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Denied Powell Butte "strip mall" appealed

Turned down by the county planning commission, the development of a proposed rural business complex has been appealed to the county court
Another planning commission decision has been appealed to the county court. This time it is the commission's denial of the permit that would allow the development of a new convenience store/post office and offices in rural Powell Butte.
   Recently, the court upheld the planner's denial of an application for a youth church camp in the Mill Creek area. Now the denial of a proposed business complex, described by its detractors as a "strip mall," is before the county court.
   Currently the site, at the corner of Highway 126 and the Alfalfa Road, is occupied by the post office and a residence. These buildings would be removed and replaced by a new structure. The proposed use would include a new convenience store, the post office and office space.
   Presenting the planning department's staff report to the county court, Planning Director Bill Zelenka said there were two reasons given for turning down the application by the planning commission. The first, Zelenka said, was that the intensity of the proposed site plan would be contradictory to the county's defined Comprehensive Plan. The second reason was that the proposed development would violate the county's transportation plan.
   Planning Commission Chairman Chet Petersen explained that originally there were four RSC zoned areas in Crook County: two in Powell Butte, where the present Powell Butte Store is and the other where the subject property is. One of the other two is in Post and the fourth is in Paulina. The goal of the RSC zoning was to serve rural needs, Petersen added, "not act as a magnet to bring in more business."
   Presenting his case before the court this week, the attorney for the developer, Bend attorney Ed Fitch explained that the planners had done a philosophical analysis of what the comprehensive plan meant, not what it actually says. The plan was adopted in 1979 and is general in nature, he explained. Based on the outright permitted use for that zoning and what the zoning ordinance actually says, it is to let the people plan from that accordingly.
   "The setbacks, parking spaces and height restrictions have all been met as required. This use is an outright use as the plan as adopted 22 years ago. These uses were permitted under the Rural Service Center zoning."
   Not so, according to Zelenka. "The purpose of the zone and comprehensive language dictates the size and intensity of development. This was the situation facing the planning commission. A proposed 'fourfold' increase in size and traffic impacts was felt to be beyond the scope of the plan and zoning ordinance intent."
   Petersen said he believes this development is aimed at the future market that will come from the new Hunting Ranch development on down the highway. In a few years, he added, the amount of traffic at that corner will be massive. However, according to the state Department of Transportation the intersection is not as dangerous as many others.
   "We were not given much information from ODOT on that factor," Petersen said when explaining why the planners had turned down the permit application. Oregon State police had given testimony, however, that the intersection is one of the most dangerous in central Oregon.
   That was one of the major questions asked by the members of the court of the applicant during the appeal hearing. Exactly how dangerous is that intersection, was addressed by Pat Creedican, regional manager for the state Department of Transportation.
   ODOT uses a formula based on the number of accidents per million miles driven past a given intersection, Creedican explained. The intersection in question has an accident rating of .51. "Elsewhere on Highway 126, through Powell Butte, the rating is as high as .77," Creedican said. "Statewide, the average for rural highway intersections is .89.
   Petersen explained that ODOT isn't using the same standard when making their determination that the county uses. The county's TSP (Transportation System Plan) has to look ahead 20 years while ODOT's considers only two years when planning for traffic use. One point that Zelenka made in his staff report was that except for a one page letter from ODOT and a site plan showing the construction of additional traffic lanes, little information was made available by the planners when making their decision.
   The extra turn lanes the developer will pay for, if the permit is approved, according to Creedican, will be a right turn lane on Alfalfa Road into the business complex, and an extension of the turn lane on Highway 126. There will be no reduction of the speed limit currently in place on that stretch of the highway, the ODOT manager added.
   After hearing from both sides, County Judge Scott Cooper explained that the court would not deliver a decision until the members have a chance to review all testimony and information. If a consensus can be reached, a decision could be made at the Jan. 16 court meeting.