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West Linn approves land use extension for subdivision with street width condition

FILE PHOTO - The West Linn City Council reversed course on a landuse decision for a 34-lot subdivision on Upper Midhill Drive at a meeting Oct. 12.After tentatively approving an appeal which would have denied a two-year land use extension to developers hoping to build a 34-lot subdivision on Upper Midhill Drive, the West Linn City Council reversed course one week later.

At its most recent meeting Oct. 12, the council voted 3-2 to deny the appeal, effectively granting the extension to applicants Emerio Design and Upper Midhill Estates, LLC, which initially began the land use process for the subdivision five years ago.

The council's change of mind seemed to stem from a state statute adopted by the Legislature in 2019, which says a city must rely on only clear and objective criteria to deny such land use applications. The council also seemed wary that if the applicants chose to appeal the decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), the city ran the possibility of having to pay attorney fees for the applicants if LUBA sided with the developers.

"It's my understanding that by denying the application we run a significant risk of incurring the applicant's legal fees," said Councilor Bill Relyea. "But by denying the appeal and approving the application with conditions of approval, we establish a good, working relationship with the applicant."

The council hinged its approval of the two-year extension for the subdivision on the condition that the developers would ensure that all streets within the 6-acre development would have a 28-foot width.

The developers had previously agreed to widen some streets to 28 feet in compliance with a request from the city.

City Attorney Tim Ramis explained that had the council chosen to move forward with approving the appeal and denying the application, its best legal argument for doing so would have been that the street widths were not all 28 feet wide.

The only members of council to vote against the extension's approval were Mayor Russ Axelrod and Councilor Jules Walters.

The mayor said his concerns pertained to the inadequacy of public facilities in the area and the effect such a development would have on the surrounding neighborhood. He also said if the applicants had made more of an effort to progress through the process over the last three years, they might not have needed to apply for an extension.

Though she voted in favor of the extension, Councilor Teri Cummings expressed similar concerns.

Cummings was also concerned about the infrastructure of the area and said she "prefers less development" but she recognized that the 2019 law change meant that the council had less discretion to deny the application.

She also said the city needed to fix its code to ensure that applicants make progress on certain steps of the land use process before applying for an extension.

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