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Milwaukie eyes waterway regs

by: STEVE BERLINER Three local watersheds, including River Forest Creek in Oak Grove, (shown above) were the focus of a Saturday tour sponsored by the North Clackamas Urban Watersheds Council.

The city of Milwaukie has advanced a significant expansion of areas that get environmental protections, which could make a total of 140 acres near its waterways subject to stricter rules.

Landowners in the area covering more than 700 properties may now have to pay $50 for a permit to remove native trees and be required to plant replacement trees that survive for at least two years. But parts of properties farther from streams would be free to, for example, turn natural areas into lawn.

The proposal does not require property owners to restore their land to more natural conditions-it allows people to maintain their existing landscaping and even make some small new disturbances in the protected parts of properties that are farther from water resources.

After four meetings to hash out details, the Milwaukie Planning Commission on June 14 recommended that the council adopt the series of code amendments, which are the product of more than two years of public involvement. Next week the council will have the opportunity to finalize a wholesale replacement of the existing water quality resource regulations, as well as updates to the city's comprehensive plan and other parts of the zoning code.

The rules and exemptions are complicated - up to 500 square feet of area within expanded portions of acreage can be disturbed without requiring a permit - but Milwaukie Associate Planner Brett Kelver said the city's additional habitat conservation areas try to strike some balance between protecting wildlife and allowing for development.

'We've tried to identify more specific types of scenarios that might come up for a property owner,' Kelver said. 'The proposal will make those rules more responsive to real-life situations and provides more and better options for property owners to manage their properties while still protecting the resource areas.'

Landowners can remove several categories of trees without a permit, and other categories require minimal review, no fee and tree replacement on a one-for-one basis. Applications to remove native trees will go to the Planning Commission for review, and if the tree removal is found exempt, no tree replacement will be required.

The city designated the exact areas that it determined needed protections using overhead photos and maps from the Metro regional government. Jason Howard, chair of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, argued at the council meeting last week that without stronger regulations for trees, the city's protections would lack sufficient teeth to prevent unnecessary logging of non-native species.

Ringed by the Willamette River, Kellogg and Johnson creeks, Milwaukie adopted in 2002 protections for approximately 90 acres within 50 feet of streams and wetlands through regulations collectively known as Title 3. Now the city has expanded its maps of sensitive habitat near watersheds to designate about 50 additional acres for proposed protections through Title 13, which is a longer set of regulations.

Development applications are required to include a construction management plan to avoid wildlife areas as much as possible for any project affecting more than 150 square feet of ground within 100 feet of a designated natural resource area. Applicants would have to show what steps they're taking, which could include erosion-control measures and tree-protection fencing, to ensure that a designated natural resource is not impacted by the project.

There is currently no fee proposed for review of construction management plans, which the city expects will involve little extra staff time.

City Council passed six revisions to the proposed code amendments last week and will look at finalizing a package of regulations at its next meeting on Aug. 2.