Citizen involvement group evaluates land use process
As the West Linn City Council prepared to discuss an intensive review of the City's land use policy that was recently completed by the Committee for Citizen Involvement (CCI), City Councilor Bob Martin took a moment to acknowledge the scope of the committee's work.
"They met for at least a year, every week," Martin said. "The City Council doesn't meet every week. ... This dedication is exceptional."
The CCI's work, which began in June 2017, ultimately resulted in a 16-page report that detailed issues with the City's land use planning process while also outlining potential solutions. The evaluation was, in part, a response to changes made through a 2013 "Cut the Red Tape" project that, in the eyes of current councilors, damaged the integrity of the land use process.
"We saw 'Red Tape' kind of bind a few things up, and we're sort of unwinding things," Mayor Russ Axelrod said.
The CCI is a City-sanctioned watchdog group comprised of citizens and members of the council; as part of the review process, the CCI also consulted with the city attorney, assistant city attorney, the public works department and city planners. Other residents who were not members of the CCI also attended some of the meetings.
In the end, the CCI identified six key "problem areas" with the land use process: early involvement (or lack thereof), evaluating an application's consistency with community vision, availability/timing/scope of staff reports, complexity/cost of an application, changes to applications, and appeals.
Potential solutions were divided into three categories: educational, administrative and code changes. Suggestions for educational solutions included the creation of pamphlets about the land use process and how citizens can be involved, as well as a better tracking system for ongoing projects. Possible administrative changes included expanding the scope of staff reports and the creation of project committees for certain applications. Finally, possible code changes included requiring a developer to hold two meetings with a neighborhood association instead of one, as well as new rules about making changes to completed applications.
Axelrod, one of two council members on the CCI, said he was particularly pleased with the idea of project committees. He felt these would be useful for applications that were "more sizable or controversial."
"It essentially is a representative of the applicant; it's a professional representative of the staff in the planning process and a representative from the neighborhood association that has a background and understanding in land use," Axelrod said. "So together they can work as a team to try to avoid some of the pitfalls and work out some of the issues ... so that things don't get built up, built up and carry into a hearing that sort of blows up and takes hours and everyone's angry."
City Councilor Teri Cummings said reevaluating the City's appeals process was particularly important.
"The 'Red Tape' changes, in my mind, some of them were geared to avoid appeals by in some ways cutting people out of the process," Cummings said. "A better way is to avoid appeals by having a better process, a more inclusive process where the applicant and people interested in it have the most complete information possible."
The council did not take any action on the recommendations at the work session; rather, the next step will be to form a working group that will generate a more formal set of recommendations for the council to consider.
"There are some good ideas from the CCI, but what we're going to be looking at is the outcome of the working group," Martin said. "These ideas haven't been vetted strongly by the development community."