City Council members discuss the arts in Wilsonville and how it can best support them

Four citizens, including Wilsonville City Council-elect Ben West, provided public testimony at a meeting Monday, Dec. 3 questioning the City's Developmental Review Board's approval of a housing and regional park development application in Villebois. SPOKESMAN PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Polygon Northwest Homes is building a park and housing development in Villebois next to Southwest Berlin Ave.

The citizens were unhappy with Polygon Northwest Homes' plan to remove 415 trees — including some they said could be important to the surrounding habitat in the grove next to Southwest Berlin Avenue in Villebois — and that the location of the park within the development was moved from where it was slated in the Villebois Master Plan. The DRB approved the application, which included an 89-lot single family subdivision, at a Nov. 26 meeting.

"I believe there must be a way to balance the construction of the development and the protection of natural resources," Wilsonville resident Herman Walter said at the City Council meeting.

After the testimonies, the City revealed that Polygon offered to reduce the development by two lots, which would increase open space and save 6-8 trees, according to Senior Planner Dan Pauly. And the Council passed a resolution to approve the tweak to the application at the meeting.

City staff said the fact the DRB had already approved the Polygon application made a more substantial overhaul more difficult and that Polygon could pull the application off the table if the process stalled.

"This is a pretty big give for Polygon. They do say they're on a tight time frame, where they have a closing deadline with the seller of the property (the sale is contingent on land use approval). If the matter is delayed then those lots can go off the table," Wilsonville City Attorney Barbara Jacobson said.

Despite residents' concerns about trees, Pauly said the park's location was changed from the center to the northwest corner of the development after the City had received more information about the trees in the area late in the process and determined that the change would preserve more significant trees.

"The data we got about the slope and health of the trees is what drove this change," he said.

Wilsonville City Councilor Charlotte Lehan discussed the issue with concerned residents prior to the meeting and hoped Polygon's concessions at least appeased some of the interests of both parties.

"This has been a tricky one for everyone concerned — staff, neighbors, DRB, Parks — because we're trying to thread a needle so that we keep various interests and values in mind," she said. "One of those is to save the most of the best trees."

Lehan accepted the removal because the majority of the trees in question were young Douglas firs and many of them were packed tightly and in poor condition. However, she couldn't definitively say whether tree removals would impact the surrounding environment.

"Saving the best trees that are in the most important location that have the best chance to be fabulous trees in the long run is, I know, the goal of staff, arborists, parks, development review board," she said.

Pauly indicated that a redesign to save more significant trees might not be practical.

"It's very hard for a planner to step in and say 'Just move this there' and then it turns into a whole redesign that ends up being very expensive," he said.

The citizens who provided testimony hoped to have a more extensive dialogue with the council and staff regarding the matter before the approval and some weren't thrilled with Polygon's concession.

"There's only 20 important trees in this whole thing and they're cutting down half of them. The (removal of) two lots doesn't change that," Wilsonville resident Betsy Imholt said.

West, for his part, said he didn't have enough knowledge to take a firm stance on the issue but said he was representing many Villebois neighbors unhappy with the development and felt that the application approval should be stalled until he becomes an official member of the council in January. The council did not agree to that request.

"It would be nice to hear how they (other neighbors) feel besides the four of us here representing that area so it's a tough decision council," West said in his testimony.

Wilsonville City Attorney Barbara Jacobson pointed out that neighbors could appeal the DRB application and Wilsonville City Council will decide whether to approve zoning changes for the development at a Dec. 17 meeting.

City discusses bolstering

art offerings, support

During a work session Monday, the council discussed ways to enhance and synergize art and cultural programs in Wilsonville after hearing about a recent report produced by the Clackamas County Arts and Culture Alliance and Taylor Consulting.

Among many ideas, the report suggested the City form an arts and culture commission, hire or enlist a staffer to organize arts and culture programs, and consider ways to develop an arts and culture center for local groups to congregate and host performances. Currently, it indicated that there is a lack of cohesion and shared purpose among arts programs in Wilsonville.

"Given the abundance of opportunity and assets that exist in the city, it was startling that there was such an invisibility to what we knew existed in the arena of arts, culture and heritage," Clackamas County Arts Alliance Executive Director Cheryl Snow said at the meeting.

"There are numerous assets and groups but they rarely collaborate and haven't understood the value of working together toward a common goal."

Snow also said that cities like Estacada and Oregon City have thriving arts communities in large part because of organized commissions.

Though no decisions were made, Knapp brought up the idea of hiring a staffer to oversee both tourism and arts and culture. Wilsonville Public Affairs Director Mark Ottenad, for his part, said he would address the study's findings at the City's upcoming tourism committee meeting to discuss potentially incorporating arts into its tourism strategy.

Cosgrove said staff may bring a formal proposal to add the commission and research the budgetary impact of adding a staffer to oversee the arts.

Lehan agreed with Snow that Wilsonville needs an arts and cultural center.

"Without even a modest little space for groups to feel like the have a home, it's hard to imagine it (Wilsonville) feeling like those other places (cities like Lake Oswego and Newberg that are known for a more robust arts presence)," Lehan said.

Cosgrove brought up the current Wilsonville Arts and Technology High School building as a potential location for a cultural center once the West Linn-Wilsonville School District's lease on the building is up in 2022, and potentially negotiating with the school district so that cultural programs could sometimes use school facilities. Taylor Consulting suggested the old Albertson's building on Boones Ferry Road and Regal Cinemas as potential site options.

"If you were to identify a specific building and create a capital campaign specific to that building, it becomes real," Snow said.

The City approved a Metro Community Enhancement grant in 2017 to development an investment strategy for the arts and the work completed by the CCAA and Taylor Consulting was a part of that process. The City will discuss the issue again at a later date.

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