Staff has compiled a list of more than 200 known problems with the zoning code
A number of controversial projects in Milwaukie over the past few months have brought to city council's attention what could be one of its most important tools in defining how the city develops and grows in all aspects - its planning code.
First, a company attempted to install a mental facility in the residential Ardenwald neighborhood, and citizens were surprised to learn that the city had no means of denying the plan, even though it necessitated a 24-space parking lot, would have seen traffic at all hours of the day and would have housed 24 patients in a neighborhood of single-family dwellings. Council's only recourse was to spend $240,000 and buy the property out from under the developer.
Earlier in the year there had been a variance request at the proposed Milwaukie Town Center site that sought to use prohibited building materials and to add a fifth floor despite the code's limit of four. Council approved, considering it an isolated incident.
Then came a proposed downtown building renovation. The developer wanted to build the property on the northwest corner of Main and Monroe streets and offered 10 percent of his building fees - about $22,500 dollars - for sidewalk improvements. The code said that wasn't enough, demanding all public area requirements be done instead. An appeal process to the planning commission and the city council led some councilors to believe that by exacting such requirements, they were inadvertently discouraging private investment.
In a memo to city council, planning director Katie Mangle explained the extent of the zoning code's shortfalls.
'Current and prior planning staff have identified many problems with the city's regulations, and have long felt that an overhaul of the entire zoning code is warranted,' the memo said. 'However, such a project continues to be out of reach of the city's budget for the planning department. Instead, planning staff maintain a list of known problems with the zoning code, which now includes over 200 items.'
The problem, Mangle said, is funding, and she went on to explain the department's process in lieu of an increased staff.
'Since the city does not have adequate resources for staff to address all of the known problems, planning staff will address them according to ease and priority.'
With that goal, and with the council having urged planning staff to revisit the code and revise it - especially as it relates to size and contextual limitations in residential areas and seeking a better compromise between public and private investment in downtown's public areas - Mangle brought a list of priority projects to the planning commission's Jan. 8 meeting.
The first items to be addressed are parking standards, downtown public area requirements, signs and transportation planning. Commissioners immediately began choosing their specific areas of interest to work on, in some cases already offering specific recommendations.
'We've talked about bulk and mass analysis,' said Commissioner Scott Churchill, discussing the residential size and contextual requirements, 'and I think we need to look outside the Portland metro area at other bulk and mass analysis.'
Other cities in the region, such as Lake Oswego and Happy Valley, use identifiers such as height, lot coverage and floor-area ratio to conform developments to specific neighborhoods.
Mangle said she and her staff are just as eager to begin.
'I feel confident that we can tackle these,' she said. 'The whole department is kind of raring to go because we're feeling the pain.'
Three-month minimum for change
Mangle outlined the plan for revising the codes, which she said would take three to four months at a minimum.
The first phase is to look into the background of the codes, she said.
'We're going to start each project by researching the history - looking at the minutes, looking at the ordinances,' she said, in order to see if there are 'any sacred cows that were very deliberate.'
The planning department will then draw up proposals, which the planning commission will review. Mangle said it would work best if the planning commissioners split up and a couple of them tackled each of the proposals rather than reviewing all of them in regular session together.
'It won't be a lot of work for every one of these projects, but some of these will need lots of attention,' Mangle said.
Finally, they will notify the neighborhood associations, developers and other interested parties to participate in public hearings.
Mangle said this process was necessary because the codes in question are not just technical in nature, so staff can't simply study what's generally considered best practice.
'I think with this it's going to not just be technical code writing, but stepping back and looking at policy,' she said.
She plans to begin reviewing all the codes together, and then splitting off the most recently contentious one, involving public area requirements downtown, to study individually.
'The citizen involvement and participation will be important on that one because there were a lot of stakeholders who showed up at that hearing,' she said, 'and then there's the people who helped write that original downtown plan.'
In the Nov. 28 story on Milwaukie's zoning called 'Developer says city charges for downtown improvements unfairly,' developer Ed Parecki pointed out businesses, including Hartwell's restaurant, that he said were not required to pay the same level of fees that he was. Hartwell's and other businesses paid all fees that the city of Milwaukie required them to pay.
Sidebar or brief:
Parecki to go ahead with revised project
Milwaukie developer Ed Parecki, who earlier this month was denied an appeal over public area requirements for his development on the northwest corner of Main and Monroe streets in downtown Milwaukie, said he has resubmitted his application and will go ahead with the project at a reduced cost.
Parecki said he's removed plans for an elevator in the building and resubmitted his application. The removal of that portion of the plan reduces the development cost from $225,000 to $121,000.
Based on this change, the development will no longer exceed 50 percent of the assessed value, and rather than having to finish all public area requirements, as developments worth more than 50 percent must, the code only requires 10 percent of his total building costs be put toward public area improvements.
Parecki had previously argued that the code as written is unconstitutional. He said the law requires the city to do an analysis of what impacts a development will have before requiring public area improvements, so a written-in stipulation requiring 10 percent of the building cost was unlawful.
He said, however, that he does not plan to challenge the provision again at the lower rate.
'I want to get this done,' he said.