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Petes Mountain homes one step closer to creation

The planned Tumwater at Petes Mountain upscale residential development has cleared another hurdle. A hearings officer issued a final decision Monday, giving the development approval.

But there is a likelihood that another appeal will be filed with the Land Use Board of Appeals. By law, that appeal must be filed by May 5.

The Tumwater development - plagued by lawsuits, court complaints and appeals - most recently was waiting for a Clackamas County hearings officer to reach a decision on four aspects of the project. LUBA had remanded that quartet of issues after the most recent appeal filed by the Petes Mountain Homeowners Association (PMHA).

Hearings Officer Anne Corcoran Briggs listened to hours of testimony Feb. 21 and then received volumes more during the weeks following the public hearing on this project.

Her final decision, issued Monday, describes a multitude of conditions of approval - all acceptable to the developer, Gordon Root, who said he would not have to change the design very much to comply with conditions of approval.

The main change was the addition of an inner street connecting two long cul-de-sacs, thus shortening the cul-de-sacs to satisfy standards set by Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue.

Peter Mohr, attorney for the homeowners objecting to the development, said Tuesday that he hadn't had time to inspect the hearings officer's final decision or to meet with the board of PMHA.

'I have to meet with my clients,' he said, 'to see what they want to do, whether or not we're going to file an appeal to LUBA.'

But Mohr said PMHA might want to file an appeal at least on the provision that Petes Mountain has a declining water table.

'If we decide to appeal,' he said, 'the main issue would probably be the application and interpretation of the county ordinance about further development in an area that may have suffered from declining ground water levels.'

The Petes Mountain area is on the eastern side of the Sherwood-Dammasch-Wilsonville ground water limited area, and Mohr says that's evidence enough for him that the water table is declining near the proposed Tumwater subdivision, which includes 41 large homes on lots ranging from one acre to more than two acres. The project includes 69 acres near Schaeffer and Petes Mountain roads.

To mitigate the water issue, Root proposed that he pay about $1 million for significant upgrades to the existing water company so that it could serve a much larger area, including the Tumwater project.

The Oregon Water Resources Board (OWRB) approved the water company's expansion, and the PMHA first sought a court injunction to prevent the water company from expanding. But they withdrew that suit before a decision was reached. Instead, they asked for a judicial review of OWRB's permission for the water company's service area to expand. But Circuit Court Judge Susie L. Norby said PMHA was not considered a party to that action and had no authority to complain.

'Each one of these events that I continue to win, and I've never lost,' Root said, 'make the project more bullet-proof. (PMHA's) chances lessen dramatically after each one of these decisions.'

On behalf of the property owners, Donald Bowerman and W. Leigh and Ceille Campbell, Root says he has been hoping that the two sides would find ways to negotiate their differences.

'They've never come to the table to talk to me,' he said. 'They have just declared it a death match with a stake in the ground, and have catalyzed a group of people around what I think is wrong thinking.'

Sooner or later, someone will have to stop pursuing either the project or the objections and appeals. And Root doesn't think it will be him.

'If all goes well here,' he said, 'we plan to record this plat no later than November.'

For that to occur, Root must win a lawsuit currently in Clackamas County Circuit Court, which asks the county and state to vest the project and render it not subject to the limiting effects of Measure 49.

Clackamas County approved his Measure 37 claim last year, and Root is now seeking to be vested under Measure 49, which would allow him to build the 41-home project.

Root is basing his vesting on the fact that he has done extensive grading and established a lot of the infrastructure, including about 60 percent of the roads in the project.

But the PMHA isn't comprised of quitters, according to Mohr's judgment.

'They expected us to lose a long time ago,' Mohr said, 'and we just don't seem to go away.'