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New proposal doesn't eliminate environmental protections

An article in the Oct. 11 Lake Oswego Review about “sensitive lands” said: “The council voted Tuesday to send Mayor Jack Hoffman and Councilor Mike Kehoe to Metro with the proposal, which would eliminate environmental protections on about 1,000 private residential properties.”

To clarify, the new proposal absolutely does not “eliminate environmental protections” on these properties. These approximately 1,000 properties, representing 203 acres (3 percent of all the land in Lake Oswego), which are already developed and zoned residential properties, would still be regulated under the general community development code, tree code and other codes and programs that provide environmental protection. In fact, the city has provided a list of almost 20 other environmental-type ordinances and programs that would still apply to these properties.

Additionally, Oregonians in Action has identified at least 200 acres of public parks and natural area property owned by Lake Oswego that should be added to the “sensitive lands” program, providing a program closer to Metro’s mapping and intent. However, the city resists adding these public lands to “sensitive lands” because of development plans for the properties, and current councilors have stated that they don’t like property with land use restrictions.

“Sensitive lands” is a political program that regulates arbitrarily selected upland treed areas and small drainage areas in exchange for less water regulation elsewhere. It’s a trade/mitigation program. The city developed this trade approach in 1998 as the compliance method for Metro Title 3 water quality requirements. If the city wants to comply with Title 3 water quality requirements via this “trade” approach, then trade with public land, not private backyards.

There are numerous examples of owners not being able to sell their properties because of “sensitive lands.” And, when they do sell, it’s for less than fair market value — as much as 40 to 50 percent less. It’s wrong to damage arbitrarily selected property owners and burden a few with the community’s environmental responsibility. Many “sensitive lands” properties are just backyards with no greater resources than properties not included in “sensitive lands”. And, there are areas with greater resources that are not included and are regulated under the city’s other codes and programs. For example, of the 37 residential properties recently certified as having significant “Backyard Habitat,” 31 are not “sensitive lands.”

The hypocrisy of this program is also apparent when considering that city staff is working with the Foothills developer and Metro to exempt the Foothills floodplain from Title 3 requirements. At the Oct. 22 planning commission hearing, the developer stated that it just doesn’t “pencil out” to have to deal with balanced cut and fill and floodplain habitat restoration. Seems there’s a theory that it’s much easier to trade and over-regulate citizens’ backyards instead.

The current council didn’t create “sensitive lands” and we applaud those who are trying to correct this arbitrary, inequitable, divisive and damaging policy. We hope that the community will support ending this divisive use of some of our properties as “trades” and support the equal rights of all residential property owners.

Lauren Hughes, Lake Oswego, is a board member of LO Stewards.

(Editor’s note: The opening paragraph of the article in question said: “The Lake Oswego City Council is moving ahead with a plan that would remove sensitive lands protections from all private residential properties.” The article also noted that the city’s new approach would focus on “existing regulations outside of the sensitive lands program — such as the tree code.”)