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City Council overturns planning commission's approval of plans for commercial site.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Potential traffic issues at Newberg Highway and Oregon Way were among the reasons the Woodburn City Council turned down an application for a convenience store and gas station.Plans for a U.S. Market and gas station at a site that formerly housed two banks in Woodburn have been waylaid, at least temporarily.

During its July 25 meeting, the Woodburn City Council denied an application proposing a convenience store and gas station at Newberg Highway and Oregon Way on the basis that it fails to meet conditional use criteria.

The application was previously approved by the Woodburn Planning Commission. But an appellant involved in the hearings with the commission challenged that ruling, thereby sending it before the City Council.

"What's in front of you is an appeal to a planning commission decision that approved the application," Woodburn Community Development Director Chris Kerr advised the council. PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - The City Council cited potential traffic issues as one of the reasons for overturning the Woodburn Planning Commission's approval of a convenience store and gas station at Newberg Highway and Oregon Way.

The council determined that the proposed development would not be compatible with surrounding properties, which include single and multi-family dwellings. Numerous residents from the area, which is populated heavily with senior citizens, expressed disenchantment with the proposal during the council meeting hearing.

Concerns included congestion and unwieldy traffic patterns, which some said existed even when the banks operated from the site. Other previous developments at the site also may have soured the council on the proposal.

"That particular intersection has had its problems," Councilor Sharon Schaub said. "ODOT already came in and changed the light, so you can't turn on a blinking yellow light. And just last week or the week before there was a rollover accident right on the corner. … I'm not happy about it.

"Besides which, I was a little bit concerned about this property because, No. 1, when they first started clearing the buildings, (the lot) had this large tree on it that was not supposed to be removed," Schaub continued. "But guess what? They just went in and took the tree out. OK, I was not happy about that either."PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Woodburn City Council overturned the city's planning commission's approval of a convenience store and gas station proposal for the vacant site at Newberg Highway and Oregon Way.

That tree-removal incident served as an impetus for the council to direct city officials to strengthen ordinances that prohibit removal and increase fines for offenses.

Kerr and Assistant City Attorney McKenzie Granum both advised that if the council overturns the commission's approval, it should specify reasons in order to provide guidance to city staff.

"What staff would be looking for is if the council believes that the application should be denied and doesn't meet certain criteria … staff would come back with specific findings based on evidence," Kerr said.

The council's denial pivoted on traffic.

"I'm prepared to deny the project specifically based on vehicular traffic findings that we discussed tonight," Woodburn City Councilor Robert Carney said. "Specifically, potentially dangerous situations that are going to be created if this particular project is located on those two lots.

"Conditions that don't exist today are most likely going to exist in the future," he added. "And I think it's our responsibility to be able to identify those potentially hazardous vehicular conditions and mitigate them in advance by preventing the project from going forward in order to inhibit those particularly dangerous conditions."

Carney recommended a meeting recess to afford time for Granum and Kerr to convene and construct a "legally defensible motion" with which the council could deny the application.

Granum told the council prior to its vote that if the planning commission's decision is overturned and the project is denied, the project could be heard by the state's Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).

"While the council has that argument as part of the appeal, if the council were to deny and not make findings, that would likely be appealed to LUBA, and they would remand and force you to make findings," Granum said. "That would not be my recommendation this evening. I would recommend that you deny based on specific criteria not being met, and again, explain which criteria you found not to have been met this evening based off the evidence before you."PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Developers proposing to build a convenience store and gas station along with office space on the vacant lot at Newberg Highway and Oregon Way said they will appeal to LUBA after being turned down by the Woodburn City Council. The proposal had been previously approved by Woodburn Planning Commission.

"(That way) even if they are appealed to LUBA, we would at least have a basis for the denial," she added. "Not making findings would (necessitate) a rehearing on the matter."

Kerr said since the council voted to deny the application, that decision is final as far as the city goes, although they will reexamine specific information on which the denial is based.

"As a standard formality, they did ask (city) staff to return in two weeks with draft legal findings for them to consider, which will state their justification for the denial," Kerr said. "That decision will not involve a hearing on the application, just a review and vote on their findings.

"The next option for the applicant would be to file an appeal of the decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA)," Kerr added.

Ron Ped, a Salem architect representing the developer, said a LUBA hearing is likely.

"We are still waiting for approval; we got turned down by City Council, so we are going to LUBA," Ped said.

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