room on the calendar, I can have this back to the city council for the Nov. 12 meeting," Kerr said.
"We have to be aware of the 20-day clock, which is one of the many clocks we deal with at the land-use level, which essentially says that according to state law we have to finalize – including all options for appeal – all land use items that come before us within 120 days of the day they are complete," he added. "Their clock runs out until the end of December, so we have a little bit of time. But again, just in case something happens, I would really like to get this ready for the 12th if there is time."
City Administrator Scott Derickson advised that it is doable.
Kerr also emphasized to the Greenview Drive neighbors in attendance that they should either plan to testify at the hearing, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 12, or submit testimony in writing.
What: Woodburn City Council meeting
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12
Where: Woodburn City Hall, 270 Montgomery St.
Contact: 503-982-5228 ore visit woodburn-or.gov
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